Saturday, May 26, 2012

Lovable, Laughable Language & a Look at a Book

Earlier this week I recorded a language sample of one of my students to check on her progress and set new goals. If you are not a speech therapist you might not know this is a common way to assess a child’s language skills; it is a nice supplement to standardized tests. I listen to the child’s grammar, vocabulary, observe whether they use language in a socially appropriate way, and often I’m very entertained in the process.  

Like this week when a kindergartener told me, “I goed to the field trip and then I saw a dragon this tall.” She held her hand about two feet from the ground and added, “A real huge one. It flies. It blows hard. It breathes fire. And then I saw a turtle. It was this tall.” Once again, she held her hand about two feet from the ground. I think the turtle and the dragon were related. I wish I could have gone on the field trip!

Another student told me, “I’m gonna move and when I do, you’re gonna have to build a robot ME cause you’re gonna miss me,” and he was right.

Speaking of missing, the same student told me, “I miss Bob the dog, he’s in heaven now. He died when he was 91, in 1491. I’ll never see him again. He’s wrapped in my frog blanket. He was yellow.” It was a tender moment so I didn’t question the year of Bob’s birth. But the student went on to tell me about his own. “Did you know I was born on my birthday? March 9th is my birthday and I was born on it.”

These students keep me entertained, enchanted and encouraged by their growth and willingness to work on speech sounds, vocabulary and our pesky grammar. And speaking of grammar, I just finished reading Inside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai. This middle grade novel, written in verse, tells the story of ten-year old Ha, who, with her family, flees Vietnam as Saigon falls. The struggles she went through to assimilate into the small Alabama town were due in part to her struggles in learning a new language.

“First Rule

Brother Quang says
add an s to nouns
to mean more than one
even if there’s
already an s
sitting there.


All day
I practice
squeezing hisses
through my teeth.

Whoever invented
must have loved

Later, when she tries to understand our use of plurals she says,

Third Rule

Always an exception.

Do not add an s
to certain nouns.

One deer,
two deer.

Why no s for two deer,
But an s for two monkeys?

Brother Quang says
no one knows.

So much for rules!

Whoever invented English
should be bitten
by a snake.”

I don’t want to leave you thinking this book is entirely about our English language. It is a beautifully written story based on the Author’s own childhood experiences. It is filled with humor, anguish and inspiration.

“Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and the new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.”

In her author’s note, Thanhha Lai said,

“At age ten, I, too, witnessed the end of the Vietnam War and I fled to Alabama with my family. . . . So many details in this story were inspired by my own memories.
            . . . What was it like to live where bombs exploded every night yet where sweet snacks popped up at every corner? What was it like to sit on a ship heading toward hope? What was it like to go from knowing you’re smart to feeling dumb all the time?”

At the end of her note she asks, “How much do we know about those around us?
            . . . I hope after you finish this book that you sit close to someone you love and implore that person to tell and tell and tell their story.”

And that is why I love working in my chosen field; of course I want to help my students succeed in school, but I also want to help them succeed in life, and to be able to tell their own stories.


  1. Kids are the best. I love being a teacher. And, I loved Inside Out and Back Again. What a gorgeously written book about the immigrant story. I recommend it to everyone.

  2. Thank you for dropping by Ali B. I too, love teaching and love this book.

  3. We receive so many gifts from seeing life through the eyes of children.
    I love the bold illustrations in The Ghostly Night.

  4. Thank you for visiting my blog and thank you for your kind comments about The Ghostly Night. All proceeds from the sale of this book go toward our school library so my students thank you too!

  5. Sweet! Kids truly are funny! Thanks for the post.