Kindergarten Lessons: Hooked on Ebonics?

The book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum is celebrating its 15th anniversary. I have yet to read the book but often hear it quoted in motivational speeches or leadership training. The quotes are always good and so the book is on my “to read” list.

For me though, one of the best lessons I learned was not in kindergarten but rather in the sixth grade. However, the lesson was taught to me by a friend I met in kindergarten. Our academic careers took us K through 12 together and I am fortunate enough to still be in touch with her.

The lesson is invaluable.

B:  Do you want to come to my sleepover?
Me:  Sure but I have to ask my mom. [Note:  ask = ax]
B:  You what?
Me:  I have to ask my mom. [Note:  still ask = ax]
B:  Why is she going to chop down a tree?
Me:  What?
B:  There’s an “s” in it. It’s not ax, it’s ask. Axes are for chopping down trees.

Sadly, I hadn’t noticed all those long years that I was saying it wrong. I was mortified. I remember going home and practicing in front of the mirror; watching the shape of my mouth and the movement of my tongue so I could see the difference and break the cycle.

It wasn’t just about making it sound right but it was about breaking a habit of saying it wrong every time I used it. Practicing in the mirror helped create a trigger even for the times when I wasn’t staring at myself and feeling small because I had been clueless for so long.

That’s not the only word I found myself standing in front of the mirror over. That’s the year I learned to read out loud so I could learn how to correctly pronounce words. Sounding out the unfamiliar. That’s the year I learned to use the dictionary to see the syllables for the purpose of phonics. I never wanted to be in the situation again where someone needed to correct me. But, sad to say it wasn’t the last time (my tenth grade English teacher introduced me to the term ebonics but that’s another story for another time).

If it helps put things in perspective … when it came time for reading in school, I started out in the lowest level for my grade. I had to work my way up. I was an avid reader by the time I reached the sixth grade. I was reading and comprehending at the ninth and tenth grade level. But apparently that didn’t translate to my verbal communication skills.

So today … I am hypersensitive to certain words, I’ll just name a few:

  • Incorrect use of the verb “to be”
  • Ask = Ax
  • Mine = Mines [showing ownership]
  • Folks = Fokes

My youngest says “mines” and I am working on him. But you can understand the challenge coming from a 5 year old.

There are adults who didn’t have a kindergarten friend who loved them enough or cared enough about them to give them the same feedback. Surprisingly, I interact with professionals who haven’t mastered the lesson I learned in sixth grade.

  • Professionals who give presentations to large audiences.
  • Professionals whose jobs fall in a communication or training discipline yet they misspell, mispronounce or misuse forms of words.
  • Professionals who are educated i.e. undergrad, post graduate and doctorates.

I haven’t quite figured out how to tell some of these adults in my life of their errors. Are they too set in their ways to change now? At 12, I was still impressionable; willing and able to change. Would it work out in adult learning? I don’t know. I’m open to suggestions for ways to share the same feedback in a loving way. If you have any ideas, pass them along.

If it hadn’t been for this friend, I’d be among their ranks:  “I be axing away in the mines with these fokes”. Unaware of my faux pa … Tragic.

Call my sixth grade friend’s feedback a form of care for me or call it the carefree nature of youth (that she would say whatever was on her mind). Whatever you call it, what a great service she provided me that day by telling me the truth.

So, from the kindergarten class favorite with pierced ears to the kindergarten class favorite without pierced ears – you know who you are – Thank you for not letting me become a statistic of poor language skills.

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Comments

  1. Phil Hanson says:

    Truth!

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