Wednesday, December 7, 2011

J is Jollyphonics

Ah, developing countries. They are not easy places to live, but they are hotbeds of innovation. I recently read an EXCELLENT book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, about a young Malawian boy who is forced to drop out of school because of his extreme poverty and uses his time to invent a windmill that brings his home electricity. He learns the principles by studying old physics textbooks. It's a truly inspiring story, and it got me thinking about how amazing the human mind is when it responds to adverse circumstances.

And then there's jollyphonics.

Jollyphonics were invented to help children learn the more difficult sounds in the english language, with an emphasis on the ones that don't appear in the local languages here. This is done by teaching the children songs that place an emphasis on the sounds (think that song from our preschool days, I like to eat, eat, eat apples and bananas). I think the concept behind jollyphonics is an excellent idea. When paired with explanations, sounding out words, and the other tools that help beginning readers and speakers, jollyphonics would be an immensely helpful tool in teaching youngsters to read and speak. However, once the teachers here learn jollyphonics, they typically (not all, but quite the majority) use only the jollyphonic songs and somehow manage to tune out the chaos around them and not do anything for the rest of the lesson. Another interesting twist is most of the teachers themselves do not pronounce the sounds correctly so the result is tainted from the get go. The kids generally manage to distort the true purpose even further, winding up with a song that is very far from the original.

But they love them. They love to sing the jollyphonics songs. Over. And over. And over again. Here's an example, for the letter "a"

Ants, ants, ants on my arm.
Ants, ants, ants on my arm.
Ants, ants, ants on my arm, they're causing me alarm!

Here is what my younger host siblings say:

Ats, ats, ats on me arm
Ats, ats, ats on marm
Ats, NTS, ats on marm, they cousin me alam!

So you can see they are missing a bit of the point. Now, it's not at all uncommon for people to misremember songs here (head and soldiers, knees and toes?) but when the entire point of the song is to pronounce things correctly and they butcher it, it's a little less amusing. That being said, I am not ready to give up on the idea of jollyphonics. They could be an excellent tool for all students if monitored properly. However, I am more than done with listening to them. Every. Day.


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  2. Love the post. Can't wait to see you. Love , mom