Do Not Learn Alphabetical Lists by Heart
Sound patterns are worth noticing when learning English, however much they are neglected by textbook authors.
It’s bad enough that most texts (and teachers) have an outdated approach to language acquisition, one that regards language as something to “learn” rather than something that you ABSORB. It’s a shame they behave as if they’d never heard of Dr Stephen Krashen’s Input Hypothesis and The Natural Approach. And it’s a pity that they still expect language learners to make a conscious effort to learn vocabulary and grammar rules as if language was not a skill that you acquire through unconscious processes. But why, oh why provide students of English with alphabetical lists of irregular verbs to study? Why bore them with useless labour?
It’s okay to provide lists for reference purposes at the end of a textbook. But it’s not okay to expect language learners to study such lists. And, besides, if anything, then why not provide students with lists that make sense of the world (of English)?
The problem with studying alphabetical lists is that it crams the items on the list into an artificial (= alphabetical) pattern that has nothing to do with real contexts or structures.
Discover the Real Patterns of English
Language is sound. Patterns are something that helps our brain make sense of things. Sound patterns of rhythm and rhyme are important in both language and music.
Your brain loves patterns. When you discover a pattern that various things fall into, you have found a connection where there seemed to be none at first. It’s always an AHA moment. And AHA moments are precious because they are a shortcut to long-term memory. Things that fall into place at such a moment will stick.
That’s why it may be helpful to recognise the various patterns of irregular verbs. Those verbs are called irregular, but they do present certain regularities and fall into various subgroups.
The simplest pattern is when there is no change from the form, eg
- cost, cost, cost
- let, let, let
The second most simple pattern is for the verb to have only two forms, like
- bend, bent, bent
- send, sent, sent
Another pattern is when the three forms are different, but if you go down a few verbs that fall into this pattern, you’ll notice that they rhyme, like
- drink, drank, drunk
- sing, sang, sung
- and many more.
I hope you realise that it would be a great loss to ignore these sound pattern groups if your teacher requires you to study irregular verbs. If she does not call your attention to such patterns, you should tell her about them.
Check Out Tables of Irregular Verb Sound Patterns
Raymond Murphy’s grammar reference books (English Grammar in Use etc) contain very nice tables of Irregular Verb Sound Patterns. If you can lay your hands on any one of his tomes, make sure to find the tables in the Appendices section at the end of the volume.
If you are impatient, click the following links for an intriguing IRREGULAR VERB EXERCISE, or its PDF version, or this neat outline of some common patterns of irregular verbs. If you have to study irregular verbs for English class, they will not just provide you with an important addition but actually make learning much easier. You’ll find how much fun it is to be able to put each irregular verb you encounter in one or another sound pattern. I wish you a lot of AHA moments and happy discoveries!
A word of warning: I do not endorse direct grammar instruction, nor “learning” words from a list. You’ll not get far with your English unless you get a lot of Comprehensible Input and interaction in English in real-life contexts.
I’d love to hear from you. Any questions or suggestions? Fire away! Comments, questions & suggestions are welcome in any language!
You might like to check out my related post on How To Turn a List of Irregular Verbs into a Story.