Lance Brett Hall

Stories Make Meaning. How Do We Make Stories?

Month: March 2019

Default Mode


I currently tutor in LA’s southern beach cities. Part of my work there is administering a series of tests to help figure out why a student is having difficulty reading.

A coworker mentioned to me once that we see a lot of students that are bilingual, or are from bilingual families. At about the same time, I started to notice this word on one test:


Its a made-up, nonsense word. The point is, based on standard English conventions, can a student look at that word and say “noiNGk”?

I noticed that if I were given that test on my first day tutoring there, I wouldn’t do well. I’d look at that word and pronounce two Ks, one at the beginning and one at the end.

I also noticed that I had trouble teaching kids “complex vowel” sounds. The big one for me was always “au”. That sound is usually the /au/ sound in “August” or “caught”. I couldn’t help pronouncing it like /ow/ in “ouch”.

I realized I have a kind of default mode. I’ve been speaking/learning German for (yikes!) 20 years now. When I see a word I don’t know, my brain has learned to shrug and say, “Must be German.”

A German-speaker would pronounce two Ks in “knoink”. The German word knecht and the English word “knight” have the same parent. We don’t bother with the K, the G, or the H, but Germans still pronounce the whole word as written. Germans pronounce the word aus with the same vowel sound as English “out”.

That’s my default mode, at least as far as new words are concerned. I wonder what my default mode is for other kinds of new ideas?