As Thanksgiving Day approaches, I think of my relatives scattered across the country. In my youth, we gathered in large numbers around this time of the year. I remember how my cousins would jokingly call this holiday “Turkey Day.” Now thanks to the many postings on the Internet, I see that other families use the same expression.
While “Turkey Day” makes sense to my American ears, I realize that for those learning the language, that phrase might cause confusion, especially out of context. After all, turkey can be meat from a bird, but there’s also the country Turkey. Perhaps an ELL might think that Turkey Day is somehow connected to another nation and culture. How confusing!
There’s a name for this kind of confusion. Did you know that turkey and Turkey are capitonyms? A simple change to a lowercase letter, and presto! – we got a new word. Similarly, we have march – March and may – May. Do your students ever get confused about first names like Rich and Mark? Perhaps some think there are connections to wealth or smudges on a paper.
English can be confusing because there are words that look similar or even exactly the same, but they can be said differently or mean something entirely different. There are long lists of homographs, homophones, and homonyms on the Internet. If you’d like to expose students to these types of words, but limit the exposure and make sure all study is done in a meaningful context, please consider using my Content with the Content_handout.
I’d also recommend these free resources:
- YourDictionary has a clear explanation of homographs and other confusing types of words. A list is provided.
- Al Aloisi created a whole site devoted to homophones. Although he comes from the fields of data processing and finance, he has created a very user-friendly site for people from all backgrounds. You can browse his alphabetized entries, see defintions, and even share entries via email and social media sites.
- ABCTeach also offers a list. Theirs focuses on homonyms.
- The folks at VocabularySpellingCity also offer explanations of homophones and other confusing words. The graded word lists will help ESL teachers find the right level of difficulty for their students. Free exercises will help students practice recognizing and spelling homophones.