Tag Archives: alphabet

Clearing confusion – reading and writing for the masses

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about disorientation and has challenged writers to In 99 words no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. She suggested exploring different ways confusion could be expressed, and the tension that could be created by that confusion.

I decided to give myself a break from writing about the confusion that students may feel as they attempt to navigate the murky waters of expectations and inappropriate curricula that have little connection with their lives; or about how disoriented they may feel in an environment that bears little resemblance to any other they will experience.

Instead I decided to share an interesting story I heard this week and a flash fiction which is more memoir than fiction, a reminder to self of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

First for the story.

My current audiobook is Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen. In the book Rosen talks about the English alphabet, dealing with each of the 26 letters in turn. He has organised the book so that

“Each letter in the book is linked to a topic. Each chapter takes on different aspects of how the alphabet has been used. Each chapter is preceded by the short story of how that particular letter evolved, how its name came to be pronounced that way and something on how the letter itself is spoken and played with.”


When listening to Rosen read his chapter about the letter ‘K’, “K is for Korean”, I was fascinated to find out that the alphabet of South Korea, Hangul, is “the earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation of a country’s writing.”

The alphabet, described by Rosen as more of “syllabic monograms” than letters and is easy to learn, was devised in the mid-fifteenth century by the ruler of the time, King Sejong, as a way of enabling everyone to be literate.

Prior to the introduction of this alphabet, Chinese characters were used. According to an article on Wikipediausing Chinese characters to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

Rosen says that what is “remarkable . . . is that there was an already existing system of writing which was, to all intents and purposes, overthrown in its entirety – not adapted. (It happened) because one part of the ruling elite decided that a total change was the only way in which everyone could read and write easily.

Hear! Hear! I say, and express a wish that all our students of English would find learning to read and write far more easy and enjoyable than many do, that more emphasis would be placed upon helping students learn than in “teaching” particular content at particular times.

Also included in Rosen’s chapter about ‘K’ was mention of the Voynich Manuscript which appears to be scientific in origin, but which contains fictitious plants and is written in a “language” which no one, including codebreaking experts, has been able to decipher and read. Rosen says that “With one beautifully executed volume, (the author) causes instability and doubt at the heart of the production, ownership and use of knowledge. It is a carefully constructed absurdist joke.

Unfortunately for a small (but too large) number of our students, reading and writing for them is often as confusing as the Voynich Manuscript.



For a little bit of reminiscing, here is a video of Michael Rosen talking about the dreaded Friday spelling test. I wonder how his experience matches yours.

And so to my flash fiction of disorientation and confusion . . .


The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.

Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.

“What day is it?” I said.

The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”

“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.

They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.

Then came the questions:

What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?

Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.

“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.