Jul 7, 2012

Superfluous Letters and the Expat Identity

My son has workbooks to use for reading and writing activities. Usually he relies on me to explain or just figures out what to do based on previous activities. But lately he has been paying a little more attention to the instructions (clearly he does not take after his father!). This means he is learning more organic vocabulary (yay!).

It also means that he has learned the word "color" - a lovely, useful word that is both verb and noun. But to me, as well as my Canuck and Commonwealth comrades, it's spelled wrong. Where's the U?

When I bought workbooks for him and his sister I wasn't thinking about the spelling issue. I was wondering if they would be a complete waste of money, as these were sight unseen off the internet. I was wondering if I was pushing him too much. I was prevaricating over whether or not I am in any way qualified to teach my kids an afterschool programme. I wasn't thinking about spelling.

But now I am worrying. I found a bunch of Canadian workbooks (also off the internet, may be total crap) which should use Canadian spelling, or at least I expect so! Do I order these and dump the old texts, use them simultaneously, or just keep on trucking along with American spellings?

The U probably doesn't seem like much. Just an extraneous letter in the words colour, honour, and behaviour. But that's not where Canadian spelling ends. We also have doughnuts, cheques, discs, and pyjamas. We finalise contracts. When you colour ash, it's grey, not gray. Also, it's the centre of town to which you travelled, to get the beautician to dye your brunette hair to blonde.

It's not always the Brits we ape. We have tires instead of tyres and we plow our canola fields after going to the orthopedic surgeon.

We are our own country, taking from the French, the Brits, and the Americans (and yes, that is an Oxford comma, thank you).

These things might not matter to the rest of the world, but it is important to our identity. It makes us fit the Canadian mould. It's nice that I can figure out who is Canadian on an internet board from their writing style.

It's important to me that my kids understand where they come from. That's the point of this blog, really, for me to get in touch with my Canadianity and pass it on to my kids. Spelling and grammar are definitely a part of that.

But is it worth it? They will have to go to school in Japan and attend English classes with their classmates. The teachers will mark them down for non-American spellings. The books they read in English will mostly have American spellings. Even two of my Harry Potter books are the American editions. It's not as if it is hard to switch between the different spellings of each country, anyway. I can do it for my clients when required, and goodness knows my kids are smarter than I. So why do I need to press them to learn it all now?

I wonder if this happens with other languages. Do Swiss expats have trouble when all they can find are workbooks from Germany for their kids? Or is this just a typically Canadian problem?

I still don't know what to do. I'm going to order a couple of the workbooks just to see what they are like. I'm hoping there is more CanCon than just spellings. Loonies and toonies and kids riding yellow buses on field trips from Medicine Hat to the Badlands. That's the sort of knowledge they'll need when they visit, and also what will give them context for their language studies. But the spelling? I guess I'll have to eenie meenie that, until I catch a beaver by the tail. Unless you can tell me what to do!


  1. Such an interesting topic, and I hear your dilemma.

    I am Australian, and was raised with mostly English spellings and vocabulary.
    It was interesting to me that most of the spellings you listed in your post are not an issue - they are just 'right'.
    My husband is British.

    So for us as a family it is important that our kids learn to use the English (as opposed to American) spellings.

    Colour just isn't the same without that u.

    We live in Switzerland, and our kids are educated at the local school in 'High' German, but they speak Swiss dialect German with their friends.

    Many of their school books are from Germany, and the Swiss don't really like the Germans.
    The teacher explains the German spellings and grammar that aren't 'right', and the kids cross them out (in the actual text books) and write in the Swiss equivalent.

    I am not a master of either High German or Swiss German, so I couldn't possibly comment on this, but I do feel for my kids, and their lives where the languages they read and write every day are constantly being amended and corrected.

    But it has to be good for them in the long run.
    Doesn't it?

    1. Very interesting to know about the differences between Swiss and High German. I remember having to correct spelling in American texts as well as a kid.

      I wish I had an answer for you, other than crossing my fingers!

  2. Hi there, I found your blog from your comment on Jacqui's blog earlier. I see we follow a lot of the same blogs, including the one written by my In Real Life friend Jason!

    As a Brit in Japan, I face the same dilemma you describe here, but I'm afraid I don't have an answer :-( I was concerned about it too as a lot of our reading material is American, but my book-crazy 4 year-old seems to be taking it completely in his stride. He noticed some spelling 'mistakes', I explained and he understood!

    Anyway, I think you have a great blog here and I'm looking forward to browsing through it and reading your book recommendations. Thanks!

    1. Thanks so much for visiting Diane!

      I wonder about the availability of British books for kids here in Japan. I was able to get the non-American versions of Harry Potter but that's about it. When I was a kid we had a lot of Ladybird books and magazines, I don't know if they send overseas now.

      Great that your son is already figuring out what looks right and what looks off! I think my kids have a long way to go before we reach that level.

  3. I don't think there's too much you can do outside of the home. Inside the home, it sounds like you're doing a great job of exposing your kids to Canadian writing and Canadian culture. But outside of the home, they'll be exposed to non-Canadian English, and that can make their cultural experience even richer. If it were me, I'd support the use of the American forms of English at school, but have the kids write emails or letters to family back in Canada using Canadian English. I don't think this would confuse them - if anything, it would reinforce their Canadian identity.

    1. Thanks, I really needed to hear that. Letters and postcards have really been something that has caught my kids' interest, so I will do more!

  4. As an American trying to raise English (whichever version)-literate kids here in Japan, I'm curious to know what workbooks you use and your thoughts on afterschool programs (grammes). My kids are 6 and 1.5.

    1. Hi Pritham! We have an eclectic collection of books. Some of may favourites are the Big workbooks from School Zone, starting from preschool to grade 3.

      Big Preschool Workbook
      This one is a good one too!
      Spelling and Writing for Beginners

      I like Kumon ones too, lots to choose from.
      My Book of Writing Words
      Simple Sentences

  5. As an American who loves language, I really enjoyed this post! I visited Canada twice and didn't really pay much attention to spelling while there. Thank you for opening my eyes to the many nuances of Canadian language :)


If you enjoyed this post, please feel free to share it.

I love comments! They make my day.