While in El Paso, I wanted to do some grocery shopping and didn’t want to go to the chain supermarket but a local one, so I went to “Ruidoso”, a latin supermarket downtown. It was there where I found the “dilivery” poster.
According the United States Census Bureau, in 2017, 80.2% of the population in El Paso county, Texas, were Hispanic or Latinos (including undocumented residents). So, does this mean that you can get away with not speaking English in El Paso? Well, if we talk about meeting daily needs like going grocery shopping, ordering food or using transportation, yes, it does.
I have been teaching English as a foreign language to Spanish speakers for a while and have seen all sorts of mistakes but this particularly caught my attention. Why hadn’t I seen that mistake before? That’s what led me to write this article and go deeper into analyzing this case. Who could have made that spelling mistake? It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure that out, the rest of the message is in Spanish, so… a Spanish speaker, right? However, by “who” I mean, what kind of English learner? What kind of exposure to the English language does this individual have?
The word delivery is pronounced /dɪˈlɪvərɪ/. Focus on the first “e” (delivery), this letter is pronounced /ɪ/ like the sound in lip or tip. To a Spanish speaker the reasoning is “it sounds like /ɪ/, it must be spelled with an i, then dilivery”. After analyzing the phonetics, it seems reasonable to say that the Spanish speaking individual who wrote “dilivery” with an “i” instead of an “e” in the poster is used to hearing how the word is pronounced, not reading or writing it; therefore, spells it the way it sounds. It makes sense to say that this individual would spell the word could the way it sounds to him, “cud”, applying the Spanish write-it-the-way-you-hear-it rule to the English language.
But why hadn’t I seen that mistake before? I have a theory. I have worked in a classroom environment and the reason why students who have received formal education in English are less likely to make this kind of mistake is they have seen the word in writing more than heard it (unlike the first case). In this scenario students of English as a foreign language are more prone to make other kind of mistakes. Based on my experience (and this only applies for EFL students whose exposure to spoken language is not as high as for students of ESL), they are more prone to mispronounce words rather than misspell them. I have often heard the mispronunciation instead of read the misspelling of the word delivery. Students tend to say /delivery/ pronouncing the “e” like /e/. Here we have the opposite scenario, they pronounce it the way it is spelled because they have seen the word in writing more often than they have heard it. Their reasoning is “it is spelled with an “e”, it must be pronounced /e/”. That’s why when English students see the word “could” without having heard it, they pronounce it the way it is spelled, /could/. That is, they pronounce each and every letter in the word, the c, the o, the u, the l and the d, once again applying Spanish rules to the English language.
We can conclude then that in general, Spanish speakers who are exposed to spoken English might have a higher tendency to make spelling mistakes while English students who are exposed to written English more than spoken English are more prone to make pronunciation mistakes. This lead me to think that this person speaks English but doesn’t write it. Who knows, he may have been living in El Paso for a while but never taken English lessons. It’s likely his job does not require him to write the language.