If you can speak English, you should be able to pronounce the following sounds: a voiced bilabial stop in initial position; a voiceless interdental fricative in final position; a flap t in intervocalic position.

Sound Greek? Not at all. It is merely a precise technical description of sounds you produce every day: the "b" of "bad," the "th" of "math" and the "tt" of "better."

When children have trouble producing sounds, we don't lay words like "interdental" and "fricative" on them. We merely say, "Stick your tongue out when you say 'bath,' so that it doesn't come out 'baf.' "And we do it again and again until the child gets it right.

A few people, when they get really enthusiastic about such things, start studying linguistics. Their lives are then fulfilled by marvelous insights into deep structures, semantic classes and palatal affricates. They leave most common folk alone -- most common folk couldn't care less what it is called -- as long as it comes out right.

Now, all this is eminently sensible, you say. Who cares what it is called anyway, as long as you say it right? Which brings me to my point:

We teach grammatical terminology to children before they have learned to say it right. In fact, we generally teach them grammatical terminology instead of how to say it right. Children fill up page after three-column page dutifully writing lists of words under the headings "present," "past" and "past participle." They conjugate verbs ad nauseum (i go, you go, he, she, it goes, etc.).

But many still say "I seen it," "We have went" and "He don't" and think those are okay to say, because nogbody bothers to tell them any different.

Toddlers commonly say such things as "I taked" and "two tooths." We don't say to a small child, "Now, Johnny, 'take' is an irregular verb, and unlike others that sound similar ('bake,' 'take,' 'slake'), it patterns differently. That past tense of 'take' is Took.'"

As with the sounds, we gently and repeatedly tell Johnny to say the correct forms. After much repetition, the correct forms finally stick. Later on Johnny can learn all those nice things about irregular verbs and patterns, but right now he simply needs to practice it, to get comfortable hearing and saying it right.

My daughters come home from their junior high school with sentences to diagram and adjective and adverb problems to solve. For them it is a simple exercise -- merely learning the names for word forms and grammatical structures they already use. They don't speak or write correctly because they know the difference between an adjective and an adverb. They know how to use an adjective and an adverb correctly because they have a "feel," based on lots of practice and correction, for what goes where. They know when necessarily knowing it is one.

In the same way, they couldn't tell you what a voiced interdental fricative is, but they can pronounce words like "this," "the," "them," "those" and "that."

Henry Higgins asked, "Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?" The same question can be asked of Americans -- both teachers and parents. Let's stop wasting childen's time and fancy terminology. Teach them how to speak. Give them ample opportunity to hear it right and say it right.

Then, if your like, tell them what to call it.