Friday, November 22, 2013

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It is the best of languages; it is the worst of languages. Is English the Dr.-Jekyll-and-Mr.-Hyde of all languages? Consider this! No other language holds the dubious distinction of being used by an estimated 1.8 billion speakers (about 1/3 of the world's population), of having official status in 53 countries, spread across six inhabited continents, and of being the language that has the WORST letter-to-sound and sound-to-letter ratios (phonemicity) of all Western languages, as the following table * highlights with all the repercussions that one can infer in educational, personal, and financial terms. 1.8 billions of people have wasted precious time to learn such an ill-designed and unfriendly system. Why are our leaders looking the other way? Are citizens aware that there is a problem? Is it because English is one of those rare languages that does NOT have a regulating body(All links open in a separate window!) 





This video introduces the subject quite well too.



Nice video with a few valid issues raised.  Bear with me, I will address these later. BTW, G. B. Shaw does not seem to have "created" "ghoti.

By the way, for those who think the multitude of national accents is going to make a reform impossible, better read the fixes page, but just read the numbers below, first. They are staggering!

 It is worth mentioning at this time a few numbers that will highlight the current problem. This is what kids have to endure:

"There are 2008 divergent spellings out of 4206 (which occur in 3700 words out of the 6800 most commonly used [words in the English language])." 

There are 4200 misspellings 
out of 7000 common (school words)?

There are 205 different ways to represent the 42 "sounds" of English!
Masha Bell 

A few years ago, a national, literacy-language study in Australia revealed that during an entire lifetime, the average adult used around 15,000 different words when speaking. However, the same study surprisingly found that when it came to writing, the number dropped significantly to around 5,000.  (Keith Wright)

With a spelling system like this, is it any surprise?

WOW! English spelling is a real mess! Is it any wonder they (many students and adults) cannot spell and don't like to read or write? Is it any wonder it takes the average kid 3 more years (and often a lot more) to learn to read (and spell 5000 words)! Sure, many people can learn and can learn it quicker! If you did, congratulations! I did too! And, sure, many people can read and write, eventually. However, many people did not! Many people don't! WHY? Are THEY disabled or is it that the spelling system is ... disabling? The situation for 1/2 of those 7000 or so common words is TOTALLY unacceptable and is the main reason why kids fail school or fail to succeed. Sure, some won't! True! And 7000 words is not half of the story! If we had to analyze all of the 170,00 English words, I can assure you, it would be just as bad: probably half of them are badly represented phonetically, which makes reading and learning them excruciatingly difficult! In fact, virtually all kids go through a stage called "phonetic spellings" in and around grade 1 to 2. Yet, with English, all this precious time spent learning the alphabet is "wasted" since they will have to learn that the alphabet is highly unreliable, that those letters can mean more than one phoneme, as high as 7 phonemes! Of course, if your parents were literate, then, you are probably going to make it! I remember this story of this Grade 7 kid who was brought up at a school based team (a team made up of staff to try to solve educational issues and devise plans to address them) because his writing was awful, if he ever wrote something of consequence. This kid could not spell and wrote sporadically (at best), but when you spoke to him, he was using words that no Grade 7 kids ever used! We gave him a computer and within a week he had written a 20 page story that made other A students' work look like Grade 1 work! His self-esteem improved from that time on. Who knows how this kid would have turned out had no one seen the light? But, there is a more efficient way to deal with this type of problem: reform the English spelling system.

The English spelling system has not been improved in any meaningful way in 400 years. Yes! 400 years? Do you know anything that has not improved in 400 years? Everyone and everything must improve, but not English? Kids! Teachers! Parents! Because it IS their fault, of course! 400 years? The typewriter has improved and it is now a computer keyboard! It takes 3 more years to learn to read and spell (at a minimum)! Yet, most Italian, Finnish, Spanish kids, .... can learn to DECODE all words in their language by the end of Grade 1! WOW! Why is the English spelling system immune to the usual forces that apply to virtually all products (and people) in our society? I guess we could still be fetching water at the river!  Where is the incompetence? Where is the inefficiency? Why is no one doing anything about this?

3 and often more years to learn to read and spell more than many other languages? Is that reasonable? Everyone and everything should improve, but a system that has not been improved in 400 years and the very system that underpins all learning! And, what are the cost of this little oversight? Human? Economic? Social?

Instead, the English spelling system remains FLAWED. Calling it a system is actually a bit of a joke. But, what is the ultimate joke is the "spelling Nazis or fascists" who ridicule anyone who misspells a word (which is more and more difficult to do with the spell-checking programs) are actually forcing everyone to make spelling errors, usually correcting words that are spelled as they should, phonetically-speaking! The truth is the current spelling system is full of errors so much so that If it were a car, it would not sell! It is a backward, an  ill-designed language because it has a flawed spelling system that forces illiteracy, underemployment, extra educational costs, taxes, and misdiagnoses, in the millions or the billions.

Why should YOU care, assuming that the latter millions and billions tidbits don't do it? Well, think of YOUR child --or your grandchild (or any child, for that matter)-- who is trying to or will have to learn to READ (and spell) this highly abnormal, disabling (or disabled) system! I know! I know! YOU had to learn it and YOU learned it! Congratulations! Many have and many will! What's my point? My point is this: that there is, in fact, an overwhelming majority of English-speaking learners who are going to take a lot more time (3 more years, but often a lot more) to learn to read (and spell) than other students learning other languages who can learn to read (and spell) in ONE year. I know it will take more than that to convince some of you. As one blogger wrote:

"When you realize that many of the people involved with the creation of English [...] were also responsible for the creation of several different kinds of ale, it all begins to make much more sense."


For those who are not drinking ale, I am sure you do know that reading underpins learning all other subjects as well, even math. with its famous word problems, which if you cannot read, you cannot do math! Speaking of which, think of your wallet! English-speaking students will need EXTRA budgets, EXTRA teachers, EXTRA programs, "NEWER"* methods, "NEWER"* books to get to compete. Could it be that the business and the profit trump the welfare of kids? :)

* Many are re-packaged, trendy like the whole language VS phonics programs, making some publishers very rich at the expense of taxpayers, teachers, and children.


And, how about those Spelling Bee contests. A major media conglomerate is behind them. Scripps manages TV, radio, and print enterprises in the US. What are the chances of them wanting to change the status quo? What are the chances the voice of this movement can be heard? Parents and kids will know about spelling bees before they question anything else. In any case, I think it is poor taste that these contests promote flaws and, moreover, flaws that have a major impact on learners and society at large! I guess some people think a poor system is something to be proud of! Kids don't think so.

Here is what a kid wrote about the English language (initiative: Ron Johnson and Mr. Clark, teacher, at McNicholl school in Penticton, BC, Canada)

Kids? How about adults? How about immigrants? According to abclifeliteracy:

  • 40% of adult Canadians, age 16 to 65 – representing  9 million Canadians – struggle with low literacy. They fall below level 3 on the prose literacy scale (Adult Literacy and Life Skills (ALL) Survey, Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2005).
  • 60% of immigrants have low literacy, compared with 37% of native-born Canadians (International Adult Literacy and Skills Survey (IALSS), 2003).
  • In 2003, nearly 3.1 million Canadians aged 16 to 65 were at proficiency Level 1 on the prose literacy scale (below middle school skills), while another 5.8 million were at Level 2 (below high school skills)(International Survey of Reading Skills (ISRS), 2005).
  • According to ABC Life Literacy Canada (2013), “four out of 10 adult Canadians, aged 16 to 65 — representing 9 million Canadians — struggle with low literacy. They fall below Level 3 on the prose literacy scale, which is equivalent to high school completion. In 2003, nearly 3.1 million Canadians aged 16 to 65 were at proficiency Level 1 (below middle school skills); while another 5.8 million were at Level 2 (below high school skills)”. 
  • Most English-speaking countries have much lower literacy rates than other countries in the following research. Is it a coincidence? "Canada gets a “B” and ranks 8th out of 13 countries on the percentage of adults scoring low on adult literacy rate tests. [...] The International Adult Literacy Survey (IALS) was a seven-country initiative—including Canada—first conducted in 1994. The idea was to create a comparative adult literacy rate for adults aged 16 to 65. Second and third waves of data were collected for 16 additional countries in 1996 and 1998, leading to a data set for 23 countries. Bermuda, Canada, Italy, Norway, Switzerland, the U.S., and the Mexican State of Nuevo Leon participated in another survey, the Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey (ALLS) in 2003. The varying participation in the IALS and ALLS surveys means our comparison is based on the most recent test for each country. For most, this is the IALS survey, but for Canada, Norway, Switzerland, and the U.S., the results are from the ALLS survey. "


According to Masha Bell's blog on the subject:

"A government-commissioned survey by Sir Claus Moser into adult basic skills in England in 1999 concluded that around 7 million adults (22 %) had a literacy level which was inadequate for everyday reading needs. An earlier US survey had also found that roughly 1 in 5 adults were functionally illiterate."

Also,...

The National Center for Education Statistics has three separate categories of literacy: prose, document, and quantitative. Prose literacy is the ability to read and comprehend written material, document literacy is the ability to understand maps or schedules, and quantitative literacy is the ability to do basic mathematical functions. According to the United States Department of Education's 2003 report, thirty million adult Americans do not have basic prose literacy skills. Someone who has basic literacy can "perform simple and everyday literacy activities." By this account, fourteen percent of the adult population was "functionally illiterate," which means they may or may not be able to perform the simplest "literacy" skills (e.g., recognizing their own name, rather than reading it).

It seems, this issue is ubiquitous in Commonwealth countries and that is an issue that is used to make sure that one cannot fix the problem! Since there are many different accents in all of those countries where it is spoken, it is indicated that a more rigorous phonological system might be impossible to implement. Not so, I say! Let's have a particular phonetically regular North American English, an Australian or British one, following the phonetics related to the most prevalent or chosen accent of the land (dialect, if you prefer). Ironically, this kind of regularization of the spelling system would likely give lots of work to publishing houses, but they might not like the increased overhead to translate all of those Englishes, although with computers now, you would think that this should not be a huge problem. 


Think tutoring, police, court, and psychologist costs. There are only a few students (in languages that have a regular spelling system) who struggle to read --and learn. Nevertheless, very few people in Commonwealth countries seem to care about all of this, but they complain when they must pay taxes ... or when they see someone misspelling a word! :) Oh! No! Considering hundreds of thousands of words in English are misspelled in the dictionary (since they are not phonemically represented correctly), all this is laughable, were it not for kids humiliated and stigmatised for life and taxpayers paying through their teeth for a bloated system which should look at fixing the underlying issue: a flawed spelling system. Of course, we could talk about the notion of rules not being respected and the implications of that lesson on young minds looking for structure, consistency, stability, trust,...! And, you are surprised they do not take us seriously



by Peter D. Mare (pseudonym and author of this blog)

Kids need structure", advocates Colonel Powell, but the language is anything BUT! I doubt he knows that it is. How can you believe in a flawed spelling system?






(Incidentally, did you know that "dud" was once spelled "dudde" (Middle English) and "economy" was written by Samuel Johnson, the last reformer of the English language, as "oeconomy"? I guess we are all misspelling these words! Oh! No! :) Seriously, what should "economy" really be spelled? "Econnummy" would be a huge improvement! "Ecconnummy" or "Ecconnummee" or even ekonnummee would be even better yet! On the other hand, "dud", ironically, is perfectly logically well spelled, but "dumb" gets a "B", for being being close, but a final "b" is really "dumb" or "dum"!! :) The "Miss Peling" misspelled is deliberate, BTW! For more info on the "rule" issue, go to Masha Bell's webpage. But, I digress!)

(This cartoon has been modified. "wil" was written "will" in the original cartoon and it was about he grammar police. Of course, "wil" is a more logical spelling; it matches the spelling of "win". I find it funny that the "spelling police" has lice! :))

Did you know that it only takes an average Finnish or Italian kid 1 year to learn to read (decode) ALL of the Finnish or Italian words, respectively? On the other hand, it takes an average English-speaking kid a minimum of 3 or 4 years to learn just a few thousand English words

But, as Dr. Yule demonstrates on her website OzIdeas, many adults after many more years of learning still struggle to spell English words:



Imagine what the average English kid could read and learn, and the average teacher (and the expensive learning assistance teachers) could teach if they did not have to spend time and resources on teaching this highly irregular system!  Imagine the savings in terms of special teachers and tutoring or services (as this court case demonstrated). Looking to improve the productivity of your labour force? There you go! How about winning 3 or 4 years just like that! Economists and industrialists only dream of these kinds of productivity gains! 

After Grade 1 an average English-speaking kid might be able to read 300 to 400 words. Again, most Finnish, Italian,... kids will be able to read  (decode) ALL the words in their respective language! 

As a matter of fact, they could read a 3rd year university book on nanotechnology, with fluency! True, they might not know three quarters of the words, but they will learn something out of it and will pronounce and recognize all of the words that they know already. English speaking kids will read many words (with the wrong pronunciation), recognizing and understanding very few words comparatively, even words that they know. Look! I am NOT against learners putting some effort into something (because not everything is easy), but English's abnormally irregular spelling system is unnecessarily inefficient and contrived, so much so that calling it a system is a farce! This is my main thesis. But this website is also about those struggling learners and a spelling system that, I think, disables them (so much so that they tune out or act out in class), a system that makes educational systems cost a lot more than they should (because one must deal with these issues and often issues that compound), and a system where leaders tell everyone to improve, to follow rules when improving the system and having all of those words follow the 91 spelling rules would be more logical. If you cannot fit round pegs into a square hole, perhaps it might be more efficient to make the hole round, instead? No? Lastly, we drive into students' mind that they should follow rules, yet, the very spelling system that underpins all of their learning constantly break this fundamental rule, time after time, thousands of times, everyday, as they read. Confused or confuzzed? 

(Second language learners of English whose mother-tongue is related to English (German, French,...) probably find learning to spell * and read * (understand) English not so hard (since about 40% of English words are from the Romance languages and 40% from the Germanic languages), but it is important to note that other learners (of Asian or other languages) will find learning English incredibly difficult, not because they are lazy or stupid, but because the spelling system is inefficient and highly irregular.) A lot of people would benefit if it were regularized (especially native English speakers, who have no reference points) or modernized, since English hasn't had an effective reform of its spelling system in 400 years (other modern languages have had such a reform, as we will find out later)! (*By the way, depending on how it is being taught, oral decoding and accuracy in pronunciation are usually challenging since letters [graphemes] often do not represent the sounds [phonemes].)

Many institutions recognize the value of modernizing, but the English spelling system has not been modernized in a meaningful way in 400 years! That kind of resistance to change has had a huge cost, human and economic! While it is true that there are many institutions making lots of money to teach all of its quirkiness and idiosyncrasies, it should not be that way! Why does everyone else need to change and not English? Why doesn't English change to make everyone else's life a bit simpler, instead?


The term "modernizing" returns how many  million of hits on Google? Check it out here!  The concept of making something more current is not odd. It is something that humans seek to do all the time: to be better, to do better. We do not use silexes to make fires any more, do we? :) There is no dispute that the English spelling system needs to be updated or modernized as you will read (and as the table above indicates). It is therefore baffling that very few leaders and people in general are okay with modernizing the English spelling system. Is it because it was so hard to master, but it was mastered, conquered, like a romantic can be with apparently more satisfaction? :) Why is everyone interested in getting the latest and most modern gizmo, but not interested in getting the latest and most modern (efficient) spelling system, the very element that underpins reading and learning? Is it cognitive dissonance? It is true that it would be a major undertaking, but we don't propose to force anyone who can read the old system learn the new one (did you read the subtitle of the website). That would be illogical!  No! As the description of the blog under the title states, we envisage a phased-in program in schools that would start in 2020 and take 20 years to complete. I know this will not be easy, but is learning to read and spell easy!, but children should do it? Right? THEY should make an effort, but WE shouldn't? Cognitive dissonance again? The time is ripe! With digital technology, a change of this sort should be much easier than in the past. It is just a matter of RE-coding one element for another. It will not be that hard to make a program to transcode the old texts into new regular texts. We have waited for a better system for 400 years! Let's put our mind together! Let's modernize the English spelling system and leave a legacy for the next generation (and save money and time, in the process).

In her book "Spelling it Out" (2012), Masha Bell describes the situation as clearly and succinctly as one could. 


There are many people agreeing with Mrs. Bell. Take Professor Diane McGuiness's view in a 2002 newsletter:


Do you think that these last people mentioned are stupid or marginal thinkers? Uta Frith is a neuropsychologist ! From Masha Bell's "Spelling it out", Dr. Frith adds:


G. B. Shaw, Carnegie, Websters, Twain would agree too! They were involved in trying to reform it too! Today, there are many professors, such as Noam Chomsky, Dr. Yule, Dr. Betts, and many others who would agree too. How many quotes, how many research, how many intelligent people are needed for leaders to act? How many students do you need to label "disabled" when we know it is the system that is? 

Most people do not realize that most languages have about 50 spellings or spelling patterns (link between a sound and a letter or a group of letters). Finnish has 28 or so! Masha Bell indicates. English has 91! That would not be so bad, she notes, compare to the average of 50, but the problem is that 69 of them have several words that don't follow the pattern. In fact, she concludes her analysis with this shocking statistics:
"There are 2008 divergent spellings out of 4206 (which occur in 3700 words out of the 6800 most commonly used [words in the English language])." Masha Bell

So, more than 1/2 of the most commonly used words in the English language have an irregular spelling! It means that a learner might as well flip a coin to know whether or not a word will follow the pattern!  (By the way, there are are tens or hundred of thousands of irregularities if one uses a complete corpus of words and longer words, whose spelling and reading are problematic because of the unstressed schwa syllable[s]as well!). Check the "y" in Dr. Jekyll. Because it is unstressed it defaults to the schwa sound. One must know where the stress falls. Yes! There are rules for that! And, yes, there are just as many irregularities! I detect a pattern: whenever there are rules, there are items that do not conform to the rules! Sorry! That's the best pattern can offer you! In any case, Masha Bell goes on to write (this is an example):


In her book, she lists the 69 irregular patterns. There is even more insane. I am running out of superlatives here, but the -le and -re ending of words like "people" and "centre" are clear examples of dyslexia. Apart from the fact that there are regular examples of these endings (level, teacher,...), well, teachers and experts in literacy insist that students write these words as if there were dyslexic, even though being dyslexic is  frowned upon! In other words, you must cross a busy street on green, but sometimes it is okay to go on red, even though you might get ticketed once in a while when it is green or red! "Suffice it to say that reading is excruciatingly hard to do in English. Imagine what a 6 years old must memorize to learn to read. Imagine how frustrating that would be, if one is looking for patterns. But, if this was not difficult enough, spelling is even more difficult! Out of 6800 common words,...

"No other European language has more than 1000 unpredictable spellings. English has about 4000!" 
(Masha Bell


Spelling it out (Masha Bell) The blog page



Finnish has 6 unpredictable spellings! 


Dr Davies, a person who learned Finnish, indicates that:


"Finnish is spelt exactly as it is pronounced, and is pronounced exactly as it is spelt. [...] Once you grasp the basic idea of how Finnish works, it is an easy language to teach yourself from books, because there is never any doubt about how to pronounce words. You just follow the rules, and you will be right every time."


In fact, Finnish students must only learn 1/3 spelling rules (since it has about 30 phonemes represented by 30 letters). No wonder it takes in 1/3 less time for Finnish kids to learn their language compare to English-speaking students! Of course, if English was really simplified (more so than just regularized), there is no reason to think that English-speaking students could not be able to decode ALL English words in one year too! Imagine all the new notions they could learn much earlier than they are now ... like the Finnish or Italian kids can! No need to reform the education system, teaching, find new methods. 

As you will read later, the state of the English spelling system has not changed effectively in 400 years and that is one of the reasons it is such a mess! Here is a preview!

Caxton
The Printing Press Casting Spells
Latin VS English



So the way English is, I mean iz, is artificial or artiffishial or artiffishul, caused by a number of events and people, as we shall see later on! Many languages and many people of many countries have understood that a language is artificial! In fact, even the Chinese, whose language is anything but phonetic, have adopted a phonetic transliteration, Pinyin, to make learning it easier! Is it arrogance or ignorance or ... greed that have brought us to keep spinning our wheels or go backwards, in fact? When will educational leaders (ministers, superintendents, teachers, union leaders,...) understand this? Right now, they are leders (as in lead [the heavy metal that is hard to move] or as in pen ... so do write to ... them) ! Are paradigm shifts for us, but not them? Is thinking outside the box something that WE should be doing, but not them? Why is everyone else supposed to bend over backwards to change, but they can dictate some changes, but not others, for some people, but not them? Why the discrepancy? We are not advocating literate people to learn a new code, we just want to make the educational system more efficient! Are they against efficiency too? Of course, some will state that it will be very hard to get all Commonwealth countries to agree on this reform (or any reform). Granted! It is not going to be easy! I am no politician, but it will take a few courageous leaders to get things rolling. The regularizing of the spelling system is the smallest common denominator and many linguists or reformers appointed by the countries should agree to it. Politicians are not linguists, so let's leave that decision to the ones who know like Dr. Yule, Dr. Betts, Masha Bell, and others who have proven over time to be expert in the field. It is true that maybe political leaders are unaware of this issue and are willing now to take the bull by the horn?  I guess it will take editors of newspapers and journalists to give this movement a little bit of momentum, but maybe editors and journalists are afraid of losing their jobs or their position as "experts" of the language! Who knows?



So, many languages have had reforms, as you will read later. In any case, guess who is going to learn to read faster? Guess which system will have fewer kids with behaviour issues? Guess which system will have fewer students struggling with reading and learning (because if you cannot read, it is harder to learn)? Guess which education system is CHEAPER? Guess which teachers appear more "competent"? Why does all this matter? While learning to spell right is not so important with all the tech gizmos people have nowadays, reading or literacy is crucial in today's world. Yet, English-speaking countries are beset with abnormally high rates of illiteracy, abnormally high rates of reading and writing disabilities, and/or abnormally high budgets which are mitigated --in some countries (Canada)-- by hiring high numbers of learning support teachers used to teach in small groups students who cannot decode as well as their peers, who take much longer to learn to read than peers from other countries! Do you see the pattern? Many Canadian leaders gloat about how well Canadian students do on PISA tests, for instance, but at what cost! How many countries can afford a cap of 24 students per class in primary classes. Not many! In British Columbia, it is the case! There are also 3 full-time, expensive, literacy teacher specialists with masters degree, for about 200 primary kids per school. That's not cheap! Kids do well, but the cost is prohibitive! Take this UK parliamentary report looking into the issue. It costs $2000 to $3000 to support those struggling readers. That isn't cheap, but building jail, among other things, isn't cheap either! Ultimately, taxpayers pay for that. Are you concerned about that? Keeping this silly spelling system intact is turning out to be a bit expensive, don't you think?




But, even if cost was not an issue, one must consider the loss of time used to teach (memorize) all of those irregularities What about the parents who must hire tutors to help a kid unable to read and often spell. Governments use a lot of smoke to make the mirror look good! In fact, Canadian kids are not immuned to being labelled "disabled" in spite of all of the expenses and in spite of a system that seems to set them up for it! Other Commonwealth countries are failing too!


"The most common learning disability. Of all students with specific learning disabilities, 70%-80% have deficits in reading. "

(Wikipedia, Learning disabilities)

Well! Well! Isn't that strange? Not really! In fact, Wikipedia articles in Italian and Finnish on the subject matter are much smaller in scope and length. Is it because their language doesn't cause "learning disabilities"?

"[...] Dyslexia accounts for 6 to 10% of LD students. Reading is [sic] about 2-3% of the population."
(Translation from the link from the Finnish Wikipedia article on LD!)




"29% of the United States adult population – over age 16 don’t read well enough to understand a newspaper story. [...] There are 46% of Australians who can’t read newspapers.



Are all of those American and Australian teachers (and let's add all the other Commonwealth teachers in the mix as well) BAD teachers? Maybe it is the kids or their parents who are lazy or stupid? Fortunately, there is a simple and logical answer and solution to this problem! It is, in fact, the language that is incompetent! Consider this! There are between 200 and 400 ways (depending on the corpus of words chosen) to represent about 44 sounds with 26 letters in English! There are 38 ways in Finnish! Most other European languages have 50 ways! In a corpus of words that most children would meet, she counts 205 ways! (Masha Bell, Spelling it out!) 



Early learners in Grade 1 might learn about 450 common sight words, yet about one half of them do not follow the phonetic rules, which makes learning the other half just as hard to learn because you would have to memorize the ones that do fit the rule! (Masha Bell, Ibid) And, you are surprised that Grade 1 don't FOLLOW ... RULES?  If adults don't, why should they? :) (Click on the slices for detail. Stats from Masha Bell, Ibid) 



"The majority -- approximately 80 percent -- of children 
identified as having learning disabilities [in English] have 
their primary academic problem in reading."


Are students really disabled, are the teachers really bad teachers, or is it the language?  The preponderance of the evidence seems to point to one and only one logical answer and solution! Just for fun, did you know (do you remember that) there are 24 ways to spell the "oo" sound as it is found in the word moon. But, there is more insane! Of all those words that are pronounced "oo", say, using the "ou" spelling (as in through), the "ou" spelling is irregular: it is "", "through", ... but it is "through" (schwa), through (trɔf), "your" (/o/ phoneme), but "flour" (/awer or flaʊər) or "harbour" (Schwa), and "pout" (/paʊt/). There are thousands of examples like these for other letter combinations. Many people know that you can pronounce "ough" 7 different ways, for instance! So, how are learners going to know when a word spelled with "ou" vowels is READ or DECODED? In fact, English has 91 spelling rules
91

AND, MANY, contain more exceptions that elements that follow the rule! (Stats are from Masha Bell's Spelling it Out.)

That is more insane than "more insane"! I thought rules had to be respected? Don't you get a traffic violation if you break "the" "rules"? So, English (and many education leaders and ministers), you get a violation. In fact , thousands of violations for being incompetent or lazy! One for every exceptions?)

By the way, how many spelling rules are there for Finnish?


1 *
A phoneme is written and expressed one way and one way only!

Speaking of 1, guess who is # 1? Canadians? Australians? Americans? Brits? (For those who know about the PISA tests and know that Canadians do quite well on them, you are probably smirking right now, but I will have the last smirk! I will prove you wrong! Do you like foreshadowing?) So, GIVEN THE SAME BUDGETS, THE SAME AMOUNT OF HOURS OF INSTRUCTION, and THE SAME SERVICES (I will be less subtle later!), who is going to be smarter? Who is going to be more competitive? Guess which teacher is going to have an easier time teaching Language Arts? Guess how much time Finns will spend on learning spelling rules and their exceptions? Guess who will learn more advanced notions faster? Are educational leaders asleep? Are they dumb? Are they lazy? Can't they read? Are they le(a)ders? That's right you read right! Leders (like leaded or deader, I suppose!) :) It is true that I would not be able to play on the word if the spelling was ... regular! :) They are just regular "leders", I suppose, then! :) Hopefully, not all of them! Time will tell!

(* There are about 28 spelling patterns, though, since there are 28 letters + 1 spelling rule, which states that if a sound is long, double the letter. IN total, then, 29 + 3 rare exceptions! A far cry from English spelling's mess!)


In Chapter 28 in her handbook on Orthography and Literacy, Usha Goswami, a professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience at Cambridge (UK) declares what seems so obvious: that the complexity of a language's orthography (its spelling system) makes reading more or less complex depending on how regular the mapping of symbols to sounds and sound to symbol is. Learners of English want to use what most learners of more phonemic languages like to use (phonemic decoding), but they end up relying on more logographic "decoding" (whole word) to unable them to read words correctly:



(Goswami, Handbook on Orthography and literacy  p. 477, Chapt. 8)

Moreover, many studies link English irregular orthography to the epidemic number of "learning" disabilities found in learners of English as their first language:


(Masha Bell, Spelling it out, 2012)

Is it coincidence? Is it illogical? (It is worth noting that the word "dyslexia" is used here to describe a general difficulty with reading and spelling. It is not just related to the original issue of letter reversal or phoneme sequencing issue, which is essentially what learners of language with regular orthographies will mostly have!)

  In fact, the evidence is incontrovertible, unless you are blind or ... cannot read this! The English spelling system is not only disabled, but probably disabling. No wonder learners have problems reading! I invite you to read "Spelling it Out" by Valerie Thomas. It is a reading book that would be used to help students with reading. It does indicate how a child might feel when he or she is asked to write (and read) in English. So, studies show --and current education practices show also-- that the only way to master the system (if you can call it that) is to force students to memorize all of those words like Chinese learn all of those ideograms. What a waste of time! The guided reading remediation programs that are in vogue is just acknowledging that memorizing is pretty well the only way one can learn to read and spell in English. Is that a solution? Wouldn't it be simpler to solve the underlying problem and regularize the code! Well! No, of course! Let's keep the status quo! Kids MUST learn it! And if they cannot, well, they are disabled! But, is it them or is it the language?  Most people have this attitude: "Hey! I learned it! So,...!",  "Hey, I fetched the water to the river! So,..." The truth is English spelling is very inefficient, in that if it were a car, it would not sell; if it were a paper, it would get a fail; if it were an invention, it would never get off the ground! If this was an Apple phone, do you think people would buy it? So, everything else needs to  improve to get ... market-share, to be more efficient, to be better,... to survive, to grow, but why is it that English is allowed to be the exception to that rule or law? One thing is certain: the law of capitalism don't seem to apply to English! It has not changed in 400 years! 400 years! Do you know anything that has not changed in 400 years? Even other languages have changed! Everything has, but English! Is it complacency or arrogance! The English spelling system is far from efficient! Students are not "dumb"; they know English is (its spelling system)! :) Anyone with a half brain should accept the evidence!


[...] a Statistics Canada study estimates that a country which is able to improve its mean literacy score by 1% relative to other countries will enhance its relative per capita GDP by 1.5% in the long term (Coulombe, Tremblay and Marchand, 2004)

And, then, you have those people who cannot fathom ANY change, but who don't like paying higher taxes! :) Guess what? WE are not asking you to change! Books using the old system will not vanish! Don't worry! We are the phonetic police! :) Could it be that the language that underpins every single aspect of learning be the cause of some of the headaches (and the heartaches) that besets the Commonwealth systems and, more importantly, besets most learners of English? But, maybe there is something even more sinister at work here! Education leaders and anti-teachers can always ask teachers to work harder and, basically, ask them to accomplish an impossible task consider how complex the spelling system is! It is a perfect system to keep every teacher busy and everyone else frustrated or illiterate!


"Could it be that kids are not disabled, but 
that English orthography is?"

In contrast, there is Finnish! It has one and only one rule: a letter has one and only one sound attached to it! It has 38 spelling patterns and virtually no exceptions! Which would you like to learn? You can call they dumb, but who is going to read the harder books first? Which is the most efficient system? Finnish students do not have to learn 91 spelling rules which have more exceptions than items that conform to the rule! And, predictably, Finnish students (and even Estonian students) beat many English-speaking students of many Commonwealth countries (see DATA page) on an international test called PISA. Is this really surprising? Of course, it is hard to ascertain that "the" language "did it" because there are so many variables that can influence language acquisition (start of schooling, socio-economic factors, teaching methods, nutrition, budgets, support, time spent on language acquisition,...) and these tests are conducted on students who are late in their language acquisition development (age 15), so a country school system can over time or with added support, compensate for the difficulty. That is what happens! They pour money into their language programs and, bingo, they do better! Anyway, these tests take place at 15. It is a too late to know what is really going on! However, if logic and intuition do not work for you, as luck would have it, one comparative study in early language acquisition (Seymour et al., 2003) shows that after one year of instruction, English children show the lowest percentage of correct word reading on a scale in comparison to other European countries, with only 30-40% correct words compared to German, Greek and Finnish, with close to 100%.


If all this was not enough to convince you that most English educational systems are just patching holes instead of fixing the underlying abyss, there is yet another proof indicating that there is a problem with English! A careful analysis of the previous diagram will reveal that all of these countries have a more regular spelling system than English, if you refer back to the first diagram provided above. Is that a coincidence or is there more to it than that? Well, I wish we could "hide" this little piece of information under a rug somewhere. Actually, to obfuscate matters, many Commonwealth countries spent inordinate amount of money and time to make teachers teach and student learn about those 91 spelling rules and to acquire fluency in reading where Finnish kids can focus on matters like critical and creative thinking earlier and therefore, at the end of schooling, learn more important skills that will help them compete as individuals (and as a nation). Commonwealth countries spent more if they want their students to outshine others, but they have a tough time competing with the Finnish students! Finnish kids learn to read much quicker and much more often than English students learn to read English! Literacy issues are nowhere what they are in the US, for instance. Worse, English-speaking kids are sometimes even labelled as reading disabled, when, I think, if they had been born in Finland, not so many would be. Not only does it damages many kids' ego (and possibly his or her life), but demands a whole host of special services, teachers, and material to remedy the problem. Is the kid disabled or the language disabling? There is data that shows that the rate of "dyslexia" (which is sometimes used to speak about reading/writing disabilities) in English speaking countries is much higher than in countries that have a language that is easier to learn! Please follow the link to the page DATA. In any case, I wonder how certain interest  groups (publishers, remedial reading services, English learning schools,...) are feeling about a reform! Do you think they would love it? Actually, there is an event in the history of the language were some of these groups derailed a reform. Suffice it to say, learning English is big business (and the more complex reading and spelling are, the better it is for them)! Innovation? No! Status quo? Yes! We have the quintessential VHS-Versus-Beta issue or, as I would like to put it, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde problem! Read below!

"Could it be that the language that underpins every single aspect of learning --English-- be one of the important causes of some of the ailments that besets educational systems in all Commonwealth countries?"

Are we finished yet? Not quite! There is yet one more piece to this puzzle --or nail to that coffin, take your pick-- that should convince anyone --and I mean anyone-- that the complexity of language does affect the rate by which a learner can learn and a teacher can teach effectively and efficiently!  Remember those PISA tests? As luck would have it, a Finnish university student delved into the matter. (Apparently, no one knows who this fellow is!) As luck would have it, his analysis reveals that language does matter and he could prove it! He could prove it because Finland has 2 different linguistic communities (Swedish-speaking and Finnish-speaking kids) receiving the same kind of education! Mmm! Not a perfect controlled experiment, but close! As it turns out, all things being equal, the Finnish-speaking kids do better on PISA tests than the Swedish-speaking kids. 




Check this table! While the purists will indicate with a smirk that Canadian students aren't doing badly, thank you very much, this result does not indicate how much money they must spend on their education budgets (much more, as in hiring more teachers, learning disability teachers, aids,...). In any case, where do Swedish-speaking Finnish students stands in terms of phonemicity compare to all the Finnish students? Are you connecting the dots?  (And, in this experiment that the PISA test reveals, the Swedish-speaking Finns belong to a higher socio-economic group)! And, of course, the "Finnish" data includes the Swedish-speaking kids, so the gap is even more important between the 2 groups! But, the Swedish-speaking Finns should do better than their Finnish-speaking counterparts. Studies after studies demonstrate that one's background gives you an advantage (Karl Alexander's study in Marita's bargain in Outliers does)! What do you think the education budget of Finland is (per capita) compare to, say, the one of the US, or England? Would it surprise you if I were to tell you that Finland spends less on education than English-speaking countries, would you be surprised? Are you connecting the dots? Go to Finglish to read a more thorough analysis on this topic. Finglish? What's that? Don't be afraid! The new code is not going to look like Finnish! Don't worry! We are not radicals! We are not as radicals as to impose to billions of people a system that is completely illogical! We wouldn't want to do that to anyone! You would be surprised how reasonable and how kloes thu niue koed iz and more importantly how logical or lodjikul.) It is worth noting that many reformers (because I am not the only one behind this unless Dr. Yule and Dr. Betts, both distinguished linguists are inept) don't  advocate for radical changes. There are many others! Masha Bell has written many books on the subject, detailing all of the irregularities of English. Check also all of the videos below and the Children of the Code website. It is also worth noting that many people from many nations (Chinese, Dutch, German, French, Estonian, Irish, Japanese, Romanian, Portuguese, ...) have undertaken some reforms to make their language simpler to read and learn in the last 300 years. That has not happened with English in 400 years! Is English perfect? Even Chomsky, the famous linguist, says that a reform would be beneficial, according to a private conversation I had with Dr. Yule. 



Is progress not in the cards? Why is it that everything is improving, but not English? Ever? Should we go back to using the printing press? Silexes? Why is this completely stubborn obsession of keeping a system that is fraught with more exceptions that regularities? New learners must think that adults are completely nuts! In 400 years, only the USA and (to some degree) Australia were able to push for minor reforms, in spite of many proposals for more substantive reforms. While a reform of the sort might seem frivolous to the un-informed, it is not. It is --first and foremost-- an economic act designed to increase literacy and eventually a nation's competitiveness. Reformists recognize that a language is a tool and, like all tools, it should be efficient for what it is designed: communication. Texting is not seen as a viable code for a reform because it hinges on literate people to make up letters that are omitted. It taps on knowledge that a new learner would not have. Anyway, what will it take for the leaders of the Commonwealth to realize this? A crisis? An economic crisis? 

Actually, I think there is a crisis now in Commonwealth countries, but it is well ... "hidden". I think literacy issues in Commonwealth countries are more severe that are being reported (even though there is lots of data to suggest that there are crises). 


http://www.thecourt.ca/2012/03/10/at-the-court-moldowan-revisited-and-learning-disability-human-rights-claim-considered-at-the-scc/comment-page-1/#comment-452095
Again, these crises are mitigated --as best as one can afford or want-- by all kinds of measures that are very costly (higher budgets: more support and more hours devoted to language acquisition, for instance). All things being equal, English-speaking students would be appalling low in international assessments! I guess we owe it to the amount of money being poured into the system and the brave teachers who day in and day out makes English make sense to the kids, if indeed that is possible! For many, the reality is that they will have to learn English almost like Chinese kids have to learn Chinese! I will explain that little bit of information in my Finglish page!

I would be remiss if I did not address the one important objection that reformers must answer, namely that most children learn to spell and read well. First, they do, but how long does it take them? There is the rub! Some quickly, but some not so quickly, especially if we compare them to the proverbial paragon of student: the Finnish-speaking Finn. The study above show that many English-speaking kids learn English, but not very fast (and some not at all). Why do some learn to read and spell and some don't, anyway? ANSWER: VISUAL memory VS logic! I think it is probably safe to say that a parrot could learn English! I am being facetious, of course! But, people who have a great visual memory (or who are reading often and early in life, with literate parents urging them) will do okay! Sadly, the ones who have no books at home, illiterate parents, and a visually-impaired memory, will have a tough time. The ones who tend to rely on logic (trying to find the logic behind the system) will come out more confused and frustrated, as we known English to often having rules and within a rule, more exceptions than elements that fit the rule! In some ways, English is like languages like Chinese or Korean, where one has to memorize many characters or ideograms to learn to read and write! The distinction about not including speaking is important and will be explained later. Also, if you know Germanic or Latin languages, reading and spelling in English might not be so hard because you can rely on the one of the 2 main languages from which English was based on. Both of those languages being more phonetic would make spelling and reading much easier! So, depending on your abilities, English will be relatively easy to learn or impossible to learn. One thing is very sure, it takes for most people more time to learn to master reading and spelling English than many languages! If it is not completely intuitive, there is lots of data to suggest that this is so!

To be sure (and this will be addressed more thoroughly later on this page), there is the idea that, even though there is a problem, the way to fix this would be overwhelming; in effect, a reform is impossible. There are many reasons that would make a reform difficult, but can we afford to be playing the ostrich? Oddly, though, the digital age has opened up that window a little bit wider. Teachers should not feel threatened by this. Government shouldn't either. And, the public at large, the literate people, will not have to learn a new code. I offer a compelling and elegant way to solve this crisis and reform English below. Clearly, 400 years of neglect does not make it easy to cure the depth and spread of the disease, but what is the relative pain of a preventive medicine delivered to new patients administered by a doctor who will no longer be hiding from its past! However, it is quite possible that the dark side of capitalism will raise its ugly head and prevent a better product from being created, but are governments and the rest of the industry not belonging to those vested interest groups going to lie down and take it? Here is just one example that indicates how difficult this is going to be! 




Will they eventually not see the merit of progress and the lure of better efficiencies or productivity? Does money corrupt the most loyal of enterprises? The gains will take a generation to ... register (pun intended), but a generation is unfortunately not a word that parties like to look at, unless you have someone with a vision who comes in: a true leader! There are many vested interest groups wanting to keep the status quo! 

Finally, we do not pretend to offer a solution that will solve all the problems in the educational systems. Teaching, school facilities, management, quality of the material used, diet, parenting,... all of those elements do ALSO affect educational outcomes. That is absolutely clear! What is also absolutely clear is that the way a language is structured does impact outcomes too. That should be absolutely clear too! Are Commonwealth leaders unaware of those realities? Probably! Probably so because many educational leaders are too! Even so, where is the leadership? Is that ship sinking or thinking? Maybe we should read le(a)dership not leadership! Millions of kids (and foreign language learners) are hoping for a significant paradigm shift, not patching holes with rags ! And, remember ... we are not advocating that literate adults learn a new code if they don't want to! Read on!


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They say a picture is worth a thousand words and, considering English reading is not that compelling, I thought the following video couldn't highlight some of the issues better!




But, let's explore how this Mr. Hyde of a language was created?



INFUSION, FUSION, DIFFUSION, and CONFUSION

There are five pivotal events in the history of the English language.

The first and most important event is the conquest of England of William the Conqueror of France. He (and his soldiers) conquered England in the 11th century and, for about 300 years, the French conquerors "imposed" indirectly or directly Latin and Norman French as the language of the court, while commoners spoke English and those who wanted to climb the social ladder spoke both, which meant that eventually elements of both languages got fused, often duplicating the lexicon. In other words, this act of slow infusion created a slow fusion which proved to create confusion, as a result! Confused? Read on! Things will become clearer! :) 

Second, when eventually Henry the fifth came to claim back England and English as the national language, it looks like clerks, who had written in French and Latin before, had to invent ways to write English words now, often "latinizing" words, with no central authority to guide them in that regard. The word "some" used to be spelled "sum" before the French came and the word "quick" was spelled "cwik"! The old system wasn't perfect. As you can see the "c" has the same sound of the "k"! But, the French influenced messed things up! There were also the inconsistent copying issue. At the time, monks, left in badly lit rooms, were copying books written in Gothic font, which is excrutiatingly difficult to read, as this example shows.



Can you make out the words? The first verse is "A poore wydow somdele ystept in age"! It is easy to see that mistakes in transcription could occur. Masha Bell in her book "Spelling it Out" indicates that many letters could be confused and were badly transcribed. Incidentally, this is a well-written version. Not all printing was that clear! :) One can understand that copies of copies became less and less like the original. In other ... words, errors were rampant.

Third, when the printing press came to the fore, a set of characters/letters designed for Latin was used to represent English sounds and words, forcing again to "latinize" English because there weren't enough symbols or characters to represent the sounds of English AND Norman French words (which meant that sometimes 2 or 3 letters were needed to represent a sound). English's inconsistent spelling became fossilized. 

Adding insult to injury was the peculiar change of the pronunciation of the English vowels for the next 300 years after the French had left. This great vowel shift compounded the issue of the fossilisation of writing because irregularities as they occurred in time became fossilized. I cite from pg. 167 of the "Origins and Development of the English Language" by Thomas Pyles and John Algeo (1982):
The 15th c., following the death of Chaucer, marks a turning point in the history of English, for during this period the language underwent greater, more important phonological changes than in any other century before or since. Despite these radical changes in pronunciation, the old spelling was maintained and, as it were, stereotyped. William Caxton, who died in 1491, and the printers who followed him based their spelling norm not on the pronunciation current in their days, but on the usage of the medieval manuscripts. Hence, though the quality of every single one of the long vowels has changed, the graphic representation of the newer values remained the same as it had been for the Middle English ones. (The Modern English Period to 1800: sound and spelling)
The next issue came when, in the 16th century, England's leaders started their colonial expansion, starting the diffusion of English, "imposing" on the inhabitants of 52 or so "countries" that they ruled --during the 300 years that it occurred-- this rather ill-designed language, with its different versions, each evolving differently. What a mess! 

Finally, in the middle of the 18th century, Samuel Johnson was given the task to make an English dictionary, but it appears that he either was inept at regularizing the spelling system or felt he just could do as he wish. He kept many unnecessary irregular patterns and thousands of exceptions to these irregular patterns, all of which had been put in the books 150 years earlier when the printing press came to existence and Caxton fossilized it! 1476! Most of the problems originate there and Johnson immortalize them! English became a dead language. He had the chance to reduce patterns and exceptions, but he didn't. His dictionary became a standard, sadly, and would create problems for learners for centuries to this day. 

It is now quite apparent that the result of this fusion, this fossilization, this shift, this dispersion, and Johnson's machination or this affection for what is complex made it almost impossible to clean up a language, which overtime, because its orthography was so irregular and its pronunciation, ever changing created gaps between how words were pronounced and how they were spelled, across all of those Commonwealth countries, which might explain the difficulty to reform its spelling. Granted, differences between accents are waning, thanks to the infiltration of the television and the globalization of entertainment! Speaking of which, did you notice that Mr. Hyde is spelled with a final "e" that is not pronounced, but "might" doesn't have a final e? Also, the "i" sound is written with a "y" or with an "i". And, finally, "gh" doesn't sound like "g" or "h" or "gh"! Isn't that weird? Or, should I write weerd as in beer? Or, weard as in fear? Or wierd as in achieve? Are you getting the picture? 


This Change is not for you. We Agree!

There is no denying that spelling makes reading and writing excruciatingly difficult in English. The facts are incontrovertible. Nonetheless, there are people opposed to this reform. But, I wonder! Are they also opposed to the invention of the shoe, the bicycle, the car, the plane, the jet engine, all of which made travelling EASIER, if I am not mistaken? Do those people long for the times when human beings had to spend hours to create tools and arms out of stone, when their ancestors chased for days mastodons, when their grand-parents went to the river to wash their clothes? Wasn't it more difficult? The same can be said about reforming English. English has to evolve. There is no need for anyone to be upset or be concerned, however. People who can write and read current English will never be required to learn, read, or write the new code. They will not be impacted. True, their children or grand-children will be impacted, if nothing is done about improving English! Do they like them to suffer? Do they like them to fail or to be labelled learning disabled? Do they want countries to spend billions in literacy programs? Do they want more people in jail? Do they want to pay more taxes? I mean. There are some good arguments (13 to be exact) that can be made against reform. To make things short here, I did not want to address them all, but this reformist tackles each and everyone of them and, you guessed it, dismisses each and everyone of them too. If after reading all of this you are still opposed to it, please leave a message! I would be interested to know your arguments. But, remember, YOU will not be impacted,... if you can read and write now, that is!

Seeing 20 ... 20!

I believe that instead of trying to force everyone to change the way they write (and read), we should regularize English at the school level first and phase the change over two decades --at least-- modifying English spelling ever so sightly, as indicated in the  "fixes" page, where Masha Bell or Dr. Yule's recommendations or systems would be followed, in a committee of experts, teachers, parents, politicians, ... belonging to as many Commonwealth countries wish to participate (video conference please to make it easy and feasible). They would vote on what the best system should be. Another system could be invoked and a debate could occur over 3 or more systems. I think the system that look to modernize English have a better chance to succeed. English has a logical system, but there are just as many exceptions as there are rules. So, the idea is to use the existing rules and regularize all the exceptions. By introducing this kind of change at the school level on a gradual basis starting with K or Grade 1 classes, we would solve many issues that other systems have not been able to solve. Teachers would likely be the one group that would need to teach a new system. As a teacher, I do not see many teachers embracing this kind of change because it would be so onerous on them. Their own materials would be useless, would need to be revamped, and they would need to learn the new system. I am pretty sure teachers unions would be fighting this for ... decades. But, if we were to slowly introduce this change, it would take about two decades to be phased in. Older teachers who are towards the end of their career could teach different grades that are still teaching using the old system or we could have a system where parents could have a say as to which system their kids could learn. In the MEANtime, we could have younger teachers who could be trained to learn the new system and be phased into the system by, say, 2020 for seeing 2020. This approach would comfort the general public in that they would not be required to learn the new system. We would thus have two parallel languages (the old and the new form) being phased in and phased out, respectively. I am not suggesting this reform would be easy, but if announced 10 years in advance, most teachers (new and old) could get prepared for the change. Often, as a teacher, I have experienced changes created by a new minister or new director too eager to make his or her mark to impress or get promotion. Again, it is the system that would be failing us here. It will take a formidable change in the minds of the population where the whole of the population is considered and individual needs are taking a back seat! That would be --in my view-- a huge cultural shift in some cultures where the individual matters more than the group, where elections are won for short-term plans, where capitalist gains from institutions that have invested in education programs using the old system might need to evolve... We might need more than 10 years to change things! Let's see how smart humans really are at changing systems. A reform in other systems might be needed for other reforms to take place! After all, other reforms like the ones about climate changes and ecological issues take time and hard work to be implemented, if they get implemented at all. And, the sad reality is that, until these issues are dealt with, a spelling reform might not be worth much politically as children are not going to get you any votes!

The second proposal is more drastic. It would still introduce the system to children and not require adults to change anything, but traditional spelling system would be revamped significantly, simplifying it even more, getting rid of rules that are unnecessary to have a functional reading system that most can learn quickly.

No matter which system is used, there is no one who could disagree that the advantage to society would be immense. There would be minor costs, but huge gains for everyone, down to foreign language learners trying to crack the code. And, even though reforms have been attempted and have failed in the past, I think that now is the time to give it a chance. Times are different. We have computers and programs that can easily translate (or transcode) words spelled in the traditional way into the new form. It would be a matter of just pushing a button. It is quite feasible now.

Millions of kids and adults suffer from low self-esteem because they cannot read or spell. While spelling is a minor issue, being illiterate is not. It costs billions. Is it any coincidence that English-speaking kids have 10 to 20 % of students who need special learning assistance programs in reading? It costs lives too. Is it a total coincidence that 80 % of prisoners are illiterate? This needs to change, but you will not be impacted negatively on a personal level. You will not be required to do anything. This reform would be a silent reform. It will take decades. You and I will never need to learn the new system! For that and that reason only, you should support this movement. We owe this to the next generations of kids. It simply does not make any sense to keep the old system. Read this article for more info and or watch this video:



I am sure there are thousands like these and many trying to devise a way to master all of those irregularities. How many will it take for people to get that to fix this problem all you need to do is fix the spelling system?

So! The cure to all of those literacy issues is a new spelling system! It is that simple! Except that won't make those ESL schools or publishers too happy, but have their programs worked in the past? Except that there are other issues that might be more important, but our kids (you as a kid maybe) were cheated! And, except that there are many debates has to how this new spelling system should look like. No matter what, a reform is long overdio! Overdioo? Overdew? Overdue, ... no matter how it is spelled or spelt! :)

References

(1) http://www.spellingsociety.org/kids/index.html. To cite another article from the Tyee, a website that writes about issues in British Columbia, a province situated on the West coast of Canada, "According to page 19 of the B.C. budget for education, from 2008/09 to 2010/11, adult British Columbians (aged 16 to 65) who could read at "level 3" in 2005 was just 60 per cent. With luck, that number may have risen to 69 per cent this year. (Level 3 is defined as "the desired threshold for coping with the increasing skill demands of a knowledge economy and society.") In other words, a minimum of 31 per cent of adult British Columbians can't read well enough to understand this article. That's about 880,000 of us. It does not speak well for a government that made literacy the first of its Five Great Goals." Also, "In 2003 a sample of adults in the U.S. were given a reading proficiency test and only 13% were rated proficient (87% not proficient). Surprisingly, only 30% of adult collage graduates scored as proficient in literacy on the test." (the American Literacy Council)
(2) The American Literacy Council

(3) The American Literacy Council

(4) Ibid
(5) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_language#Number_of_words_in_English
(6) (Public Investment in Skills: Are Canadian Governments Doing Enough? Serge Coulombe and Jean-François Tremblay, C.D. Howe Institute, 2005)
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The following videos outline the reasons why spelling is the way it is. It is quite clear that the spelling system needs a major overhaul. They are hinting it. Many are on the Children of the Code website, even though there are the usual literacy gurus that will sell a more complex solution! Navigate at your own peril, but the following videos are very informative. Enjoy!


Before the Normans' Conquest



Courtesy of Children of the Code

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During the Normans' Conquest




Courtesy of Children of the Code

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After the Normans' Conquest: Henry 5



Courtesy of Children of the Code


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16 and 17th Centuries:
Latin scribing in English: 26 Latin letters and 40+ English Phonemes.
We have a Problem!


Courtesy of Children of the Code


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The Great Vowel Shift and the Printing Press


Courtesy of Children of the Code


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Caxton
The Printing Press Casting Spells
Latin VS English


Courtesy of Children of the Code



Now, do you agree that something should be done about English?



11 comments:

Luis Ferreira said...

Extremely insteresting proposal, I completely agree!

Anonymous said...

Such a comprehensive expose !

If English is "simplified" what will happen to all its literary treasures ?

Every human being has a right to keep his/her native tongue, the one which carries their culture.
If English keeps spreading the (approx.) 6800 surviving tongues will disappear, while English will disintegrate, as did Latin.

And there is a need for inter-national communication. Why not use Esperanto ? (It can be learned very quickly and easily) but allow each group on Earth to use their own language/idiom/dialects within their own "home".

www.worldlanguage.info
lernu.net etc...

Pierre said...

Thanks for the interesting comment!

I think English will keep its traditional literary treasures alongside the new transcoded version. Keep in mind that we are just changing the spelling code, not the content. I think that was your question.

Under the title of the blog it clearly states that people who are literate in English today will not be forced to learn a new code if they do not want to. The reform --as I see it-- is for a new generation of kids who have still to learn to read and write English!

Esperanto, as I see it, is more Latin-based than English. I think it is easy for Spanish and Italian speakers, relatively so for French speakers. I think it would be easier to reform English than to force a population to espouse a new language altogether. Parents could still talk (and even write and read) to their kids! We are only changing a few elements. At least I am! There are too many English-speakers and users. BTW, we are not forcing English as the lingua franca of the world, but if it simplified it probably will be. By all means, people can keep their own languages! No problem! But, English as it is written today is a mess and it could use a review! :)

Mustofa said...

A nice site to visit, thanks for sharing

Pierre said...

Thanks, Mustofa, for the kind comment! All the best!

Anonymous said...

There are more than 7 ways of saying -ough actually, so it's even worse than you've said. Though I must say, the suggestion that EL school children disobey rules because their language's spelling system does too is just so unbelievably ridiculous.
1. Are EL students any more misbehaved...?
2. There are loads of other languages which have irregularities.
3. Why not blame the English past tense as well then? That breaks rules? Why not propose EVERY verb must end in -ed?
4. The education situation in Finland has nothing to do with spelling, Spanish is just as orthographic, as are many languages. The Finnish education system is revolutionary and has nothing to do with the language's orthography...

peter.d.mare said...

Thank you for your comment. I am sorry that you did not find anything in this blog of any value. Could you please indicate to me the other way(s) "ough" is pronounced. Thank you.

1. Are EL students more misbehaved? I guess I wasn't clear and I will clarify the matter. I was just merely indicating that the "establishment" wants everyone to follow rules (in and outside schools), yet they are not willing to tidy up their language, namely a spelling system which has thousands of instances were the rules are broken, a system that increases the time to read by 3 years or so. They also claim that efficiency is extremely important. What a bunch of liars and hypocrites!

2. You are right in saying that all languages have irregularities. Italian, Finnish,... for instance have many rules and exceptions as it relates to grammar. French has a FEW spelling quirks, but fortunately they do not interfere with reading so much as there is some consistency (ain, in, ein, im graphemes are relatively easily decoded since they all have the "i" as a clue + the annoying silent ending in French words does not interfere with reading). However, English has THOUSANDS of words that make learning excruciatingly difficult.
3. About the past tense and correcting other quirks in the English language. Good point! However, I believe in baby steps! Beside, compare to the tens of thousands of "unphonemic" spellings --AKA errors-- one hundred or so irregular past tense occurrences are negligible and not worth fighting about.
4. You claim that the Finnish school system is revolutionary. That's not so as explained in Finglish! I urge you to read it.

steve said...

If English is "simplified" what will happen to all its literary treasures ?

They will still be in the library and on-line. 20 years after the reform there will probably be fewer and fewer readers of TS (traditional English) in the original just as there are few readers of Old English and Middle English.

Most books have already been digitized. They can be easily converted into any new orthography.

Things published in the new spelling will also be available in digital format and can converted back to TS if that is what the reader prefers.

In Sweden, the regularized spelling was pushed thru largely with the support of teacher organizations. Teachers preferred a teachable orthography rather one with many spellings that were not phonemic and had to be memorized.

Pierre said...

Thank you, Steve! Oh! Teachers supporting the reform in Sweden! You would not happen to ahve the reference handy? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Having studied Spanish in school, I began to realize how difficult reading and spelling are in English.

Quick question: does the fact that English is difficult mean that, once a student masters it, they are more intelligent/able than someone who has only mastered Finnish, Spanish or some other more easily-spelled language?

PETER.D.MARE said...

Anonymous, Great question! Learning to read/to decode English is essentially an exercise in memorization of the basic phonemes and then all its irregularities. Since there is no predictable way to know which letters or numbers of letters are going to be used to represent a phoneme, one better memorize words as one or logographically. Learning to remember words has to happen in a visual way (by reading and reading) in many ways because to link the way a word is pronounced with the way it is written is hard to do since there are so many ways phonemes can be represented. In Finnish, if one hears a word, one can write it and this pronunciation can be memorized reliably and linked with the way it is written. Learning is reinforced much more often. For example, I am Vs YOU are! If one hears these (am/are) one will think that they should be written am and ar. If one reads these words, they are going to be confused with the spelling of "are" and will not be sure that this is a the word that they heard. Of course, this is not likely to be a big issue, but think of words like with ee, ea, ie, e_e, y (plenty),...