Typical attempt to avoid the problem - poor teaching at primary level.
- For Teachers
You write potato, I write ghoughpteighbteau
The rules need updating, not scrapping
GHOTI and tchoghs may not immediately strike readers as staples of the British diet; and even those most enamoured of written English’s idiosyncrasies may wince at this tendentious rendering of “fish and chips”. Yet the spelling, easily derived from other words*, highlights the shortcomings of English orthography. This has long bamboozled foreigners and natives alike, and may underlie the national test results released on August 12th which revealed that almost a third of English 14-year-olds cannot read properly.
One solution, suggested recently by Ken Smith of the Buckinghamshire New University, is to accept the most common misspellings as variants rather than correct them. Mr Smith is too tolerant, but he is right that something needs to change. Due partly to its mixed Germanic and Latin origins, English spelling is strikingly inconsistent.
Three things have exacerbated this confusion. The Great Vowel Shift in the 15th and 16th centuries altered the pronunciation of many words but left their spelling unchanged; and as Masha Bell, an independent literacy researcher, notes, the 15th-century advent of printing presses initially staffed by non-English speakers helped to magnify the muddle. Second, misguided attempts to align English spelling with (often imagined) Latin roots (debt and debitum; island and insula) led to the introduction of superfluous “silent” letters. Third, despite interest in spelling among figures as diverse as Benjamin Franklin, Prince Philip and the Mormons, English has never, unlike Spanish, Italian and French, had a central regulatory authority capable of overseeing standardisation.
Yet as various countries have found, identifying a problem and solving it are different matters: spelling arouses surprising passions. Residents in Cologne once called the police after a hairdresser put up a sign advertising Haarflege, rather than the correct Haarpflege (hair care). Measures to simplify German spelling were rejected by newspapers such as the Frankfurter Allgemeine, and defeated in a referendum in Schleswig-Holstein (though later endorsed by its legislature). A similar fate befell the Dutch, when opponents of the government’s 1996 Green Book on spelling (Groene Boekje) released a rival Witte Boekje. French reforms in the 1990s didn’t get off the runway, despite being presented as mere “rectifications”, and attempts this year to bring European and Brazilian Portuguese into line were denounced in Portugal as capitulation to its powerful ex-colony.
There are linguistic reasons too why spelling reform is tricky to undertake. Written language is more than a phonetic version of its spoken cousin: it contains etymological and morphological clues to meaning too. So although spelling English more phonetically might make it easier to read, it might also make it harder to understand. Moreover, as Mari Jones of Cambridge University points out, differences in regional pronunciation mean that introducing a “phonetic” spelling of English would benefit only people from the region whose pronunciation was chosen as the accepted norm. And, she adds, it would need continual updating to accommodate any subsequent changes in pronunciation.
Yes despite these concerns, some changes are worth considering; it takes more than twice as long to learn to read English as it does to read most other west European languages, according to a 2003 study led by Philip Seymour of Dundee University. Standardising rules on doubled consonants—now more or less bereft of logic—would be a start. Removing erroneous silent letters would also help. And as George Bernard Shaw observed, suppressing superfluous letters will in time reduce the waste of resources and trees. In an era of global warming, that is not to be sniffed at.
*Fish: gh as in tough, o as in women, ti as in nation (courtesy of GB Shaw). Chips: tch as in match, o as in women, gh as in hiccough."
The above article appeared in The Economic Times from The Economist
Typical attempt to avoid the problem - poor teaching at primary level.
Is the problem poor teaching at the primary level?
Could be but when good teachers are compared to average teachers in countries with more phonemic and consistent writing systems, the students advance as much in one year as English speakers do in three.
Basically it is harder to teach inconsistency than it is to teach consistency.
Most students eventually learn to read at the 3rd grade level but this is often characterized as functional illiteracy.
If you give the graduating seniors in some high schools a newspaper article to read, half will be unable to read it well enough to answer simple questions over the content. The usual problem is the inability to decipher multisyllable words or words that are not high frequency words.
Those who advocate spelling reform believe that it will save 2 or 3 years of primary school. This would depend on the kind of reform that was implemented and how it was implemented.
There may also be other ways to save 2 or 3 years of schooling out of the 4 devoted primarily to basic literacy.
One promising approach is to teach the dictionary key first in a writing to read program.
When this has been done, students became code literate in 3 months.
They could read with as much understanding in the sound code as they could when the same material was read to them aloud. tüm bäm cóm
rather than the traditional tomb bomb comb. Unifon: TÛM BOM CÓM
After 3 months, they transitioned to the traditional writing system where the same sound is often represented 4 or more different ways. They were able to go from macron-A to radio, raid, ray, vein, rey, and ade within a few months without the usual confusion.
[á] = ai-ay, ei-ey, aCe, aCV,. as in raid, ray, vein, rey, ade, acorn, radio.
Dictionary: rádió, rád, ráy, vein, rey, ád, ákôrn. where y=/i/ in IPA.
(note: ray-ee is not that different from reh-ee.)
UNIFON: RÁDIÓ RÁD RÁ VÁN RÁ ÁD ÁCXRN.
In addition to the variant sound-spellings they had to pick up couple of dozen word-signs such as THE, OF, OFF, .... UNIFON: ÐU UV XF
Having a way to talk about speech sounds enabled all of the students to reach a 3rd grade reading level in 9 months. ref: www.unifon.org
So having a parallel phonemic writing system from a dictionary may be almost as good as having a reform of the traditional spelling to reduce its irregularity.
As a class the Unifon students could spell better than their peers but they could only spell unfamiliar words in code. The student might guess that SIZ3RZ would be written sizzers in the traditional writing system. Learning where to insert silent superfluous letters comes later. *scissors
The article in the Economist has right most of the time. Give it a careful read.
There is a lobby to drop accuracy in English. It should be discouraged. Since children in England at the end of the 19th century were largely able to read, write and cipher by the time they left school at 12, it is incredible that modern children of the same age are not able to do these things.
Good basic primary level teaching is vital to ensuring a child can benefit from education.
By the way, has it been used long enough to be able to say whether 14 year olds who've learnt UNIFON can spell regular words better than control 14 year olds; or is it still largely experimental?