English spelling is crazy and it always has been. Between 40% – 50% of native English speakers regardless of their country of origin, are functionally illiterate. (Canadian Study) The greatest minds in North America today are in jail (Harvard loses to San Quentin). They can’t read. (Illiterate inmates) How is our education system churning out such consistently poor results generation after generation? What can we do about it?
The first answer is a tragedy, teachers teach what they were taught to teach. If the information teachers are taught is wrong, outdated or just plain irrelevant there is no way to erase or amend bad information in the dogma of our current education system. Subjects including but not limited to Spelling, Reading, Grammar, History… fall in to the category of ‘garbage I learned in school’.
The second answer is more hopeful. First we have to recognize English is broken. Letters (26) don’t represent sounds (40+) so the alphabet does not give access to pronunciation nor can words we hear be printed as they sound. When teachers totally get that speling dusn’t mayk sens then we can have a real conversation about how to help learners over this hurdle.
I was pleased to present A Quick and Dirty Approach to Spelling, a webinar for TUTELA in April. (PowerPoint Click Here). A comment during the presentation was very telling. A teacher contributed, “85% of English words follow the spelling rules.” I’m not sure if there was a hint of self defense in the remark but I responded, “Unfortunately, the most common words in English are from the original Old English and are the least logically spelled.” There were some good examples in the presentation – of is one of my favorite common English words – it should be spelled ‘uv’. One should be ‘wun’ and two should be ‘tuw’… We really have to stop saying silly things like, “Sound it out” to students when sounding it out is the exact reason why they can’t read!
After the webinar was over the thing I wished I’d said about 85% remark is that 85% is nothing. A rule has to be 100% or it isn’t a rule and it isn’t helpful. Newton’s Laws of Motion aren’t true 99% percent of the time, they are laws and they are always true. If I hit the brakes and the car stops 85% of the time I can’t drive that car.
There are 100% rules for English but they aren’t in any textbook or course you took in school. They are on the internet The Global Approach, Speaking Made Simple, The Logic of English… and students are finding them faster than teachers and then they are quitting school. Students have a vested interest in learning something valuable, teachers are conscripted to teach the junk they learned in school. It’s not the same, even 85% good is not good enough.
Until next time,