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chaynj ilojical spelings

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An article in the TES last week puts forward a suggestion that we should 'chaynj ilojical spelings' to give a more consistnt phonetic approach. Marsha Bell, author of books on spelling has said that it is unfair to compare the achievements of english speaking children with those from other countries because of the irregularities in english spelling. She has compiled a list of 80 words for example :

ar- are

giv- give


and would abolish silent letters and change the 'o' in words like brother.

As someone who remembers the Initial Teaching Alphabet, popular in the 70s, I am unable to take this very seriously. However I think it raises the issue as to whether as teachers we often put too great an emphasis on correct spelling for those students who struggle with it.

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The idea of reforming English orthography certainly isn't new. There's even a Simplified Spelling Society:


The old anecdote about "ghoti" (gh as in enough, o as in women and ti as in station) as an alternative spelling of "fish" is often told to illustrate the absurdity of English sound-symbol correspondence.

George Bernard Shaw left a hefty chunk in his will to the person who developed a more phonetic spelling system and managed to get it adopted throughout the English-speaking world. There is, however, no mechanism in the English-speaking world for spelling reform. The French have the Académie Française as their arbiter, while the German-speaking countries of Europe meet occasionally to make changes to their already phonetically spelled language. We don't have such institutions and we would probably be unwise to "go it alone" without the cooperation of our transatlantic cousins.

I agree that it's unfair to penalise children overmuch for misspellings. It's been argued that English spelling actually generates dyslexia because of its illogicalities. My brother tells me that his fellow doctoral students often had to have their spelling corrected by their tutor, so there's no straight correlation between general intelligence and the ability to spell correctly. So does spelling matter? Well, yes it does if we're happy to let our students send off misspelled job application letters to their future employers, who bin them because they regard accurate spelling as an indispensable literacy skill. And what about the ability to search the Web for information? GIGO - garbage in/garbage out is a good description of what happens when we misspell keywords in a search engine.

David Wilson


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