Insane and unkind

Everybody agrees that being able to read is an essential life skill in today’s world, close behind walking and talking. Continuing to put up with a spelling system that makes this roughly 10 times harder and slower than need be is clearly not very sensible, but there are reasons why this continues to be tolerated.

When people master something difficult over several years, and before their critical faculties have even begun to develop, they tend to go along with the wishes of their elders. They then get used to the system and become opposed to changing it. I have even heard people claim that they love the quirkiness of English spelling! – A bit like prisoners who fall in love with their jailers.

Ignorance plays a big part too. Most speakers of English are not aware that learning to read English is much harder than all other alphabetically written languages. They don’t realise that in most of the world learning to read takes just a few months, instead of at least three years for moderate competence, while continuing to struggle with less common conundrums like ‘echoing, cello’ and ‘epitome’ for several years longer. Most don’t really become competent before the end of primary school, and one in six not even by then.

Pride plays a part too. Good readers get much more praise in English-speaking countries than elsewhere. Good spellers can even win lucrative prizes. This doesn’t happen when pretty much everyone learns to read in just a few months and to write well in about a year too. After WW2 US troops stationed in Germany tried to get the Germans to like spelling bees, but they just did not take off. Learning to read and write German is not challenging enough for that kind of malarkey.

How would children be kept occupied at primary school? – I have honestly had teachers ask me what they would have to teach if learning to read and write was much easier. Once something time-wasting becomes regarded as essential, clear thinking seems to become more difficult.

Nevertheless, should any English-speaking ever develop a desire to have their children learn more during their 10 or so years in compulsory schooling, they should consider making at least learning to read easier. The long time their kids currently have to spend just on learning to read leaves them with less of it for other subjects. Worse still, most subjects cannot be learned much without learning to read first.

Some people will of course claim that the relatively long time needed for learning to read English is not due to its spelling. They will come up with lots of silly excuses, like poor teaching, feckless parents, starting school too young. If u are viscerally opposed to something, it’s easy to come up with all kinds of justifications.

Anyone with even a very small brain, however, can easily see that if u can just teach children that the letter a sounds as in ‘a fat cat sat’, b as in ‘big bull’ and so on, kids have no trouble grasping it and learn to read in no time at all. Most of the world proves this over and over again.

Even the Chinese discovered, back in 1958, that teaching their kids to read with such spellings was dead easy. So they now let them learn that way first and then go on to use that systems as subtitles for learning to read traditional Chinese characters.

Anyone who has ever listened to children learning to read and paid the slightest attention to the words that trip them up, could not help but notice that they are invariably ones with daft spellings: only, once … thought, through… neighbour laughed…

If there were fewer English words with stupid spellings, English-speaking kids would learn to read quicker. It’s as simple as that.

And it’s if not as if the words with stupid spellings must be spelt that way, because English is short of sensible spellings. It has a perfectly good spelling system. But stupidly, ever since the system was first adopted, it has repeatedly been made it worse.

The /u/ sound, for example, was spelt simply as in ‘bun, run, runt’ and ‘much, mud’ until 1200 years ago. There was no good reason to mess it up with the likes ‘front, money’, ‘double, trouble’ or ‘rough, tough’. Those perversions were all adopted for thoroughly bad reasons.

While education was accessible just to the richest and cleverest, this did not matter too much. Rich gents could get secretaries to read and write for them.  It makes no sense to hang on to all spellings that clearly make learning to read much harder than need be and want everybody to become at least a bit educated.

It’s cruel too, now that we send all kids to school and make them learn to read and write. Irregularities like ‘fiend, friend’, ‘great threat’ and ‘sound soup’ are troublesome for all children. They are particularly hard on kids that are not all that bright, don’t get much help with homework outside school or have any kind of learning difficulty.

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