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Spelling difficulties

(15 Posts)
Mashabell Sun 28-Oct-12 08:11:54

Acc. to an article in The Times there is some new research coming out this week from Oxford University Press which discovered that, despite decades of government blitzes and curriculum changes, children still get key rules wrong. My explanation for this is as follows.

Roughly half of all children and adults don?t manage to become proficient spellers, because they cannot cope with the requisite memorisation. I analysed the 7,000 most used English words and found that 3,695 of them contain one or more unpredictable letters, as in ?friend, said, quay?.

Lucky individuals with good visual memories (roughly 1 in 5) imprint them on their minds with reading. For all others, learning to spell English is difficult and time-consuming. They have to learn from their mistakes by the traditional ?look ? say ? cover ? write ? check? method, over and over again.

English has 90 main spelling patterns or rules, but 80 of them have at least one exception. Consonant spellings are mostly fairly stable (bib, dad, mum, pip, tot...), apart from <j>, <c / k> and <-ce /-se>: jingle ginger; scale skate, fence sense. Vowels spellings are much less consistent. Only the short /a/ sound of ?cat, mat, sat? has just three exceptions: plait, plaid, meringue.

All others have many more, but the inconsistencies which are chiefly responsible for making learning to spell English difficult and time-consuming are following.

1. The different spelling for 334 homophones, such as ?their/there?, ?to /two / too?. ? Over 2000 other homophones have just one spelling (e.g. mean, sound, round ...) and 103 pairs of words get by with just one spelling for them (tear, wear, row, bow, minute...). The 334 homophones with different spellings take a great deal of learning and cause endless spelling errors.

2. Inconsistent consonant doubling in words of more than one syllable:
e.g. offer ? profit ? offend,
with regular, missing and surplus doubling in at least 381, 439 and 153 words respectively.
Doubling for the purpose of keeping stressed vowels short is used consistently when adding suffixes to short words (pin ? pinned, pinning v pine ? pined, pining), but the rule is totally unreliable for longer words. It comes down to simply memorising which 592 have them and not being mislead into doubling logically (latter / lateral; poppy / copy).

3. The 459 unpredictable spellings for a stressed, long /ee/ sound (speak, seek, shriek, seize, scene...key, ski, quay...) ? 94 of those are different spellings for homophones (bee/be, sea/see....)

4. The 196 unpredictable spellings for long /oo/, with <oo> in 95 words (soon, moon) and assorted ones in 101 others (move, group, blue, shoe, flew, through...).

5. The 100 words with variant spellings for <o-e> which is used in 171 (dole, stole, role) but not in ?roll, coal, bowl, soul....?.

Those five inconsistencies are chiefly responsible for making learning to spell English exceptionally time-consuming.

Another 5 take quite a bit of learning too:

6. Surplus <-e>s (are, have, imagine, delicate, promise - cf. car, chav, boffin, acrobat, tennis) in ca. 200 words.

7. Unpredictable <er / ir / ur / ear> (e.g. her bird turned early ? with 70 <er> and 132 others).

8. 102 with variants for <a-e> (date ? great, straight, eight, gait)

9. 68 for short <u> (cut - couple, come, compass, does, blood)

10. 67 for short <e > (bed - said, head, any, friend )

I wrote this in Word first, with formatting which makes all the spelling differences much clearer, but it's too fiddly to do that on here. I should think u can send me a PM and leave your email, if u would like to have the clearer version.

Lonecatwithkitten Sun 28-Oct-12 08:30:33

Dyslexic here with terrible spelling who has absolutely no idea what you are talking about. But then I only discovered phonic double letter spelling rules two years ago.

learnandsay Sun 28-Oct-12 08:38:36

I think she's complaining because spelling in English is hard. A better method than spelling reform is spellcheck.

Kerryblue Sun 28-Oct-12 11:03:34


You have far too much time on your hands. What the hell was the point of that?? confused

I'm sorry, but I find your posts confusing, irrelevant and a lot of the time, complete nonsense.

How do you honestly expect to be able to change the english language?

Bonkers invho!!

Mashabell Mon 29-Oct-12 07:43:45

I am not complaining because spelling in English is hard.

I am trying to explain what makes learning to spell English difficult and very time-consuming. For children in KS1 consonant doubling does not feature much yet, apart from ff, ll and ss (puff, all, roll, full, miss).

But before long they have to learn the 'pin, pinned, pinning' rule for keeping a stressed vowel short, as opposed to long 'line - lined, lining'. Those patterns are used consistently and most children learn them easily enough. Many pupils then start applying them to other words as well: boddy, studdy, fammily, holliday, sallad....

But with longer words the pattern is only used in 381 words (cabbage, rabbit, shabby...).
In at least 439 words it is not used (cabin, fabulous, habit, robin, sugar...)
and 153 words have doubled letters which are unrelated to keeping a stressed vowel short (accuse, afford, suggest - cf. accurate, offer, beggar).

So learning which longer words have doubled consonants is entirely a matter of rote-learning. U can't apply logic to work out what's right and what's wrong. Words of Latin origin are more likely not to have them, but not reliably so (Latin - lettuce; origin - horror).

mrz Mon 29-Oct-12 09:45:53

masha on what are you basing your statement of what features in Key Stage 1 phonics teaching?

Bonsoir Mon 29-Oct-12 10:23:10

Masha - rigorous, systematic phonics teaching helps children learn to spell.

My DD has excellent spelling in English (where she had rigorous, systematic decoding and encoding phonics teaching) and slightly ropy spelling in French, where she had systematic teaching of decoding but not of encoding.

learnandsay Mon 29-Oct-12 10:26:36

If you don't read and write much and have a terrible memory and don't look things (including etymology) up in dictionaries you'll probably be more likely to struggle with spelling. If you're a swotty bookworm who's always looking things up you'll probably find it easier. And if you've got a brilliant memory you'll find it easier still. Spelling isn't rocket science.

Mashabell Mon 29-Oct-12 10:56:37

Yes, Learnandsay. Having a good memory, especially a good visual memory helps most of all.

I merely try to explain what learning to spell English involves and why most people take a long time to become confident, proficient spellers, with roughly 1 in 2 never managing to do so, and leaving teachers forever looking for better ways to help them.

I should think that most posters on here are among the lucky 1 in 5 who learned with relative ease.

mrz Mon 29-Oct-12 12:22:09

Assuming the figure of 20% struggling to learn to read is correct it would suggest that 4 out of 5 learn with relative ease masha.
Did I miss where you revealed how you obtained your knowledge of what is taught in KS1?

Ruprekt Mon 29-Oct-12 12:27:01

DS2 and I are both good at spelling and we do visualise the words before we write them.

Am not sure what the point of the OP is but I think you have to be a natural to spell correctly all of the time and it is not something you can always learn.

Mashabell Tue 30-Oct-12 11:48:35

I am trying to explain what makes learning to spell English difficult and time-consuming, and why many people never learn to spell confidently.

Governments have been spending billions of pounds on efforts to improve literacy standards, but the latest research from OUP which was reported in The Times last Fri or Sat and The Telegraph and The Mail today
suggests that they keep misspelling many common words.

Children can't spell 'doesn't' or 'believe'... but have no problem with 'pterodactyl and 'archaeologist'

Spellcheck generation 'failing to write simple words'

By analysing the spellings of the 7,000 most used English words, I established that at least 3,700 had some unpredictable letters (or 'unguessable' letters as Jane Bradbury calls them).

I also grouped the spellings by sound and found that some, like those for the /ee/ sound, were especially tricky because they have no real pattern at all. The two main spellings for the /ee/ sound are ea and ee, with 47 sets of homophones (sea/see), but also several other spellings in another 174 words (scene, seize, siege, key, ski....).

The first 5 inconsistencies which I listed in my OP are the main reason why learning to spell English takes a long time, even for people with a good visual memory. The next 5 take quite a bit of learning too.

I think they explain why spending more time and money on efforts to improve literacy standards have repeatedly failed to make much difference, especially not to writing standards.

They also make it difficult to find a teaching method by which all children can learn to spell well. The current fashion is to blame poor spelling on insufficient use of phonics. I think it's much more because learning to spell English involves humungous amounts of rote-learning.

mrz Tue 30-Oct-12 12:24:45

masha where does your expert knowledge of what is taught in KS1 stem from?

Even in schools using L&S the concept of doubling the final consonant before adding a suffix is taught in Y2.

Mashabell Tue 30-Oct-12 15:21:04

Even in schools using L&S the concept of doubling the final consonant before adding a suffix is taught in Y2.

I am aware of that. And because that is the easy, regular use of doubling, most children cope with it quite easily. Unfortunately, consonant doubling is much less predictable with longer root words, i.e. ones not formed by adding suffixes to short ones like 'big - bigger' (e.g. poppy - copy, rabbit - habit, common - comic, omit - commit) which pupils learn much more in KS2 and KS3.

If consonant doubling was used consistently only and always for keeping the short stressed main vowels short in words of more than one syllable short, it would not cause adults to commit so many doubling errors as most do.

And for children 'hero, herring - late, latter - holy, holly' would never cause any learning difficulties without the likes of 'heroine, lateral, holiday' or 'accuse' and several hundred others.

mrz Tue 30-Oct-12 16:06:33

Thank you masha for confirming that you haven't got a clue what is taught in KS1!
do you honestly think that children in Y2 are taught that "you always double the final consonant" or would you agree that it's much more useful (and likely) that children are taught when to and when not. Of course as with any new learning young children make mistakes to begin but with experience and practice most very quickly get the hang of spelling these words.

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