Strange Spelling Puts English-Speaking Learners at a Disadvantage

English-speaking students are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the world because English's wacky written language requires rigorous memorization of myriad forms of spelling. This keeps kids from achieving literacy as quickly as those who speak more phonetic languages.

English-speaking students are at a disadvantage, says The Atlantic's Luba Vangelova, and its wacky written language is to blame. In a piece published earlier this week, Vangelova explores various forms of research that collectively bemoan the ways in which young learners are forced to memorize the spelling of English's many odd vocabulary words. This necessary endeavor keeps kids from achieving literacy as quickly as those who speak more phonetic languages.


"Mastering such a language takes a long time and requires abilities that most children don’t develop until the middle or latter part of elementary school. Many children struggle to meet unrealistic expectations, get discouraged, and never achieve a high literacy level—all at an enormous cost to themselves and to society."

Vangelova's point is that written English is difficult to master and certainly more than it needs to be. After all, there's nothing sacred about its myriad variations in spelling. Vangelova delves into the long history of word bastardization, mistranslation, and -- believe it or not -- printing press corruption that has produced our current motley assortment of idiosyncratic dictionary entries. Words like "bough" and "cough" are spelled nearly identical but don't sound anything alike. Take hundreds of examples like that and ask 9 year olds to process them and you can see why advanced literacy isn't feasible for everyone.

Naturally there are those who agree with Vangelova and are trying to do something about it. She mentions applied linguist Dmitry Orlov who has developed a new form of written English he calls Unspell that promises to simplify the path to literacy. Unspell is purely phonetic and relies on symbols Orlov specially designed to appeal to those even with dyslexia. Take a look at the article below to learn more about Orlov and others who want to reform the written language.

If this website is written in Unspell this time next year, you'll know who won.

Read more at The Atlantic

Photo credit: exopixel / Shutterstock

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