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We are not alone

Updated: Aug 8, 2023

I gave up apologizing about it to my students when I realised that, because of it, we all have had to suffer. It is a cultural trial, a rite of passage that bonds all English learners, young and old, native, non-native. It is the irrational process of learning how to spell and read in English!

I came across this visual which shows the reading level of various languages after one

year of instruction. English is the first language on the chart; Spanish is the seventh. Why is the red bar so low for English learners and so high for Spanish learners? Are English learners less intelligent? Or is it that the teachers are bad? Why does every other language soar above English?

Maybe a better question to ask would be: could it be that the actual system of spelling is unintelligible and bad?! Indeed, according to John Katt, Professor of English, that is exactly the problem. Good news, right?! It’s not you! It’s the system that is irrational. Now, instead of nagging your children or perhaps wondering if they lack the “smart gene”, you can give them a break. They are normal! It’s English that is lacking!

Let me give some examples:

Pronounce “answer” without the “w”; along with “write”, “wrinkle” and “wrong”. No “w” sound, but you have to write it!

“Walk”, “talk”, and “gawk” all rhyme, but don’t dare pronounce the “l” or the “w” in gawk!

Then we have “live” and “live”. They are written exactly the same but pronounced differently; the first means “vivir”, the other “vivo/a”.

“Read” and “read”; again, spelled the same, but pronounced differently. The first is “leo”, the second “leyó”.

And there are “read” and “red” (one is “leyó” the other “rojo”), but they are pronounced exactly the same.

“Eight” (don’t say the “g”, the “i”, nor the “h”) and “ate” (pronounce the “a” like and an “e”, but don’t say the “e” at the end) are pronounced exactly the same. The first word is “ocho” the second, “comió”.

To help you non-native English learners feel better, us native speakers had to begin rigours spelling programs with tests every Friday (which made Fridays bitter sweet…) from the age of five until we entered University.

And, even after all that rigours spelling practice, the first thing I did at University was learn how to spell check on the new word processors. An incredible invention that alerted me to misspelled words and corrected them! It was God sent; us English communicators are not alone!

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