Be crazySpelling in English is more difficult than other languages, and that makes it more difficult for ADDers.

If you can't speak, read and write English, you will sadly not get very far in the world of business! I have often wondered why English is not spelt phonetically like other languages.


Look at the picture on the left. The English word "receipt" cannot easily be pronounced phonetically even by an English speaker. Whereas the two African language translations are spelt phonetically and easily understood.

English is also a difficult language in which to learn maths. For instance when using fractions, we say three-quarters in English. In the far East they say take three out of four. English requires a lot of pronunciation knowledge and translation skills.

Towards the end of last year I came across an article that explained why it’s so difficult for many people to learn to spell in English.

Most importantly it explains how children should learn to spell. The reason children can't spell is a failure of teaching, not a failure of learning!

Now, before you go off and sue your child's teacher because they can't spell, we need to realise that this is not necessarily a failure of the teacher, but it is a failure of teaching - they are two totally different things.

I have always been irritated by those dreadfully superior people who complain that others should speak "proper English," as if my English is somehow inferior to theirs! I defy anyone to define what English is. Even in England there are flavours - or dialects - of English that even the Queen can't understand!

Academic linguists are uncertain how many dialects there are of English, and even how many English words there are. It's all a bit fuzzy this language called English. There are anywhere between 250 000 and 750 000 words. There are estimated to be at least 24 different dialects in the USA alone.

But why the huge discrepancy in the number of English words I hear you ask? The answer is that many words have more than one meaning. Take the word "trunk." It means the torso of the body, or the stem of a tree, or a suitcase in some parts of the world, or a boot of a car in yet other parts. So do you only count the word once as a word, or do you count every meaning?

Americans don't speak the same English in Texas as they do in New York. The Brits don't speak the same language in Manchester, as is spoken in Liverpool; or Safricans in Johannesburg, or in Cape Town, or Aussies in Sydney Australia, or Indians in Delhi.

English, just like other languages, evolves continuously. There are many wonderfully expressive words that have been absorbed into English over the years. The same happens in all other languages. Teenagers want nothing less than to speak the same as their parents, so new teenage words are invented every generation, and new meanings for existing words are constantly being found.

Is it any wonder therefore that many people battle to spell in English. I often look at words I have written and feel that they "look wrong." All the funny rules like the "ei" and "ie," the silent letters that you write but don’t say, make English a very difficult language. It's not a language for sissies.

The problem lies in the sounds. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet, but more than 44 sounds - excluding variations for different accents, and hundreds of ways to spell those sounds. Think of board and bored. this example alone makes it crystal clear that you cannot learn to spell English phonetically.

So how do we teach this?

dictionaryChildren need to learn to find the meaning of words. I once had a client who was heavily remediated as a child as he struggled to read. He told me that he would learn that "those shapes made those sounds, but sometimes it was 6 months before I understood what those shapes meant."

The basic building blocks of words are morphemes. The word "walk" is a morpheme. You can add another morpheme, "ed" and now you have "walked," a different meaning. Phonetically, walked could be spelt something like, "warkt," which would get you into trouble in your English class.

The primary purpose of language is to understand and to be understood. Language is not only the spoken or written word, it includes the gestures, expressions, and body movements that change the meaning of the spoken word. This is why children need to learn the meaning of words in order to spell.

The incorrect spelling of words can sometimes have dangerous consequences, especially when around dangerous machinery.

So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to help your child to be able to spell? It’s simple, fun, and time consuming. Take at least one word a day, and explain what that word means, stay away from the spelling until the meaning of the word is understood. Try and use visual illustrations wherever possible.The best of course is the real thing, but otherwise pictures or video.

I recommend strongly that you read the whole article below, the author is an expert.

Further reading

Inspiration: Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help

Author: Misty Adoniou, Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra

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