New research claims that increases in illiteracy amongst teenagers are due to the intricacies of the English Spelling system.
According to a report in the English newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, a high number of “inconsistencies” in the way basic English words are spelt and pronounced is making harder for children to read and write English at a young age.
Masha Bell, author and literacy researcher, told a conference of English teachers on Friday 9th July, that sweeping reforms are needed to the spelling system to improve children’s English linguistic skills.
She said that English employs 185 “unreliable” spellings for just 44 speech sounds. Words such as too, true, who, flew, shoe and you all employ different letters to represent the same sound.
According to academics, children in Britain normally take three years to read to a decent standard.
But in Finland – where words are more likely to be pronounced as they look – children can read fluently within three months.
Her comments were made to the annual conference of the National Association for Teachers of English in Leicestershire.
Speaking before the conference, Mrs Bell, author of the books Learning to Read and Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling, said English was unique in the way in which “identical letters make different sounds”.
“It is difficult to learn any subject, or even to train for a trade nowadays, without learning to read and write first, but roughly 20 per cent of all speakers of English leave school with very poor literacy skills,” she said.
“The antique, inconsistent spelling system of English is probably the main reason why the UK has a far longer tail of educational underachievement than any other European country, why more of our young people are Neets (Not in Education Employment or Training), why many end up in jail, and why improving their chances of re-offending while in prison is much more difficult too.”
Mrs Bell’s views have been criticised in the past for advocating “dumbing down” of a spelling system that has naturally evolved over centuries.
She has previously claimed that children face 800 words by the age of 11 that hinder their reading ability because of the way they are spelt.
Words such as orange, foreign, rhinoceros, handkerchief, soldiers and stomach all contain letter combination’s that are more commonly pronounced in a different way, she claimed.
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