Thursday, December 9, 2010

The English language is unpredictable

As I have taught ESL, I am interested in the problems the English language causes students, so my thanks to Gale for this information and a fun read.  I thought it might be interesting for people who enjoy the vagaries of English.

Quoting a bit from the article, "English Spelling,

Problems in learning to read and write": "The average English-speaking child takes nearly three times longer to learn the basics of reading and writing than users of other alphabetic writing systems (Seymour, British Journal of Psychology, 2003). Numerous surveys in Anglophone countries during the past five decades have established that nearly half of all English speakers have severe difficulties with writing. One in five cannot even read properly, as was confirmed in 2005 by the UK's House of Commons Select Committee for Education."

Learning to read and write English is exceptionally difficult.

Learning to read English is difficult because identical letter strings often have  different pronunciations, for example,The English writing system is uniquely difficult because it has spelling and reading problems. Other difficult alphabetic systems have only spelling problems  To become even moderately competent spellers of English, learners have to memorize at least 3700  words with some unpredictable spellings...
on – once - only - woman – women – worry
[wunce] [oanly] [wooman] [wimmen] [wurry]

Learning to spell is even harder because different spellings for identical English sounds are twice as common as different pronunciations for identical letters. The EE-sound and OO-sound, for example, can be spelt as:
peep - leap, people, here, weird, chief, police, me, ski, key;
food - rude, shrewd, truth, group, move, fruit, tomb, through, blue, shoe.

A little more than half of all English spelling difficulties are caused by four problems:

unsystematic consonant doubling like 'shoddy - body' and unpredictable spellings for the EE-sound, the long O -sound and the two OO-sounds.

Other serious spelling problems are caused by unpredictable spellings for the sounds Ur / er / ir, Au / aw, S, Sh and the unstressed half-vowel in endings (like –er / -or / -ar or –en / -on / -an).

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