Is English spelling as senseless or messy as it is made out to be? Or does it appear so, simply because we have not taken the time and trouble to find out what it actually is?
You take one look at students’ writings these days and you can’t help but wonder how schools expect to improve literacy outcomes when neither teachers nor students seem to understand the very foundations of literacy: the English spelling system. It used to be said that the best way to teach reading was to teach writing. However, the current push for improving literacy, oh I mean, reading, has managed to divorce reading from spelling and actually banned spelling. Students are expected to learn spelling by simply reading a lot. And they are reading. Therefore, they are expected to be able to write, except many of them can’t write because they can’t spell. They can’t spell because the spelling system makes no sense to them. So when they write, they avoid using all the words they can’t spell. We expect them to figure it out. But the truth is, well, they can’t and their writing is proof of that.
The question is: why are we not helping them? The answer is simple. We would like to, but we don’t know how. We may have several different apps, software programs, and so on but, without a good understanding of English spelling, none of them will prove really helpful in the long run. Understanding is important. You wouldn’t expect math apps and software to make up for a math teacher’s lack of understanding of mathematical concepts, would you? Why on earth would you expect anything different with literacy? Understanding is important for successful outcomes in every subject or discipline.
The truth is that, with a bit of curiosity, diligence, ‘research’, and a dogged dissatisfaction with the status quo, one will be surprised to discover that English spelling is actually guided by concepts and principles. These concepts and principles are not riddled with exceptions, contrary to common misconceptions. They are regular and consistent. This means that you can actually study the principles of English spelling and teach them to others. To conclude the point I have been trying to make, I want to emphasize that English spelling makes sense! You can teach it once you understand it.