Bad spelling is nobody's fault

4th August 2006 at 01:00
Lynne Truss is right to draw attention to the fact that many adults "feel completely at sea when they have to communicate in the written form"

("Commander of the comma", TES, July 21). Roughly one in two is in that position - but this is not due, as she thinks, to "schools' failure to correct their grammatical errors".

Their poor writing skills are due to their inability to cope with memorising the hundreds of nonsensical exceptions and contradictions that bedevil English spelling and grammar, such as "hotpothot dog", "a service, to servicea practice, to practise", and "played, stayedpaid, laid".

The fault lies with English spelling conventions rather than poor teaching or lazy students.

People blessed with a good visual memory make fewer mistakes but many learners are simply defeated by the illogicalities of the system: there are identically-sounding words spelt differently such as "herehear"; there are others with just one spelling for different meanings ("arm, bar, found, ground"); and at least 100 pairs of words pronounced differently for different meanings but with just one spelling ("minute, use, alternate etc").

As long as this chaos is tolerated, millions will continue to write poorly.

Rather than complain about learners for failing to cope with such nonsense, we should address the root cause of their difficulties. For more on the solution, see englishspellingproblems.co.uk.

Masha Bell (Author of Understanding English Spelling) 24 Filleul Road Wareham, Dorset

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