Finland's 'egalitarian' example remains a foreign concept

12th February 2010 at 00:00

The main difference between Finland and the UK is that Finland has Europe's simplest spelling system, and the UK its most complex.

Finnish uses just 38 spellings, each of which has just one sound. English uses 185 spellings for its 43 sounds and 69 of those have more than one sound, such as the "a" in "and", "any" and "apron". Most of the 185 English spellings have alternatives too (blue, shoe, flew, through, too), while each Finnish speech sound has only one spelling.

The simplicity of Finnish spelling makes learning to read and write exceptionally easy. English spelling makes literacy acquisition very difficult and is a barrier to accessing other learning for many children.

No school system or teaching method can compensate for this difference. Finland does educationally better than any other European country quite simply because it has an exceptionally learner-friendly spelling system.

Masha Bell, Independent literacy researcher and author of 'Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling', Dorset.

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