Simplicity spells success

8th November 2013 at 00:00

Pasi Sahlberg, along with the many people who have been trying to discover the cause of Finland's consistently superior educational performance, seems unaware of one significant fact: Finnish has one of the world's simplest spelling systems ("'Superstars' won't save the day, expert claims", 1 November). Finnish uses just 38 totally reliable spellings for its 38 speech sounds. This enables students to learn to read and write very easily and exceptionally fast, and to move on to other learning shortly after starting school.

English spelling lies at the opposite end of the range. The 44 English sounds are spelled with 205 graphemes, many of which are totally unpredictable (leave, sleeve, believe, ravine and so on). Worse still, 69 spellings have more than one pronunciation (treat, great, threat), which makes learning to read exceptionally difficult and time-consuming. These difficulties impede overall educational progress and incur higher teaching costs. They also cause more literacy failure and handicap both students and teachers in English-speaking lands.

Masha Bell, Independent literacy researcher, former English teacher and author of Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today