Simplified spelling would give us all a break;Letter

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
You say in your editorial "Blind to dyslexia no longer"(TES, February 27):

"In the real world dyslexic children have no choice but to wrestle with the illogicality of words such as 'rhythm' and 'ricochet' as well as seemingly innocent tricksters like 'climb'." Yet you also point out that Spanish dyslexics are spared such horrors.

If, in the Spanish "real world", spelling is arranged to avoid illogicality, then we should look for possibilities of organising our real world to the same effect. Two scenarios suggest themselves.

One is to teach dyslexics using a regularised spelling system. This was done with dramatic success to whole cohorts of children in certain localities in America in the 19th century, in (mainly) Scotland after World War I, and (using the admittedly controversial initial teaching alphabet) in the main English-speaking countries in the 1960s and 1970s (tailing off in the 1980s).

The merit of this approach lies in the separation of literacy skills from the present problems of English spelling. Children then do not have to face both at the same time. Once they can read and write fluently (as in Spanish), then they can be taught today's irregular spelling. And if the more severe dyslexics found that beyond them, they would at least have gained some elements of literacy.

Another scenario is to teach simplified versions of the most difficult spellings to all beginners - for them to use for the rest of their lives. That is how many other languages modernise their spellings, and how they have avoided the orthographic morass of English.

So we could refuse to tolerate the "i before e except after c" absurdity any longer, and align "receive" with "relieve". And we could take a major leaf out of the Spanish book, and simplify many of our doubled consonants. Most of us now misspell "accommodation", but its hazards would be greatly reduced if learners were taught "acomodation" (Spanish acomodaci).

So let us stop quoting the present "real world" as an insuperable obstacle to tackling the greatest handicap suffered by everyone who aspires to literacy in English today.

CHRISTOPHER UPWARD, Editor in chief, School of languages and European studies, Aston University, Birmingham

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