Spelling out the problem

2nd November 2012 at 00:00

Ruth Owen thinks it's important to teach standard English spelling, especially differentiations such as there, their and they're, in order to avoid confusion ("Use it, abuse it, but don't let 'em lose it", Resources, 26 October). Teachers do, yet they keep being misspelled. If we saw people being regularly tripped up by a worn step, we would replace or improve it. Why can't we do the same with clearly troublesome spellings?

Instead of insisting that itsit's and their ilk must provide a never-ending supply of marking, might it not be wiser to adopt just one sensible spelling for such sets? More than 2,000 English words have just one spelling for their different meanings. There are 103 pairs of different words that have to share one spelling. So why do we allow 334 homophones to continue making learning to spell English much harder than it need be? Surely it's time to consider amending some of Samuel Johnson's unphonic and illogical spellings that have been causing trouble since 1755.

Masha Bell, Literacy researcher for the English Spelling Society and author of e-book Spelling it Out.

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