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Welfare and words make Finland great

All those foreign visitors to Finland looking for an explanation for its consistently superior education performance, without speaking a word of Finnish, keep overlooking one crucial fact: Finland has one of the world's simplest alphabetic writing system.

It uses just 38 totally reliable spellings for its 38 speech sounds and makes learning to read and write Finnish very easy. English, by contrast, uses 185 spellings for its 43 sounds, allows 69 spellings to have more than one sound and puts proficient reading and writing beyond the reach of millions, not just at school, but for the rest of their lives.

So instead of jaunts to Finland, educationalists should stay at home and use a little more introspection. They should consider if it is perhaps possible to improve English spelling too, and make the door which gives access to all other learning easier to open.

Masha Bell, Former English teacher, now independent literacy researcher and author of Understanding English Spelling, Wareham, Dorset.

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