Spelling reform conversation questions
Students of the English language - and young children - frequently find English spelling idiosyncratic and difficult to pick up. As a consequence of this arguments are sometimes made for spelling reform. The following is a list of the arguments for and against spelling reform. Go through these arguments one by one and ask your students to decide which ones are most persuasive.
For spelling reform
- The pronunciation of English words has changed over time but the spelling system has not changed. Spelling reform would fix this situation.
- Spelling reform would make spelling easier for both students of English and young children.
- In reality English spelling does change - but very slowly. Spelling reform would do no more than speed up an ongoing natural process.
- There are some English words such as "live" and "read" whose pronunciation depends on context. A silly situation which would be resolved by spelling reform.
- There are many silent letters in English. They were either deliberately introduced in the past to indicate imagined original words, or were pronounced in the past but are now no longer pronounced. Spelling reform would eliminate silent letters.
- Children learning to read in English take three years, and in other European languages they take only a year or less. Spelling reform could help English speaking children to learn much faster than they do now.
- Spelling reform would reduce, on average, the number of letters. This would save space, time, money and paper and is an ecological argument for spelling reform.
Against spelling reform
- As English is a mixture of so many language influences, any major change to standardise the system would change a large number of words. So much so that all adult learners would have to learn new spellings.
- If so many words were changed then the pre-existing body of existing English language writings would become inaccessible to those who had learnt the new spellings - libraries would have out-of-date books, the internet would need to be rewritten etc.
- Resistance to spelling reform has been consistently high among the adult population in English-speaking countries. Presumably becasue of the difficulties involved in learning a new spelling system.
- The present system allows English speakers to recognise written words from many continental languages and vice versa. If the words were changed to some new spelling system which reflected pronunciation this advantage would be lost.
- Depending on the accent, English has over twenty vowels and diphthongs - but it only has five vowel letters (A,E,I,O,U) with which to represent these twenty-plus sounds. Consequently either new characters would need to be used, or people would have to learn new vowel combinations. In either case the situation would not be simplified. For example, the vowels of palm, foot and blind don't have unambiguous spellings. They might be spelled, for example, as "aa", "uu", and "ii", giving rise to paam, fuut, and bliind.
- There is the question of which form of English. In the United kingdom vowel pronunciation varies wildly from one part of the country to another. It is difficult to imagine the Scots agreeing that a southern English pronunciation was "correct" for example.
- The problem is even worse on the international scale. Would British people accept standardised American?
- Allied to the above is the fact that no national language academy exists in any English-speaking country - and there certainly is no international one. Who, then, would pronounce on such a new spelling? In the absolutely worst case, individual countries would embark on their own local spelling reforms producing complete chaos.
Spelling reform conversation questions
- Do you have trouble reading "I read every day" and "I read yesterday", or "I live in a house" and "I watched a live show"?
- Are there words you always mispronounce because of their spelling?
- Examples: tongue as /təʊŋ/ or /tɒŋ/ instead of /tʌŋ/, steak as /stiːk/ instead of /steɪk/.
- Are you a good or a bad speller in your own language? Is it different in English?
- Have you been exposed to misspellings made by natives?
- Examples: could of (could've), definate (definite), one women (one woman), sauce instead of source.
- The Atlantic, How Spelling Keeps Kids From Learning, February 9, 2015.