Spelling “speling”

This morning’s “Call Kaye” programme on BBC Radio Scotland featured an interview with Richard Lawrence Wade, whose “Free Speling” campaign aims to help English “break out of the cage [of spelling] that’s been holding us all prisoners for over 250 years”. Richard isn’t proposing a spelling free-for-all: his goal is to modernise English and create a new set of standard spellings for difficult words. This, he says, would benefit the 11% of British people technically termed illiterate, and learners of English struggling with its idiosyncratic spelling. (I’m not sure, by the way, that Richard’s “Guydlines” is that much easier to suss out than “Guidelines”).

The question of spelling raises lots of issues, which merit deeper exploration in later posts. In the meantime: as a language professional, and a Virgo to boot, an issue that riles me more than spelling in itself is the way we’re failing our kids by not teaching them how to use their own language properly.

We expect them to go out into the world of work and somehow know the basic rules of good writing. But if we don’t give them the instruments to do so – a decent grounding in spelling and grammar – then that’s simply not fair.

As Kaye Adams suggested in this morning’s programme, “we should put more effort into teaching [schoolchildren who are struggling with English] properly so that they can communicate on the same level as everybody else”. There will always be kids who have difficulties or are bored with, or don’t see the relevance of, studying English. We need to find ways to spark their imaginations and open their eyes to the importance of language and their sheer luck in having such a marvellous language as English – with all its weird and wacky spelling.

By Marian Dougan

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