End Illiteracy in English

The problem of English functional illiteracy is a very real nightmare, but the solution is easier than you would ever dare to dream.

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The Only Proven Solution to Our Educational Problems

Before I begin, there are two problems in reading this blog. Problem one: You may have doubts that some unknown (non-celebrity) blogger can really present a proven solution to the serious U.S. educational problems. Your curiosity may keep you reading just long enough to confirm your suspicion in this age that many have called “The Age of Skepticism.” Can you spare 12 minutes from your busy schedule for something of importance to at least 600 million English-speaking people — including yourself? That is how long it will take to read this entire blog. Problem two: You may think that even if this blog does present a proven solution to the problem, you personally cannot do anything to help solve the problem. Like many other people, you may believe that it is not your problem — you believe it should be (and hopefully will be) solved by the “experts:” the educational and political authorities.

Despite these problems — whether or not you believe it — here are the facts. Dr. Frank Charles Laubach spent almost his entire adult life teaching thousands of adult illiterates around the world how to read. He taught in more than 300 alphabetic languages other than English. He prepared reading primers in 313 languages and even invented spelling systems for 220 languages that were unwritten. His books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, document a truly amazing fact about the languages in which he taught. He was able to teach adults to read fluently in from one to twenty days in 95% of the languages and in less than three months in 98% of the languages! His books never mention being unable to teach any of his students to read fluently.

Dr. Laubach was able quickly to teach his students to read fluently because 98% of these languages had an almost perfect phonemic spelling system. A perfect spelling system has only one grapheme for each phoneme. In alphabetic languages, a grapheme is a letter or digraph (two letters) that represents a phoneme, syllable or word. A phoneme is the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect.

Teachers will tell you that reading is the foundation of nearly all learning. Students need fluent reading ability for class work, homework, and testing in almost every subject. Why then do almost half of Americans never become fluent readers? Analysis of a report released by the U.S. Department of Education in April 2002 titled Adult Literacy in America proves this is true — and the follow-up report released in 2006 confirms it. The answer is very simple: English is not an alphabetic language. English is more like Chinese writing that uses specific shapes in specific positions to represent a word. English uses a specific combination of letters in a specific order to represent a word.

Apologists for the present method of teaching reading will tell you that most English words are phonemic. That is true only if you allow more than one spelling of the phonemes. Some apologists will even go to the extreme of calling English “a beautiful language” and will defend our “mother tongue” against all attacks — despite the difficulty that beginning readers and especially immigrants have in learning to read. The truth is that if each of the 38 English phonemes that are needed to learn to read are allowed only ONE specific spelling, only about 20% of English words are phonemic. More than one spelling of the phonemes requires a huge amount of memorization when some of the phonemes can be spelled in as many as more than 60 ways and the spelling of each phoneme varies from one word to the next.

The problem is that there is absolutely no way of knowing which words are phonemic and which are not (other than memorizing 20% of about two million English words). It is easier just to learn to recognize, by sight, the spelling of every word in your reading vocabulary — which is EXACTLY what every reader of English MUST do! Almost every American can read about a thousand simple words they learn by memory in the first three grades in school. In order to be a fluent reader, however, one must be able to recognize the spelling of 20,000 words or more. Many fluent readers have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 English words. Recognizing a word by its spelling and its context is much easier than remembering that spelling when trying to write the word.

Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College did an extensive study* of six standard desk dictionaries. He found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 phonemes! If he had used unabridged dictionaries he would have undoubtedly found even more. Other apologists for our present spelling will say that you can learn to read using spelling rules. The truth is that there is not even ONE spelling rule that does not have exceptions. Some of the exceptions even have exceptions! A computer programmed** with 203 English spelling rules was able correctly to spell only 49% of a list of 17,000 common English words. Can we honestly expect the average human to do better?

Adding to the difficulty of learning to read is the fact that English has more consonant clusters than many other languages. English spelling has consonant cluster of two or three letters. As a result there are sixteen different patterns for spelling syllables: (C = consonant phoneme, V = vowel phoneme): CV, CCV, CCCV, CVC, CCVC, CCCVC, CVCC, CVCCC, CCVCC, CCVCCC, CCCVCCC, CCCVCC, VCCC, VCC, VC, and V. There are five consonant phonemes spelled with digraphs (CH, SH, TH, ZH, and NG) and the TH grapheme represents two different phonemes (as in thin and then). In addition, each vowel phoneme can be spelled with as many as FIVE letters. (There are at least four vowel phonemes spelled with five letters. The most familiar is the word weighed, in which the letters EIGHE all represent the same vowel phoneme as in the word wade.) Each syllable in a word can have any one of these patterns. Most English words have two or more syllables. If each vowel and each consonant in these syllables always represented the same sound (one-to-one mapping, an “equivalence” relationship), there would be nothing in the logic of these syllables that would be beyond the abilities of most four- or five-year-olds, but they do not.

English spelling also has one-to-one mapping where one phoneme is represented by one digraph — since there are not enough letters to represent all of the phonemes. Almost half of English phonemes are represented by digraphs. In traditional English spelling there are also three-, four-, and even five-letter graphemes representing a single phoneme. More than half of all English phonemes are spelled with graphemes of two or more letters. But the real confusion comes since there is also one-to-many and many-to-one mapping, i.e., one phoneme is represented by many different graphemes (for spelling), and one grapheme represents many phonemes (for reading). This requires a type of logic that most children do not develop until they are eleven or twelve years old.

There are two types of logic required for one-to-many and many-to-one mapping. Type One is the logic of “classes,” categories where objects or events that are similar are grouped together, and “relations” (where objects share some features but not all features, e.g., all poodles are dogs, but all dogs are not poodles). Type Two is “propositional logic,” which involves combining both the classes and relations types of logic. This requires the ability to think of the same item in more than one combination at the same time. These combinations require the use of relational terms such as “and,” “or,” “not,” “if-then,” and “if and only if” in formal statements of propositional logic. One example of the problem of digraphs can be stated as: If an h follows the letter t, then say /th/ (thin) or /th/ (then); but if any other letter or no letter follows the letter t, then say /t/ (top, ant).

It is usually a waste of time to try to get students less than about twelve years old to understand the logic — they just have to be helped to memorize (or learn by repetition) the spelling of new words. We do not realize the difficulty of learning to read English — especially when compared to languages with a phonemic spelling system — because most of us learned to read as a child and have long since forgotten (or proudly dismiss) the difficulty. Our eyes skip easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers.

Based upon his many years of teaching students of phonemic languages to read fluently, Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book Forty Years With the Silent Billion, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” Although present educational and political authorities may have a financial interest in believing that this is overly optimistic, it would be a mistake to discount Dr. Laubach’s findings and his advice. With our present inconsistent and illogical spelling, most U.S. students require at least two years to become fluent readers — and almost half of the students never become fluent readers. Statistics prove that almost half of adults never read an entire book after they leave school. If English spelling were as simple and logical as most other languages, the better students could learn to read in one week and all but the most mentally challenged students could learn to read in less than three months — for many (if not most) students, much less than three months.

Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational corporations, have developed and perfected a perfect phonemic spelling system such as Dr. Laubach recommended. It is a spelling system called NuEnglish, which has ten beneficial characteristics that no other known proposed spelling system can claim. Adoption of this spelling system is the only proven way permanently to end English functional illiteracy. More than 93 million adult Americans can read only about a thousand simple words they learned in the first three grades in school. They read so poorly that they do not like to read and seldom attempt to do so. They read so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. Although they can read about a thousand words, they are functionally illiterate. Along with an estimated 500 million English-speaking adults around the world who are also functionally illiterate in English, they desperately need our help to avoid the problems, pain, and suffering their illiteracy causes — at least 34 different types of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problem that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Our end English functional illiteracy website gives the details of the problem, proving that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, proving that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and proving that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. Our website also explains the details of how functional illiteracy causes serious problems not only for the illiterates but also for every other U.S. citizen and for our nation.

When you learned that we are proposing spelling reform, you may have thought of one or two reasons why we should not change the spelling. Numerous respected scholars, however, have thoroughly debunked every reasonable objection to spelling reform — not only in the last few years but even as far back as 1909, when Thomas Lounsbury, LL.D., L.H.D., professor emeritus of English at Yale University wrote his book, English Spelling and Spelling Reform. Dr. Lounsbury presented a devastating attack against our present English spelling and against objections to spelling reform. In 1909, however — unlike today, there were a multitude of manual labor jobs that did not require literacy. Furthermore, Dr. Lounsbury harmed his cause by not proposing a specific spelling system.

Numerous scholars have also presented details of the benefits of making the spelling of our words as easy to learn as those of other languages. It does not take a genius to know that it is much easier to learn the spelling of 38 phonemes — and how to blend them into words — than to memorize the spelling of twenty thousand words. By learning to read quickly, English-speaking students can — at long last — compete with students in other languages by studying most subjects about two years earlier. The award-winning breakthrough book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which is available at no cost or obligation on our end English functional illiteracy website (at the bottom of the left-hand column), lists the disproven objections to spelling reform and lists the benefits of making our spelling consistent and logical.

There are roughly 600 million people around the world hoping you can help them escape from English functional illiteracy. If you consider yourself to be a compassionate person, all you need to do to begin the process of ending illiteracy in English is to help publicize the solution to their illiteracy. I have been passionately working on this problem for 27 years, and I KNOW — as an absolute fact — that what I am proposing will not only solve the problem but will also be much easier than you or almost anyone else may believe — until the facts are honestly evaluated. As a result, I am humbly asking that you tell at least three people about this blog who have not seen it yet. When enough people know the seriousness of the problem and how easy the solution will really be, the problem will be solved. To believe otherwise is to underestimate the human will to help ourselves, despite all the naysayers and all those who oppose change — even change for the better.

* Nyikos, Julian, “A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy,” The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987 (Lake Bluff, Illinois: Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States, 1988), pp. 146-163.

** Hanna, Paul R., et. al. Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondence as Cues to Spelling Improvement. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Office of Education, 1966.

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We Are Drowning in Books!

You may think this is just another blog about a book. Big deal, you say, there are 175,000 different books published every year. We are drowning in books! A very large portion of the new books, however, are good for entertainment value only. Many of the non-fiction books provide information that is of value only if the information provided is something of personal interest to you, but an important question concerning any book is: does this book have what may be called “socially redeeming value?”

Without carefully, honestly examining the end English functional illiteracy website, you may not be aware of the immense socially redeeming value of the prize-winning, breakthrough book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis. The website provides a good overview of the humanitarian project for ending illiteracy proposed by Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational corporations. The problem of English functional illiteracy is very much worse than the vast majority of Americans realize. English functional illiteracy not only causes serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems for illiterates (problems that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them), but also costs every American — reader and non-reader alike — well over $5,000 each year for government programs that illiterates use; for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to the higher costs of recruiting and training employees and the cost of preventing and correcting the mistakes and inabilities of illiterate workers.

The much more comprehensive and authoritative information in Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis may be needed by most readers to overcome the tendency to “leave it to the experts” — the educational and political authorities. An honest look at the educational history of teaching reading in the U.S. proves that absolutely nothing done in the last ninety years or more has made any overall statistically significant improvement in the success of teaching American students in public schools to read fluently. As a result of my passion to — at long last — solve the serious problem of English functional illiteracy, the website also has a link where you can download a .pdf version of the latest revision of the book at no cost or obligation.

Unless the teaching of reading becomes as easy as it is in other nations, as our proposal will definitely accomplish, our educational system will continue to flounder. Our students will continue to score near the bottom in international scholastic competition. Almost half of U.S. adults will be unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. We will continue to personally spend over $5,000 each every year, and many of our best jobs will continue to be outsourced to other, more literate nations. Accept the challenge to discover the truth about English functional illiteracy for yourself. An estimated 600 million English functional illiterates around the world — more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — are hoping that you will.

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Misleading “Conventional Wisdom”

Conventional wisdom is anything that a very large portion of the people in a certain area believe. Conventional wisdom may or may not be true. At one time almost everyone on earth believed that the world was flat! At present in the U.S., it is conventional wisdom that our educational and political leaders are making the best choices possible in teaching our children how to read. We believe this because we want to believe it, because we do not know what should be done differently, and because most of us do not have the time or the knowledge to do anything other than leave it to the “experts” — in the same way that we leave complicated home repairs to the “experts.”

There is one almost universal characteristic of the educational and political experts, however. They act in accordance with what they learned in teachers’ colleges or law school — they do not often “think outside the box.” As you well know, educational and political leaders almost never push revolutionary ideas. They are afraid their constituents will object to something that is too different. They usually accept revolutionary ideas only when they are pushed into them by angry voters.

Whether it is conventional knowledge for you or not, English functional illiteracy is a very serious problem. The most accurate definition of functional illiteracy is the inability to read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. Almost all U.S. adults can read a thousand or so simple words they learned by sight in the first three grades in school, but if that is all they can read they are functionally illiterate.

Fully 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate. Furthermore, 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. If you find that hard to believe, you are challenged to investigate our end English functional illiteracy website to see the proof and to see the revolutionary change necessary to solve the problem. You will find why this is true and why we do not see this level of illiteracy and poverty. This revolutionary change is needed because absolutely nothing done in the last 90 years has made an overall statistically significant improvement in the English literacy rate. Most importantly, you will find the proven way of permanently ending what is truly a literacy crisis.

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Why Has There Been So Little Improvement in Teaching Reading?

When people understand the seriousness of the literacy problem, they may be baffled that we have made so little progress in teaching students to read English. Basically, the reason is that too few people realize:

  • the extent of English functional illiteracy in the U.S. and in other nations,
  • the financial and human suffering cost of illiteracy,
  • the great difficulty in learning to read English compared to other languages,
  • the near impossibility of solving the literacy problem using the standard means taught in teachers’ colleges: absolutely nothing done since 1755 — when the spelling of words was “frozen” with the issuance of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s dictionary — has made any overall statistically significant improvement in the teaching of reading,
  • the vast increase in the need for literacy in our complex society: in the past many manual labor jobs could be done without knowing how to read; today extremely few occupations can be performed successfully without being able to read fluently, and
  • how easy it will be to learn to read using the proposal of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational corporations, for ending English functional illiteracy.

Here is the way to get the details of our proposal in a very authoritative and comprehensive explanation of the facts needed for ending our very real literacy crisis.

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Is News Coverage of Scientific Reports Dependable?

Unfortunately, when scientific reports are issued on important studies, many reporters only read the “Executive Summary.” They must hurry to write their article about the report before a competitor does and it is no longer “news.” Furthermore, if the report requires a small amount of mathematical analysis — as was the case with the most accurate study of U.S. adult literacy ever performed — the reporters (most of whom are journalists, not mathematicians) do not try to analyze the data in the report. As a result, the newspaper, TV, and radio reports badly underestimated the seriousness of a recent report on literacy — the most comprehensive and statistically accurate report on U.S. adult literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government.

Bob C. Cleckler, with Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational corporations, has been researching and writing about ending English functional illiteracy since 1985. The extent and seriousness of the problem of illiteracy is much worse than almost anyone realizes. People have a strong tendency to believe what they want to believe, and few people want to believe that teaching reading in the U.S. is as difficult as it really is, because they do not know what to do about it. If anyone determines the true seriousness and extent of English functional illiteracy, they will want to help. The best way is to learn how we can definitely and permanently end what is provably a literacy crisis. The “English functional illiteracy” website linked above provides five short statements on the extent, seriousness, cause, and cost of functional illiteracy and five short statements of how to permanently end English functional illiteracy, all of which are proven by the “Read More” pages following each statement. The home page of this website can be read in less than six minutes. This website also has a link for a no-cost, no-obligation copy of the second revision of the award-winning, breakthrough book titled Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis. A careful, honest evaluation of this book will convince even the most rabid skeptic — who is not completely close-minded about the teaching of reading — that the proven solution to illiteracy that we are advocating is the RIGHT way to solve the serious problem of English functional illiteracy.

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Do We Have A Serious Hidden Problem in the U.S.?

Do we have a serious hidden problem in the U.S.? In a word: yes! Functional illiteracy is being hidden. To a large extent, a person’s literacy level causes a natural separation of the “haves” and the “have nots” through the zoning laws separating houses by purchase price and through the natural separation of the clientele and employees of various businesses and entertainment centers.

Chances are very good, however, that many of your associates — and even some of your family members — are very poor readers who have mastered the art of concealing their illiteracy through various tactics, as a way of avoiding the embarrassment and hurt pride of being found to be illiterate. The news media are complicit in this deception. They do not know how to solve the problem of English functional illiteracy and do not want to alienate educational and political leaders by exposing the problem. So they simply ignore it — if they have investigated enough to even be aware of the problem.

The problem of English functional illiteracy is serious enough, however, that for the sake of easing the problems and suffering of hundreds of millions of illiterates around the world and for reducing the more than $5,000 each year that illiteracy costs every U.S. adult, the facts of English functional illiteracy should be carefully examined. Anyone who carefully, honestly evaluates English functional illiteracy will want to solve our very real literacy crisis, instead of merely fighting the symptoms of the problem as has been done for almost a century now.

There are many reasons why any one student does not learn to read. There is only one problem affecting every student, however: English functional illiteracy. English spelling confuses everyone — all attempts at improving literacy for the last century have, in effect, been fighting the symptoms of confusing spelling instead of correcting (greatly simplifying) the spelling. It is equivalent to taking aspirin, decongestant, and cough medicine to fight the symptoms of the pneumonia instead of antibiotics to solve the problem. In the left-hand column of the “English functional illiteracy” website is a link to a no-cost, no-obligation 265-page E-book which gives a proven solution to our very real literacy crisis.

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America’s Dirty Little Secret, II

Please follow this link to see a very important August 16, 2012 blog about ending our literacy crisis. Placing this blog on more than one website would result in a search engine optimization downgrade.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 3

Reason for this blog: to start a grass-roots movement of the American public to permanently solve the serious problems that functional illiterates must constantly endure — problems that we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us — which affect a huge number of U.S. adults (see the shocking extent of illiteracy in the U.S.) rather than continuing merely to fight the symptoms of the problem as we have been doing for over 250 years. Merely reading this blog and making complimentary comments will accomplish nothing — readers need to reach logical conclusions from what they read and spend a few minutes to take action to further this important humanitarian project.

This is the third in a series of five blogs on the false excuses people give to avoid making the correction of our spelling which is the obvious way to permanently end English functional illiteracy.

A third and much less convincing supposed disadvantage of spelling reform is that reformed spelling would destroy the etymological or linguistic history of words. Samuel Noory shows that “today’s spelling is in many respects as much an offspring of fancy as of design.” He gives several examples, on pages X-XIV of his book Dictionary of Pronunciation, in which spelling is not based on historical roots. Also, etymologists themselves would prefer to see English spelled phonemically, and thus, from this point forward, have a dynamic history of the language. As it is, we have more than 250 years of repetition of a “snapshot” of spelling the way many words were pronounced 250 years ago — a static history. Adoption of a phonemic spelling of English — as recommended by Dr. Frank Laubach, who is arguably the world’s greatest expert on teaching adults around the world to read — would not result in the instantaneous destruction of all books written in English. On page 48 of Dr. Laubach’s book Forty Years With the Silent Billion, he states, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” Dr. Laubach prepared reading primers for 313 languages and devised spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. He found that adults could be taught to read fluently in from one to twenty days in 95% of the languages and that adults could be taught to read fluently in less than three months in 98% of the languages in which he taught — because 98% of these languages were very nearly phonemic (words spelled the way they sound). In the U.S., almost half of the students never become fluent readers, and those who do become fluent readers require at least two years to do so. This is because there are at least 1,768 ways of spelling only forty phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect), and not even ONE spelling rule that does not have exceptions — some of the exceptions have exceptions! Prior to 1750, English was a conglomeration of the spelling of eight languages, the language of every occupying nation in the British Isles. According to page 2 of Henry Hitchings’ book, The Secret Life of Words, English has adopted words (and usually the spelling) from 350 other languages.

As a result, the question must be asked, “How much more static history of a mid-1700s spelling freeze do we need?” A much more pertinent question must be asked. Let us grant for a moment that the etymological history of present English spelling is very valuable. Should we let the desire for etymological data by a limited number of scholars cause us to keep a spelling system that is causing a severe problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world?

No one knows how many facts will be required to get any one person to take action. Reading all of these blogs may not result in the badly needed action. A very careful, honest reading of Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, however, is likely to be very beneficial to hundreds of millions of English functional illiterates by resulting in the needed action — if the reader is at all compassionate about the suffering illiterates. This breakthrough book is available as a no-cost download in .pdf format from our website on ending English functional illiteracy.) This is a 265 page ebook has enough facts and figures to convince anyone who will honestly grapple with the multitude of facts presented. It is offered in the left-hand column of a website which gives a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations). The home page linked above has five short statement about the serious problem of illiteracy and five short statements about the solution, all of which can be read in about six minutes. The proof of each of the ten statements in given in the “Read More” sections after each statement.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part Two

The Purpose of This Blog: Very few people realize the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy in English. The most statistically accurate and thorough study of adult literacy in the U.S. was a five-year, $14 million study commissioned by the U.S. government. It employed lengthy reviews of 26,049 U.S. adults statistically balanced for age, gender, ethnicity and location to represent the entire U.S. population. It was balanced for urban, suburban, and rural locations in twelve states across the U.S. and included 1100 prisoners in 80 prisons.

The report titled Adult Literacy in America (available for free inspection and download here) was released September 8, 1993. It received first page coverage in many newspapers the next day which essentially downplayed the seriousness of the findings (partly at least because the reporters more than likely read only the executive summary rather than the entire 200 page report and largely because the report did not mathematically analyze some of the most important findings). A follow-up report in 2006 (available for free inspection and download here) using a slightly smaller database (19,714 U.S. adults) showed no overall statistical improvement.

These reports proved (1) that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as reading and writing so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), (2) that 31.2% of U.S. functional illiterates are in poverty, and (3) that functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined.

The findings in these reports have essentially been ignored since they came out. Many people believe the functional illiteracy rate is lower than the above-mentioned reports prove because of several other reports that came out in the last ten years based upon a smaller database and/or less rigorous statistical methods. Educators and politicians want to believe these reports showing a less serious functional illiteracy problem because — at least in part — the reports mentioned in the paragraph above make them look bad, but primarily because they do not know how to really solve the problem. Their only solution is to request more money for education and request smaller class sizes. Despite numerous attempts at employing increasing amounts of money and smaller class sizes for the last hundred years or so, the literacy rate in the U.S. has not statistically improved.

Numerous apologists for our educational system claim we have made progress in improving literacy. They can only do so, however, by carefully choosing which data they include in their studies and by taking a small enough time period for their studies. Appendix 7 of my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition gives a point by point refutation of a book claiming that there is not a literacy crisis in America. A more honest evaluation of the data would compare the literacy rate in the eighteenth century (other than that of the slaves who were often uneducated) with that of the twenty-first century. President John Adams did a literacy study in the very early nineteenth century and stated that it was easier to find a meteorite than it was to find an American who could not read.

This is the second in a series of five blogs that debunk all reasonable objections to spelling reform. Spelling reform solves the problem which is the primary cause of English illiteracy — the illogical, inconsistent, and chaotic spelling system — rather than merely fighting the symptoms of the problem. The symptoms of our erratic spelling system are: almost half of the students do not learn to read fluently and most students who do learn to read English fluently require at least two years — students in 98% of the alphabetic languages other than English learn to read fluently in less than three months.

The symptoms of our erratic spelling have been fought for the last hundred years or so by trying to improve (1) the reading textbooks, (2) the teaching method, (3) teacher training, (4) the number of students in each class, and (5) anything else they can think of — other than changing the spelling that is the primary cause of the problem. This makes about as much sense as taking aspirin, decongestants, and cough medicine to fight the symptoms of pneumonia instead of taking antibiotics to cure it!

Debunking Objections to Spelling Reform: Is a standard pronunciation required? Many people believe that instituting spelling reform would require a fixed standard of pronunciation, which we do not have. This line of thinking is a fallacy. We almost always understand each others’ spoken words. We will understand the written transcription of words even more easily than spoken words because spoken words must be understood in the split second in which they are pronounced whereas written words can be examined as long as necessary to understand them. Also, the fact that written words are separated by spaces will be of great assistance in understanding written material. It is often difficult to know the start and end of spoken words because they are run together — unless the speaker purposely speaks slowly and distinctly.

Frank C. Laubach, who was perhaps the world’s best authority on teaching adult illiterates around the world to read, stated on page 233 of his book Teaching the World to Read, “It is a linguistic axiom that what is understandable as speech is also understandable when written with a suitable phonetics.” So, basing our spelling upon pronunciation would not require that we all pronounce words the same to be understood.

No one wants to be told how to pronounce their words — nor should they be. As a result of spelling our words as they sound, however, people’s speech will become more standardized with that of their peers by reading written material published in their area as time goes by. This will occur both by choice and by the same process as widespread use of radio and television begun in the twentieth century caused a large amount of standardization of speech in the area where the radio and television program originated.

Almost every English reader who does very much reading has had the experience of not recognizing a written word that is in their speaking vocabulary. If the word were spelled as it is pronounced they would immediately recognize it. Almost every English reader who does very much reading has seen a new word (not in their speaking vocabulary) that they understand by the context but they do not know how to pronounce it — if they do not take the time to find the word in the dictionary or ask someone who knows the word. At a later date they may hear the word pronounced but not recognize it as a word they read earlier but did not learn how to pronounce. Having a spelling system in which the words are spelled as they are pronounced will help standardize their pronunciation.

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Debunking All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform, Part 1

This is part one of a five-part series. This blog is presented in an attempt to promote our humanitarian project which is a proven way of ending functional illiteracy.

For several reasons English illiteracy is very much a hidden problem. As a result, very few people except the closest friends of some of the illiterates know the serious effects of illiteracy.

The most statistically accurate and thorough study of U.S. illiteracy ever commissioned by the U.S. government proves that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as reading and writing so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), proves that 31.2% of functional illiterates are in poverty, and proves that functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined.

People may have developed some misconceptions if they have not carefully researched the effects of English spelling upon illiteracy. Certain items, upon brief examination, may seem disadvantages of spelling reform, although they are not. The supposed disadvantage also may be counterbalanced (or even overbalanced) by a corresponding advantage.

Will Existing Writings Become Inaccessible?

This is perhaps people’s most serious objection to spelling reform. Conventional wisdom states that if a completely different spelling system is adopted, all the existing material in English will become inaccessible. However, learning a new language will not make us unable to understand our first language. Learning a new way of spelling will not erase all memory of traditional English spelling. Nor would the printing of new books suddenly cause all the existing books to self-destruct.

The truth is this: all the existing books in English are ALREADY inaccessible — to illiterates! After NuEnglish is implemented, everyone except the most severely mentally handicapped will read. People who now read English will keep their books written in English and read either English or NuEnglish. Libraries will keep their books in English. All others will read only NuEnglish, unless they choose also to learn English, similar to English literature scholars who must learn Middle English to read Chaucer and other writers of his era. Lawyers, English scholars, historians, and all those whose vocation or hobby requires extensive research through written material of the past — if it is not of sufficient interest to make reprinting in NuEnglish economically feasible — would learn English spelling as a college (or possibly high school) elective course.

All the books that are so important that they have a readership large enough to make reprinting economically feasible for the publishers will be reissued in NuEnglish. Competition among printers for their share of the market suddenly swollen with millions of previous non-readers will ensure such an event. In the same way that we recently saw “Now in HDTV!” preceding certain television programs, we will soon see advertisements by bookstores declaring, “Now in NuEnglish!”

Many libraries have few books that are fifty years old or more. Many libraries sell outdated and least used books to make room for new ones. Often the books they sell are only one or two years old. The average age of books in a bookstore is much less than that of books in a library. Few books in a bookstore are so eagerly sought that they will be reprinted for more than a year or two. Our website on Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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