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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A Huge Number of Reading Programs? Why?

A stroll up and down the aisles of any large research library looking at the many of hundreds of books on teaching reading would be an eye-opening experience for most people. There are hundreds of books and about 3,000 articles on the difficulties of teaching reading published every year. A recent version of the Encyclopedia of Educational Research devoted 151 pages to reading research and only two to five pages to each of the other school subjects.

Statistics show that nothing done in the last 90 years has made an overall statistically significant improvement in the success of teaching children to read. After reading instruction throughout the first three grades in school, almost half of U.S. students do not become fluent readers and cannot hold a job requiring functional literacy after leaving school. Most people have very little knowledge of how difficult it is to learn to read English compared to how difficult it is to learn to read other languages. What is badly needed is an understanding of the shocking extent and seriousness of the problem and of the simple, proven way to end English functional illiteracy. After carefully, honestly evaluating this website (by clicking on “end English functional illiteracy”), those readers who are compassionate about the problems and suffering of functional illiterates will want to know what they can help end our very real literacy crisis.

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Why Most Adult Illiterates Do Not Become Literate

Compared to other “alphabetic languages,” learning to read fluently in English is a very serious problem. Statistics show that presently less than one percent of U.S. adults who have left school will ever get the training they need to become fluent readers. Part of the problem is that functional illiterates do not want to admit that they cannot read very well. Two other problems are that (1) they must spend most of their time making a living (often with more than one job) and caring for their families, and (2) the location and time of the reading classes are so inconvenient that most of those who enroll drop out before learning to read well enough to be functionally literate.

Unless the method of learning to read is made much simpler and quicker, the problems and suffering of functional illiterates will continue and their numbers will increase. Merely tweaking the teaching methods as we have been doing for almost a century will demonstrably NOT solve the problem. Only a revolutionary change, involving “thinking outside the box,” will succeed in ending English functional illiteracy. Only after English-speaking people understand the scope of the problem and the solution, can they be expected to honestly evaluate the proposed solution for our very real literacy crisis.

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English Functional Illiteracy in Developing Nations

Although these blogs have been concentrating on learning to read in the U.S., the same problems and solution applies to English-speaking people in any part of the world. If English-speaking people in other nations are functionally illiterate in English and cannot read English very well they may have a serious educational disadvantage. If their language is one of the many languages in the world that is an unwritten language, or if their nation has financial difficulties in being able to provide their citizens with a sufficient amount of written material in their native language, the inability to read the readily available English material is a very serious educational disadvantage.

English-speaking people in many smaller nations and developing nations around the world will have the same disadvantage described in previous blogs and in information in our website about ending English functional illiteracy. People in other nations can use the same information available for ending the very real literacy crisis to solve their problems in other nations. The information in this amazon.com detail page about the breakthrough book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition is also available at no-cost and no-obligation in the updated Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision available in a .pdf format linked in the left-hand column of the “ending English functional illiteracy” link above. This is a 265 page E-book with 164 pages of text, 46 pages in eight appendixes with a multitude of facts and figures supporting the text, 178 references and extensive end notes, an extensive bibliography (including some which were neither quoted nor paraphrased in the text), table of contents and index, glossary, “about the author,” and other features — the ideal way for learning to read.

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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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