Do you have any idea of how long it takes to learn to read most other languages? Dr. Frank Laubach spent almost his entire adult life — more than 40 years — teaching thousands of students around the world how to read in languages other than English. He taught in more than 300 languages. He prepared reading primers for 313 languages and even invented spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. He very carefully documented his teaching experiences in his books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion. Dr. Laubach stated in his books that he could teach students to read fluently in less than three months in 98% of the languages in which he taught. Even more amazing, he stated that he could teach his students to read fluently in from one to twenty DAYS in 95% of the languages in which he taught!
Was Dr. Laubach’s ability to teach students to read so quickly because he carefully chose only very simple languages in which to teach? What was Dr. Laubach’s explanation for his remarkable success? He stated that he could teach his students to read quickly because — without carefully choosing simple languages — 98% of the languages in which he taught spelled nearly all of their words the way they sound! He 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.”
All those who resist change (as almost everyone does who is not thoroughly convinced of the benefits of making a change) will resist spelling reform in English by claiming that it takes more than two years to learn to read English because English is a difficult language. What do the expert linguists say about English? Several respected scholars have stated emphatically that the difficulty in learning to read English is not due to the language itself. For example, Axel Wijk and Sir James Pitman state that English grammar and syntax is easier than most other languages. (See pages 56-57 of Alphabets for English, ed. W. Haas, or page 64 of Alphabets and Reading by Sir James Pitman.) In most European languages, for example, students can learn to read in less than three months. The truth is that 80% or more of English words are NOT spelled the way they sound. As a result, the ONLY way to learn to read English is to add each new word to your reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or repeated use.
Two reading education researchers, Bob Cleckler, a retired Chemical Engineer, and Gary Sprunk, who has a Masters Degree in English Linguistics, have developed a perfectly phonemic spelling system called NuEnglish. A phonemic spelling system is one in which the words are spelled the way they sound. In NuEnglish, unlike any other known spelling system, there is a one-to-one correspondence between phonemes and graphemes. A phoneme is the smallest sound in a language or dialect used to distinguish between syllables or words. A grapheme, in alphabetic languages, is a letter or a specific combination of letters used to represent a phoneme. Based upon the proof provided by Dr. Laubach’s lifetime experience in teaching reading, our website, http://LearnToReadNow.org, is the only PROVEN way to permanently end English illiteracy.
For all those who proudly proclaim, “I learned to read. I am no genius. If I can learn to read, so can everyone else.” and for all those who say “Our mother tongue is a beautiful language. Leave it alone!” please allow me to challenge you to read the remainder of this blog which presents the perversity of English spelling in a way that you have undoubtedly never seen it so factually displayed.
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).
In short, English spelling is so bad that a provable 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate —they can read no more than about a thousand simple words they learned in the first three grades in school and as a result cannot read well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. (See our http://LearnToReadNow.org for proof.) Here are some of the reasons people do not know the seriousness of functional illiteracy in English. The media essentially ignores the problem. Illiterates are very good at hiding their illiteracy. There is a certain amount of natural separation between literate and illiterate people. Most families have more than one employed adult, and a literate employee can pull the family above the poverty line. Most low-income families receive help from government agencies, other family members, friends, and charities.]]>
Near the start of the article, Ms. Garlett states, “A new study by the National Council on Teacher Quality shows that the majority of teacher preparation programs in the United States offer inadequate training to aspiring teachers, leaving them unprepared to enter classrooms ready for the instructional goals of public schools.” She follows with some of the details proving that statement.
From the standpoint of reading education, however, Ms. Garlett made a very revealing statement. “As for instruction across the country, the review found that nearly three quarters of the programs evaluated are not providing elementary teacher candidates with practical, research-based training in how to teach reading.” She did not explain why this was true. That was not her purpose. She was concentrating on the fact that U.S. elementary school teachers are not adequately trained. A similar statement, however, was not made about any other subject taught in elementary school. If she had extensively studied reading education, she would have found that, although numerous reading experts know how to make the teaching of reading English a little easier, NO ONE in public education knows how to make reading English EASY. My website, http://LearnToReadNow.org shows the only proven way of making English as easy to read as almost all other languages.
After presenting additional statistics, Ms. Garlett concludes with the following.
“These trends are underway as political leaders impose one policy du jour after another, from No Child Left Behind to Race to the Top to the Common Core State Standards.
“And all this is happening as countries like China and India, with populations that vastly outnumber our own, are pouring enormous new resources into education to prepare more of their people for jobs in the global economy.
“Worse yet, many U.S. teacher-prep schools have resisted making critical changes that would improve their programs’ effectiveness.
“Those of us in leadership positions need to take these NCTQ findings to heart and push for instructional strategies that align more closely with needs in the classroom. Our country can afford no less.”
“One inspector [of reading instruction in London] writes: “I seldom hear pleasing reading. In many cases the fact that the child is not thinking of what it reads, but of how the next hard word is to be pronounced, deprives the reading of all naturalness.”
The lack of naturalness perceived by the listener is a strong indication of a lack of understanding of what the reader is reading.
I have seen many statements about reading comprehension over the years. Most of the time, such comments are made by teachers intent upon defending their present method of teaching reading. Usually the statement is made by teachers using the whole word method of teaching reading to counter the claims of those who want them to introduce phonics into their teaching. Teachers claim that if they change their teaching method students will merely be “parroting the words” without comprehending what they mean.
Because of growing up believing that there is only one correct way to spell our words, it seems never to occur to teachers (or anyone else) that the illogical, inconsistent English spelling is causing the student to spend more effort in correctly pronouncing a word than in the meaning of the sentence being read. The effort required correctly to pronounce the word comes because the word gives no reliable indication of how it is to be pronounced.
Here is an indisputable statement that can be made about reading comprehension: If readers know the pronunciation of all the words in a written sentence and all of these words are in their SPEAKING vocabulary, they know the meaning of the written words. This is another way of saying, if they do not comprehend what they are reading, it is because the words are not in their reading vocabulary OR they have not understood what words the illogical, inconsistent spellings are representing.
All those individuals who have learned to read fluently and do not want to change the spelling they spent so much time and effort learning and all the teachers who do not want to have to change the way they teach reading are saying, in effect, they DO NOT CARE how much difficulty new readers have. They can feel justified in resisting change — even change for the better — because they do not realize the shocking extent of illiteracy in English or how seriously illiteracy affects the illiterates, those of us who are literate, and our nation. The following blogs have proven the extent, the seriousness, and the proven solution of illiteracy in English: Reading Education, April 9, 2013, and Widespread Illiteracy, April 16, 3013, and Illiteracy & Big Business, April 20, 2013, and America’s Dirty Little Secret, January 20, 2012, and the March 21, 2013 blog on this website. Our humanitarian project for ending illiteracy in English is introduced on our Ending Functional Illiteracy in English website, where a free copy of the award-winning book, “Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis” is available as a 265-page e-book in PDF format.]]>
For the sake of an estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English — including more than 93 million adults in the U.S. alone — please let me urge you to carefully, honestly evaluate our end illiteracy in English website, where Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision is available as a 265-page e-book at no cost or obligation of any kind.]]>
Have you ever felt compassion for a huge group of people because of a very serious problem that they have that you know how to solve but which almost no one in the group has the remotest idea how to solve? I have. Please consider this quote from the first two paragraphs of a recent editorial about reading education in the Washington Post.
“Many people, famous and not so famous, took time out last week to read to schoolchildren as part of the annual Read Across America Day, which encourages young people to read. They had their work cut out for them, because the sad reality is that two-thirds [66 percent] of students in this country can’t meet the critical literacy milestone of reading on grade level by third grade. For disadvantaged children, the numbers are even grimmer, with some four-fifths [80 percent] not proficient. It’s an urgent problem that demands more than a day’s attention, and that’s why a new campaign to help children learn to read earlier is so important.”
The article then tells about “The Campaign for Grade-Level Reading,” involving the efforts of 70 foundations and donors, headed by Ralph Smith of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. If efforts to get students reading on grade-level by fourth grade are unsuccessful, the students are at increased risk of never graduating high school. This campaign claims to be different from numerous similar campaigns over the last half-century in that in addition to focusing on improvements in school instruction, it also focuses on the following:
The article ends with the admission that it is unlikely that there will be the vast new financial resources needed for this effort, and that Arne Duncan, the U.S. Education Secretary, will be trying to initiate planning and legislation to help fund this effort.
What the article did not mention, however, is the great difficulty in getting enough parents “and the larger community” to take any effective action to make any statistically significant improvement. Most parents today must spend so much time and energy in simply “making a living” that there is little time or energy left for concentrating on what they should be doing that the schools cannot do for their children. The schools would undoubtedly like parents and the community to be involved in some way in all of the listed items except item 2 — if they are in a low-performing school.
Furthermore, most present-day parents believe that teaching children to read is something that the schools should do or that only the schools can do. We have, of course, many examples of schools which have raised their standards. If the problem were simply that most of the students do not try hard enough, this might have some measure of success. The main effect of raising the standards, however, often does nothing more than “flunking out” the poorer students. With only the better students left, there is an appearance of improvement, but it is only at the expense of the poorer students.
What is obviously needed, instead, is an improvement in the teaching so that everyone can succeed. More importantly, the article gave absolutely no hint of why students have such difficulty in learning to read, when compared to students in other nations. Or, to put it in question form, why do so many students become “functionally illiterate”? In the U.S., as this Washington Post article states, from 66 percent to 80 percent of students entering fourth grade cannot read at grade level. This translates into a U.S. adult population in which 48.7% of them are functionally illiterate — defined as being unable to read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job — as proven by an analysis of the Adult Literacy in America study, the most comprehensive and statistically accurate study ever commissioned by the U.S. government. The findings in this study were verified by a 2006 follow-up literacy report.
The inability to read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job is the most accurate and reliable indicator of functional illiteracy because employers have a serious financial interest in accurately determining if a prospective employee can read and write well enough to be a profitable employee. All other methods are subject to unintentional (or even intentional) manipulation by the choice of time period, size, and subjects of the data base and by the choice of methods for gathering and calculating data. Almost every American student can read at least a thousand simple words they learn by sight in the first three grades in school. If that is all they can read, however, they are functionally illiterate. They read very poorly, do not like to read, and seldom try to read. Almost half of adults never read an entire book after leaving school.
How can anyone possibly solve a problem if they do not know what is causing it? All anyone can do if they do not know the cause of the problem is to try to reduce the symptoms of the problem.
Stated very simply:
What is the problem? Learning to read English is very difficult.
What are the symptoms of the problem? About half of American students never become fluent readers without a year or more of one-on-one tutoring by a competent tutor. Most of those students who do become fluent readers require at least two years to learn to read well enough that they can continue to improve their reading skills after third or fourth grade in school, after which all but remedial reading instruction ends in most American schools.
What have we been doing about the problem of illiteracy in English for over 250 years?We have been fighting the symptoms of illiteracy by trying to get a higher percentage of fluent readers and trying to teach them to read sooner, so that they become fluent readers before reading instruction ends (in third or fourth grade). We attempt this by various methods: better school facilities, better reading textbooks, better teachers, or new and better teaching methods. Everyone blames a lack of one of these “better methods”
or they blame the students for not trying hard enough
or blame the parents for not helping and encouraging the student
or they blame a multitude of pleasant activities that students spend time on instead of studying
or they blame a large number of problems adversely affecting the students;
but we never correct the one aspect of learning to read that affects every student — the problem causing learning to read English to be so difficult.
Most people who learn to read learned as a child and have long ago forgotten the difficulty they had. Their eyes glide easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers. After reading instruction ends and before students become fluent they must be able to guess at the meaning of unfamiliar words by knowing the context or they must find the word in a dictionary. In short, students learning to read English must add words to their reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use of a word to become literate.
This characteristic of learning to read (adding words one-at-a-time to your reading vocabulary) is unique to English. In alphabetic languages other than English, students who know the pronunciation of the word also know the spelling of the word. After students in other languages learn which letters represent which sounds in their language and how to blend those sounds into words, which takes from one day to twenty days in as many as 95 percent of the languages and as long as three months in a very small percentage of the languages, every word in their speaking vocabulary is also in their reading vocabulary.
Very few people realize that students of about 98 percent of alphabetic languages can learn to read fluently in less than three months. Most of all, they do not realize that English is not an alphabetic language — it is a logographic writing system like Chinese writing. In the same way that a certain stroke in a certain position represents a word or part of a word in Chinese, certain letters in a certain order represent a word in English. As a result, like Chinese writing, every word in a person’s reading vocabulary must be learned one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use of the word.
Unlike the invariable representation of words in Chinese writing, however, with English spelling the human mind searches for logic in the arrangement of the letters and is confused by so seldom finding any logic. Often, when the problems with English spelling are highlighted, some people feel the need to “defend our Mother Tongue.” They will say, “English is a beautiful language” or “After all, I learned to read, and I’m no genius.” But any thoughtful person cannot help but wonder how “beautiful” those struggling to learn to read consider the English language.
Those aware of the shocking failure rate in learning to read English cannot logically defend English spelling, especially when they consider the following facts. Many people will claim that if we just returned to teaching phonics, the problem would be solved. Many teachers, however, will claim correctly that English is not phonetic. It is true that if you choose only one way of spelling each of the phonemes (the smallest sound in a language or dialect used to distinguish between syllables or words), about 20 percent of English words are phonetic. The problem is that there is absolutely no way of knowing which words are phonetic and which are not.
The lack of logic in English spelling is because when Dr. Samuel Johnson prepared his well-received dictionary in 1755, he used the spelling of each word as he believed it was spelled in its language of origin — and he was sometimes mistaken. In 1755 English was a conglomeration of eight languages, the original Celtic and that of every conquering nation that occupied England prior to that time: Norse, Icelandic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and French. Since that time, according to Henry Hitchings, in his book, The Secret Life of Words, words from an additional 350 languages have been adopted into the English language, often with the original spelling.
Furthermore, Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College, in an article titled “A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy” in The Fourteenth LACUS [Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States] Forum 1987,detailed his extensive study of six standard desk-size dictionaries in which he found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 phonemes! Logically speaking, a “true alphabetic language” should have only one way of spelling each phoneme. As a result, there is not even ONE English spelling rule that does not have exceptions — and some of the exceptions have exceptions! A computer programmed with 203 English spelling rules was able to correctly spell only 49 percent of a list of 17,000 common English words. Very few humans could match this computer’s performance!
To be a logical alphabetic spelling system, there should a one-to-one correspondence of phonemes and graphemes (a grapheme is a letter or a specific combination of letters used to represent each phoneme). How bad is English spelling? A student can learn to read English by knowing the spelling (letter or letters used, i.e. the grapheme used) for 38 phonemes. Ideally, since there are 26 letters in our alphabet, we could spell all words with 26 single letters and 12 two-letter graphemes. Instead, in present English spelling, in addition to 26 single letters, we have at least 184 two-letter graphemes, at least 131 three-letter graphemes, at least 22 four-letter graphemes, and at least four five-letter graphemes! That is a total of 367 graphemes when only 38 are needed!
For Reading (How do you pronounce or what sound do you think of when you see a certain grapheme?): Since there are only 38 phonemes, a large number of these graphemes obviously respresent more than one phoneme. In fact, only five of the graphemes (B, K, P, R, and V) represent only one phoneme; all of the other graphemes represent from two to six or more different phonemes. Adding to the confusion, however, all but six of the single graphemes (H, Q, U, W, X, and Y) are doubled in some words and not in others, and there is no reliable way of knowing when a letter is to be doubled!
For Spelling (What grapheme do you choose when writing a certain phoneme or pronunciation?) Two phonemes (H as in hat and TH as in then) are spelled with only (!) four different graphemes; the phoneme U as in nut is spelled with at least sixty different graphemes!
NOTE: Most English-speaking people do not realize that the number of pronunciations of a letter or letters compared to the number of letters available to spell the sounds are not different in other languages as they are in English.
If you cannot learn by spelling rules, the only alternative is to learn each new word added to your reading vocabulary, one-at-a-time, by rote memory or by repeated use of the word. Most fluent readers have a reading vocabulary of 20,000 or more words. Some readers have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 words.
A recent editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune proclaimed the need for teaching Utah students to read. It begins with the obvious statement that “Literacy is not only the key to a life-sustaining career, it is the doorway to all other learning. Or, as the saying goes, ‘First a student learns to read, and then reads to learn.’” The editorial then stated that it is in the preschool years when the seeds of reading proficiency are sown and bemoaned the fact that the Utah legislature in session at the time had not properly funded preschool teaching. The irony is that I personally presented a request to Vern Anderson, the Editorial Page Editor of the Salt Lake Tribune a couple of years ago to publish an article on their editorial page which would explain how to definitely and permanently solve the problem of learning to read English.
Instead of continuing for century after century to fight the symptoms of our ridiculous spelling, my article advocated solving the problem of English spelling by making our words phonemic, like the words of all of the alphabetic languages in the world. My article was summarily rejected because Mr. Anderson said the policies of the Salt Lake Tribune did not allow publication of articles advocating a product (in other words, my book). Articles on the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial pages must be so short that in order to present enough of the case for spelling reform to have a chance of being convincing, it was necessary to refer the reader to my book for all the missing facts which would justify what the editorial staff may have thought was “too radical.” Those are the words of rejection I received from the editor of the book review pages to whom I had presented a copy of my book and a proposed book review article a few months earlier.
Without understanding the details of how serious and widespread the problem of English illiteracy really is and how easily it could be solved with a perfectly phonemic spelling system, it was evidently inconceivable to the Salt Lake Tribune staff that I was passionately concerned about solving the problem rather than about making money selling my book. If selling my book were my main objective, I would have given up 24 years ago. I am admittedly a very poor marketer. Since 1985, when I began my humanitarian project of ending English illiteracy, I have spent at least $40,000 more than I have earned from book sales. My biggest expense was for review copies. I have mailed hundreds of free copies to reviewers and have spent thousands of dollars on marketing programs and related expenses. I firmly believe, however, that many people would be willing to invest large sums of money if they understood how seriously every English-speaking person on earth — and not just the illiterates — is affected by our inconsistent, illogical, and chaotic spelling.
Some people are such skeptics that absolutely nothing can induce them to spend any of their precious time investigating the problem of English illiteracy. For those who are a little more rational, however, please allow me to challenge you to carefully, honestly examine the facts presented on our ending functional illiteracy in English website.
This website gives a good introduction to the humanitarian project for ending illiteracy of two non-profit organizations, Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. If you are even a little compassionate about the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems of illiterates — problems that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them — let me challenge you to examine this website. Reading the home page will take only six minutes. Each of the five brief statements about the problem and six brief statements about the solution are proven by the “Read More” pages. If you are not in the mood to read, please watch the video by clicking on “Media Page” near the top of the left-hand column.
If you are still not convinced to join in this humanitarian project, the problem is so serious that you are challenged to read the much more complete and authoritative information found in Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition about our literacy crisis found on Amazon.com. This website has an editorial review by Dr. Robert S. Laubach, President Emeritus of Laubach Literacy International (which has now joined with Literacy Volunteers of America to form ProLiteracy, Inc.) and ten customer reviews, nine of them five star (the maximum) and one of them a four star review. Some of these reviewers are “Amazon Top 500 Reviewers.” The website also has a good explanation of how the humanitarian project of ending illiteracy evolved in the section “More About the Author” in the middle of the page.
For those who doubt my passion in helping an estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world who are functionallly illiterate in English and desperately hoping we will help them: I am now offering Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision at no cost or obligation of any kind on our http://LearnToReadNow.org website’s home page. This is a 265-page e-book version of the award-winning Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, originally published in 2005. The second revision was self-published in late 2012. It is updated with 20 pages of front matter, 164 pages of text, 8 Appendixes in 46 pages, 178 extensive notes and references, a Glossary, an extensive bibliography, an index, and other end matter. It is available in .pdf format by clicking in the left-hand column of the home page.
As you no doubt know, no project — no matter how worthy — can succeed without publicity. If you know personally a person of influence, such as Vern Anderson of the Salt Lake Tribune or Ralph Smith of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, or Arne Duncan, the U.S. Secretary of Education, or any of the well known celebrities who have expressed an interest in education, literacy, or dyslexia (Andre Agassi, Troy Aikman, Julie Andrews, Jeff Bridges, Garth Brooks, Jimmy Buffet, Jose Carreras, Cher, Deepak Chopra, Bill Cosby, Tom Cruise, Jamie Lee Curtis, Neil Diamond, Michael J. Fox, Whoopi Goldberg, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Green, Valerie Harper, Faith Hill, Mick Jagger, George Lucas, Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Phil McGraw, Rupert Murdoch, Dolly Parton, Itzhak Perlman, Keanu Reeves, Rob Reiner, Geraldo Rivera, Nolan Ryan, Carlos Santana, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Sylvester Stallone, Elizabeth Taylor, Charlize Theron, Justin Timberlake, John Travolta, Selena Williams, Oprah Winfrey, Princess Beatrice, Halle Berry, Christopher (Ludacris) Bridges, Sergey Brin, Warren Buffet, William J. Clinton, Phil Collins, Michael S. Dell, Matt Dillon, William H. Gates, Wayne Gretzky, Tom Hanks, Goldie Hawn, Samuel L. Jackson, Earvin (Magic) Johnson Jr., Angelina Jolie, Jon Bon Jovi, Ashley Judd, Jessica Lange, Jay Leno, Lindsay Lohan, Yao Ming, Mike Myers, Lou Diamond Phillips, J.K. Rowling, Kurt Russell, Brooke Shields, Gary Sinise, Sharon Stone, Alex Trebek, Denzel Washington, or Kate Winslet) or you know someone who knows them personally, for the sake of hundreds of millions of English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English — including more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — please urge them to examine our website, http://LearnToReadNow.org.]]>
To see for yourself how serious the problem of English functional illiteracy really is and how easily it could be solved, visit our ending functional illiteracy in English website. If you are at all compassionate about the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems of illiterates and if you want to avoid the thousands of dollars that illiteracy costs every adult American every year, hundreds of millions of English-speaking people who are functionally illiterate in English around the world are desperately hoping you will help them. The only proven way to do so is carefully documented in the award-winning book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which is available at no cost or obligation on our website. This book will show the way to definitely and permanently end our provably serious literacy crisis.]]>
A newspaper article by Clay Jenkinson posted on December 12, 2010 in www.bismarcktribune.com (Bismarck, North Dakota) lamented that in a recent test of 470,000 fifteen-year-old students from 25 nations, the U.S. was “dead average” in literacy. The article lists those nations scoring both better and worse than the U.S. The nations are not in alphabetical order and are therefore presumably by ranking. Those nations scoring better than the U.S.: Shanghai-China, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong-China, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan, Australia, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Estonia, Switzerland, Poland, and Iceland. Those scoring worse than the U.S.: Liechtenstein, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. The underlined nations do not have alphabetic languages and may take somewhat longer to learn than alphabetic languages, but they do not have the disadvantage of English spelling in that a certain symbol or two-symbol combination always represents the same word, whereas, each English letter or letter-combination (of up to five letters) may represent as many as sixty different phonemes — the smallest sound in a language or dialect used to distinguish between syllables and words. None of the alphabetic languages other than English have this disadvantage either! Three English-speaking nations scored better than the U.S.: Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. The home of our “mother tongue” (English), the United Kingdom, surprisingly scored the worst of all.
Clay Jenkinson’s article says the study shows the U.S. “now ranks 14th in reading literacy among the world’s nations. . . . U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan put the results in the correct perspective: ‘The hard truth is that other high-performing nations have passed us by during the last two decades. . . . In a highly competitive knowledge economy, maintaining the educational status quo means America’s students are effectively losing ground.’ . . . If the 19th century belonged to the nations that embraced the industrial revolution, and the 20th century belonged to the nations that could put together an unstoppable war machine (the Soviet Union and the U.S.), the 21st century is going to belong to the nations that produce the best engineers, systems analysts and computer programmers, the nations that master information systems and figure out how to squeeze the most efficiency and prosperity out of the shrinking resource pool of the planet. . . . Meanwhile, in a single generation, the United States has fallen from first place to ninth place in the percentage of young people with college degrees — at a time when higher education means more to the future of America than at any time in our history.”
On the same day, December 12, 2010, an article appeared on page A3 of the Salt Lake Tribune titled “Adults fault parents for school woes.” It was a long article which basically said that parents are blaming themselves for their children’s problems in school. Among other things it said “67 percent also believe the U.S. is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to education . . . three quarters rate the quality of education at their child’s school as excellent or good. Most say their child’s school is doing a good job preparing the students for college, the work force and life as an adult.” These statements do not “add up.”
If parents believe American education is falling behind other nations, how can most of the parents believe their child’s school is doing an excellent or good job? How can this be true if 48.7% of U.S. adults cannot read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job (the most statistically reliable definition of functional illiteracy) as the most extensive and statistically accurate studies of U.S. adult literacy prove (see my ending functional illiteracy in English website)? How can this be true if “the number (of functional illiterates) is growing annually by more than 2 million, federal officials say.” as reported in an article on page 4F of the February 21, 1988 Salt Lake Tribune titled “Reading Writing on the Wall? America May Face Literacy Crisis”? (It may very well be worse now.) How can this be true when college professors and employers strongly disagree (see page A12 of the January 9, 1998 Salt Lake Tribune article titled “New High School Grads Can’t Write, Say Profs”)? Here are the percentages of college professors (C) and employers (E) who rate recent high school graduates as poor or fair on their two worst complaints about high school graduates: grammar and spelling, 77% C, 77% E; ability to write clearly, 81% C, 73% E. Here are the percentages of college professors (C), employers (E), parents (P), and teachers (T) who say that a high school diploma is NOT a guarantee that the student has learned the basics: 76% C, 63% E, 32% P, and 26% T.
Although parents and teachers both are part of the reason that some students do not learn to read, there are many reasons why a particular student may not learn to read. Arranged in no particular order, some of these reasons may be:
In today’s world, besides all the school and societal problems which hinder learning, there are many fun but time-consuming activities interfering with learning, which did not exist in simpler times — before the twentieth century. Some of these pleasurable activities include music on radio or iPods, movies, television, musical concerts or recordings, video movies and games, newly developed sports, profitable full- and part-time jobs, and gang and other youth activities.
Like the items in Pandora’s Box, once these time-consuming or distracting activities have been loosed upon society, they cannot be taken back. It will be extremely difficult to get students to spend the long hours learning to read that were spent in more simple times. This is especially true if — due to teaching methods inferior to the memorization and dull drill used in prior centuries — the student is having difficulty learning. In this case, it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to persuade the student to spend time on an unpleasant and difficult activity rather than a multitude of readily available pleasant activities.
One or more of the reasons mentioned previously will apply to almost every student. There is only one hindrance to learning that affects every student, however. Amazingly, it is the primary reason that learning to read is so difficult, and you almost never hear it mentioned as a cause of reading difficulty: the spelling of words. English spelling is illogical, inconsistent, chaotic, and is by far the most difficult-to-learn spelling of any language. There are 1768 ways of spelling 40 phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables and words). Only 40 are needed — one each. There are no spelling rules in English that do not have exceptions. Some of the exceptions even have exceptions! A computer programmed with all of the spelling rules was able to correctly spell only about half of a list of 17,000 common English words. As a result, the only way to learn to read English is to learn each word in your reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use of the word. As adult readers, our eyes glide easily over a large number of traps for beginning readers. Most of us learned to read as children and do not think about the spelling until we have to look up a word in the dictionary.
Speaking of dictionaries: a large part of the problem with English spelling is the fact that Dr. Samuel Johnson made a serious linguistic mistake when he prepared the first widely-accepted English dictionary. Instead of freezing the spelling of phonemes — as an alphabetic language should be spelled — he froze the spelling of words. In 1755 when his dictionary was published, the English language was a conglomeration of the words from eight different languages: the original Celtic and the language of every conqueror who had occupied England up to that time — Norse, Icelandic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and French. When choosing the spelling of each word in the dictionary, in most cases he spelled the word as he thought it was spelled in the language of origin — and sometimes he was mistaken. He did this so that the origin of the words could be traced.
As you know, the pronunciation of many words changes with time, so what was bad in 1755 became increasingly worse. Henry Hitchings book, The Secret Life of Words, published in 2008, states that the English language now has words (and usually their spelling) adopted from 350 languages!
Dr. Frank Laubach went all around the world teaching adults to read in well over 300 alphabetical languages. He found that in 95% of these languages he could teach students to read fluently in from one to twenty days. In some of the simplest languages, such as one or more dialects of the Philippine language, he could teach adults to read in one hour! He found that in 98% of the languages, he could teach students to read in less than three months. Although our familiarity with English makes this seem amazing, you are challenged to see the facts for yourself in his books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion. In these books he never mentions being unable to teach a student to read. In present day America, most students who learn to read require more than two years, and almost half of American students do not learn to read! At present, 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate; they can read a thousand or so simple words they learned by sight in the first three grades in school but they cannot read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job.
The reason learning to read English is difficult is NOT due to the difficulty of the English language itself. The grammar and syntax of English is neither among the easiest nor among the most difficult. The grammar and syntax of English is easier, for example, than many of the languages in Europe. The students in every one of these languages can be taught to read in less than three months.
As a result of the difficulty of learning to read being due to the spelling, which is not being corrected and thereby SOLVING the problem, all present attempts at teaching reading are nothing more than fighting the symptoms of the problem. This is like taking aspirin, decongestants, and cough medicine to fight the symptoms of pneumonia instead of taking antibiotics to cure the pneumonia. If you think this is an exaggeration, please take a stroll down the aisles of any large research library and look at the hundreds of books on teaching English reading and compare with the number of books on any other subject in elementary school. The 1960 Encyclopedia of Educational Research devoted 151 pages to reading research, but only two to five pages to each of the other subjects. Since there have been no changes in the teaching of reading which have made a statistically significant improvement, that same proportion of reading research to research in other subjects is undoubtedly still true today.
Here is the most simple and logical explanation for the contradictions in the newspaper articles at the start of this blog. As you know, we human beings not only have the ability to do as we please (within the constraints of our surroundings and our physical limitations, of course), we also have the ability to believe as we please. As a result — in most cases — people will believe what they want to believe until they see proof — that they cannot continue to ignore — that their belief is wrong. You have probably had the same experience that I have had. In an argument, you prove to someone that your argument is correct. You see that person a couple of days later and he or she says, “There must have been something wrong in that argument, I still believe. . . . (and they repeat what they said during the argument).” People do not want to believe that what they learned as a child — or even something that they merely assumed at any time in their life — is wrong. As you know, people absolutely detest being wrong. People want to believe that, although most American schools may be poor or fair, their child’s school is doing a good job. They want to believe that their child’s teacher is doing a good job because they want their child to succeed in life. They want to believe that their child is smart and will do well if properly motivated. They tend to blame themselves for not properly motivating their child because they are so “busy.” They don’t have time or don’t know how to help their child with their homework, for example, as they feel that they should.
A similar explanation is true for English literacy, in general. People want to be able to read. Those who can read do not want to believe that a shockingly large percentage of their fellow Americans are illiterate because they do not know what to do about it. They want to believe that our political and educational leaders are making the right decisions about how to improve education. Parents are busy “making a living” and having as much fun as they can when they are not working. They do not know how to solve educational problems and furthermore they do not believe it is their job to do so. Everyone has their own narrow field of expertise and they feel perfectly justified in leaving such educational problems to the “experts,” not realizing that the “experts” are also “busy” and do not want to make the effort needed to change the status quo — even for the better.
Until such time as people learn that illiteracy is a devastating problem to illiterates and have a little compassion for their pain and suffering, and until such time as people learn that illiteracy is costing each of us — reader and non-reader alike — thousands of dollars each year and is definitely harming our nation and our relationship with other nations, the problem will continue to grow worse. We have already slipped several ranks lower in economic and educational values. Our survival as the leading nation in our world may soon come to an end if we do not make a good education a possibility for all Americans, not just slightly less than half of them, as is presently the case. And the foundation of a good education is the ability to read.
Here is a very important concept for you to ponder. A little thought will reveal that it is quite obviously true, but in our daily activities we often respond in a certain way because we unthinkingly believe it is NOT true: Something is not true just because we believe it (the earth has never been flat even though almost everyone believed it was at one time). Something is not untrue just because we believe it is untrue. What do people want to believe? They obviously want to believe that what they believe is true — because they do not want to be wrong. But whether or not something is true depends upon the provable facts of the matter.
Whether you believe this or not, the book Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition can definitely and permanently solve our very real literacy crisis. If you think that is too bold a claim, you are challenged to prove to yourself whether or not there is a literacy crisis. If you believe and act upon the recommendations of this book, over 600 million English-speaking functional illiterates around the world (including more than 93 million in the U.S. alone) will be eternally grateful to you. Even if you do not believe the overall conclusion and do not take any action, you will undoubtedly find information that will be of more value to you than the price of the book. Our ending functional illiteracy in English website has an even later version of this award-winning 265-page book available as and e-book at no cost or obligation of any kind in the left-hand column of the website. This website gives a very good introduction to our humanitarian project of ending illiteracy. It lists five brief statements of the problem and six brief statements of the solution which can be read in six minutes. Each of the statements are proven by clicking “Read More” after each statement. If you are not in the mood to read for six minutes, click “Media Page” near the topf of the left-hand column.]]>
You may have difficulty believing that there is a serious problem with functional illiteracy in the U.S. and other English-speaking countries. After all, you are reading this, and as far as you know nearly all of your friends, relatives, and associates can read. Therefore when you realize that this blog advocates spelling reform to solve a literacy crisis — that you are not sure even exists — you may believe it is an unnecessary complication to your life. You know how to read and do not want to have to learn a new spelling system.
If you have read this far, you may have thought of objections to changing our spelling system. The simple facts about the difficulty of learning to read English are proven on the end functional illiteracy in English website. For the sake of an estimated 600 hundred million English-speaking functional illiterates around the world you are challenged to read and understand these provable facts. For more authoritative and comprehensive information you are urged to find out how we can definitely and permanently end our provably serious literacy crisis.]]>
When merely “tweaking” the teaching method for reading is not effective, something more revolutionary is desperately needed — such as Frank Charles Laubach, founder of Laubach Literacy International, proposed in his book Forty Years With the Silent Billion. The extreme seriousness of the problem of English functional illiteracy demands a solution. A new, breakthrough book is now available for definitely and permanently ending our provably serious literacy crisis. The second revision of this award-winning book is available at no cost or obligation of any kind on the left-hand column of our Ending Functional Illiteracy in English website. This is a 265-page e-book in .pdf format.]]>
What we believe does not change the truth. At one time almost everyone in the world believed that the earth was flat. Did that belief keep the world from being a sphere? All human beings can choose to believe or disbelieve anything we wish. We are made that way. Sometimes we see proof that what we believe is not true. We do not like being wrong, so sometimes the proof is not enough. Have you ever had the experience of proving something to someone you are arguing with and seeing them a couple of days later, and they say, “There must be something wrong with that argument. I still believe. . . .“? Then they repeat what they believed before you showed them the proof.
Sometimes we must see the proof over and over in such a way that we cannot continue to hold onto our wrong belief. Human beings passionately dislike being wrong. Sometimes we have wrong beliefs because we will not take the time to honestly look at proof of something we do not want to believe. We do not want to believe that huge numbers of our fellow Americans are having really serious problems because they are illiterate. There are many people who claim to be compassionate about fellow Americans who are in poverty. A far smaller number of people ever do anything about it.
Many of us say, correctly, that we just barely make enough money to support ourselves at the level to which we have become accustomed. Many celebrities earn much more than enough to help many people in poverty. But most of them don’t. Most of them do not even investigate enough to learn that functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other causes combined. Even if they are aware of that fact, most of them are too busy and too self-important to do anything about it.
IF you are truly compassionate about the suffering of an estimated 600 hundred million English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English (more than 93 million in the U.S. alone) you are challenged to read the report titled Adult Literacy in America, available for free download from http://nces.ed.gov/pubs93/93275.pdf and see the calculations using the data from that report on page “2. Extent of the Problem” on my new http://LearnToReadNow.org website. Page “3. Why We Do Not See the Extent of the Problem” on my website explains why we may not believe the problem as serious as it really is.
IF you think that there may be lots of illiterates in the U.S., but the problems they face are really not all that bad, you are challenged to read page “4. The Seriousness of the Problem” on my new blog. IF you do not think that changing the spelling is really necessary or will really solve the problem, you are challenged to read pages “5. English Spelling Confuses Everyone,” “6. The Solution in a Nutshell,” and “8. Characteristics of NuEnglish” on my new website.
IF you read the pages mentioned in the two previous paragraphs and IF you are at least a little compassionate, you will want to help. Read page “10. Learn to Read Now!” on my new website and teach a functional illiterate to read and/or post a comment at the end of that page with nothing more than the next number in sequence, your full name, and your city and state, which will put you on a petition to educational and political authorities that you want NuEnglish taught in at least some of the kindergartens in your area as a very worthwhile trial.
I know — we are all busy. We all have our priorities: our relationship with God, our family, our job, and our hobbies and entertainment — not necessarily in that order, of course. But honestly now, couldn’t we do something out of compassion for our fellowman instead of one or two of the thirty minute TV programs we had planned to watch?]]>