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.

Reading Education in Two Newspaper Editorials

A Recent Newspaper Editorial on Literacy

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:

  1. Involve the parents and the larger community.
  2. Raise standards and do something about low-performing schools.
  3. Pay attention to prenatal health.
  4. Teach parents the importance of verbal interaction with children who have not yet started speaking.
  5. Line up activities with what is being taught in early grades to strengthen preschool.
  6. Pay special attention to students who are chronically absent in early grades.
  7. Use more imaginative ideas for combating the loss of learning during the summer months.

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.

The Provable CAUSE of Illiteracy in English

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.

Another Recent Newspaper Editorial On Literacy

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching reading,U.S. literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,U.S. literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,world literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy and have No Comments

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.

posted by in cause of illiteracy,cost of illiteracy,education,end English functional illiteracy,ending illiteracy,extent of illiteracy,learn to read,literacy,reading education,seriousness of illiteracy,teaching fluent reading,teaching reading,U.S. literacy and have No Comments