Masha Bell who has provided the contents for this website is also author of the book 'Understanding English Spelling'. They are both part of her campaign to make more people aware of the problematic nature of English spelling which she first started in 1995 with letters to newspapers. Poor literacy standards of school leavers in the UK were attracting much media attention at that time, with everyone blaming school teachers. She had just retired from teaching on health grounds and felt driven to join the debate.
Since the start of the 21st century there has been an accumulation of research evidence proving that learning to read and write English is exceptionally difficult. Masha Bell had been keenly aware of this through first-hand experience since 1959, when she first began to learn English in Lithuania at the age of 14. She was already fluent in Lithuanian, Russian and German.
In 1970 she graduated in Philosophy and Psychology at Exeter University and then went on to become a secondary school teacher of English and modern languages in Dorset. She also raised two children and studied French and Spanish. Her life and education have provided her with unique experiences and insights into language learning.
All English-speaking countries have relatively high levels of adult functional illiteracy (20% in US and UK, compared with 10 % in Germany, 8 % in Sweden). This is usually already evident by age 11, with one in five children failing to learn to read effectively before starting secondary school. Perversely, Anglophone countries also conduct more research into the best way to teach reading and writing and have more debates about it than other countries, but invariably without regard to the unique problems of English spelling.
This is probably because those who learn English as their first language, and generally don't become very proficient in others, cannot readily appreciate the exceptional difficulties of English spelling. To anyone like Masha Bell who first learned to read and write with logically consistent spelling systems, English spelling seems ridiculously chaotic. Most foreigners, however, do not go on to become teachers of English in England. Nor do they realise that English spelling causes severe learning problems for native speakers too, and that its educationally demotivating effect is worse on them than on learners of English as a foreign language.
Masha Bell has therefore looked for ways of presenting and explaining the learning difficulties of English spelling to native speakers of English. She hopes that this will enable teachers to take a more dispassionate look at literacy problems, that it might put the everlasting 'reading wars' on a more rational footing, and perhaps also help to improve standards.
She ascertained English spelling problems by analysing 6800 commonly used words and identifying those which cannot be entirely decoded from their letters or spelt by using rules of the English spelling system. The 3700 words thus established are all listed on the different pages of this website.
Coping with this learning burden takes a great deal of time and effort, and may be of doubtful value when many other worthwhile subjects could do with extra time. Maybe it would be better to find ways of reducing the learning load instead of constantly searching for more effective ways of helping children to cope with it? The majority of irregular English spellings have no logical basis or good historical justification (see History).
The material on this website was proofread by Masha's husband Lewis Bell
and put on this site by Sandford Computers.