Problems in learning to read and write

This site presents the whole range of English reading and spelling problems.
It shows why so many learners of English have difficulties with reading and writing.

Anyone interested in a fuller explanation of English spelling problems should consult
my book (Masha Bell, Understanding English Spelling, 2004), or watch my Youtube videos

Teachers may download the various word lists for classroom use.

The average English-speaking child takes nearly three times longer to learn the basics of reading and writing than users of other alphabetic writing systems (Seymour, British Journal of Psychology, 2003). Numerous surveys in Anglophone countries during the past five decades have established that nearly half of all English speakers have severe difficulties with writing. One in five cannot even read properly, as was confirmed in 2005 by the UK’s House of Commons Select Committee for Education.

Learning to read and write English is exceptionally difficult.

English is difficult because identical letter strings often have
different pronunciations, for example,
o–  once  –  only  –  woman  –  women  –  worry
[wunce]   [oanly]   [wooman]  [wimmen]  [wurry]

Learning to spell is even harder because different spellings for identical English sounds
are twice as common as different pronunciations for identical letters.
The EE-sound and OO-sound, for example, can be spelt as:
peep  – leap, people,  here,  weird,  chief, police, me, ski, key;
food –  rude,  shrewd, truth, group, move,  fruit, tomb, through,  blue, shoe.

The English writing system is uniquely difficult because it has spelling and reading problems.
Other difficult alphabetic systems have only spelling problems.

To become even just moderately competent spellers of English, learners have to memorise at least
3700 words with some unpredictable spellings
(listed on the different pages of this website).

 A little more than half of all English spelling difficulties are caused by four problems:
unsystematic consonant doubling like ‘shoddy – body’ and unpredictable spellings for the
EE-sound, the long O -sound and the two OO-sounds.

 Other serious spelling problems are caused by unpredictable spellings for the sounds
Ur / er / ir,   Au / aw,  S,   Sh   and the unstressed half-vowel in endings (like
–er / -or / -ar    or  –en / -on / -an).

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