I think that English is highly irregular, but when I said so in my first Staffrm piece, John Walker disagreed:
“The real problem is training teachers to understand how the English orthographic code is structured conceptually, how the spelling system relates to the sounds of the language ... To the untutored, the English spelling system looks random and chaotic…”
I had met the same view in the book ‘Every English Teacher’, published in 1974, which I was given when I started to teach English and German in girl’s grammar school in 1976. It claimed that English spelling
“may seem to be quite without rhyme or reason, but close analysis has shown that the writing system is in general regular” and “not the confusion it is widely thought to be”.
I was somehow failing to understand the system, although my spelling was better than of most of my grammar school educated colleagues. - I did not have to rewrite reports because of spelling mistakes nearly as often as they did. The English ‘O’ level results of my classes were above average too, despite my habit of frequently drawing attention to the insanities of English spelling.
I concluded that my failure ‘to get’ English spelling had to be due to me not having started to learn the language until the age of 14 (in 1958, in Soviet Lithuania). Some colleagues suggested that I would find English spelling less puzzling if I had done Latin and French, as they all had.
I was not prepared to learn a dead language to understand modern English spelling, but I was willing to give French a try. Despite being in my 30’s, I passed my ‘O’ level with grade A. But even that did not stop me thinking that English spelling is pretty chaotic.
While I was working full-time, with a long daily commute and bringing up my own children, I did not have the time or energy to let the impenetrability of English spelling preoccupy me too much. In 1995 however, I had to stop teaching because of throat, nose and ear problems.
This happened to coincide with a sudden intense media interest in poor literacy standards. Captains of industry were outraged by them too. And totally unbelievably to me, everyone was blaming teachers for them. I felt a bit like the kid who saw that the emperor was naked. I felt like shouting, "Why don’t you just take a good look at English spelling?!”
But I also realised, that despite teaching English on and off for over 20 years, I did not know EXACTLY HOW IRREGULAR English spelling was. I could find any book that really explained it either. So I decided to investigate it myself. I then wrote a book too, before discovering that blogging allowed me to present my findings for free for all to see: englishspellingproblems.blogsp...
I plan to say a bit more about my findings over the coming weeks.