The links in this page are to examples. Many more can be given.

See English Today, 107, vol 27, No 3. Sept 2011, pp 62-67, 'Recent developments which affect spelling. On the possibility of removing the unnecessary difficulties in English spelling, while leaving the basic appearance of English print intact.'

Since reading raises IQ and general knowledge, literacy for all must be our aim. So many people are handicapped in different ways, the task should be as easy as possible. It is not ‘dumbing down’ to give them a better chance of literacy.  Development in the last ten years with English spelling show that most people would like a change, and that change is possible to remove the unnecessary difficulties while leaving the basic appearance of English print intact.


Recent developments in spelling includes texting, Txting has a basic phonics component and removes extras, as well as the in-group acronyms.(See e.g. Txting demonstrates ordinary people's willingness to change spelling – as the correspondence in newspapers does not, being dominated by conservatives.


When computers first came in, there were attempts to make them spell by rules (eg the Stanford attempt, programming computers with 121 or so rules, and finding they spelled no better than high school students). Then computers were programmed with a whole dictionary, the Spellchecker, and the chance of spelling improvement was lost.

Now technology is developing speech-to-writing via phones. See e.g. . That may or may not postpone English spelling improvement.  In the past speech-to-writing programs I tried to use encountered difficulties they may or may not have now, in individual and dialect differences in speech, and the fact that phonemes may not correspond to the sounds the machines pick up – e.g. changine according to their place in a word, and place in the text.


The evidence is piling up that present spelling is a grave handicap to the English-speaking nations and to the future of English as a lingua franca for the world.

a) Cross-cultural studies

– e.g Seymour et al in 2001, and aninternational study of 700 primary school children in 15 European countries which showed that children take much longer to establish basic reading and writing skills in English than in any other European language. Most of the children in the study had "mastered the basic foundations of literacy" within a year or less of starting school. But the English-speaking sample, from Dundee, took 2.5 years. (Seymour, P.H.K. & Duncan, L.G.  Learning to read in English. Psychologia) ."  See also Seymour, P H K, Aro, M. & Erskine, J M. 2003. Foundation literacy acquisition in European orthographies. British Journal of Psychology. 94. 143-174 and Philip Seymour, psychology professor at Dundee University, said: "It seems likely that the main cause of the slow rate of progress in English is linguistic and derives from difficulties created by the complex syllable structure and inconsistent spelling systems."  Also studies by  Eraldo Paulesu, E., Demonet, J.-F., Fazio, F., McCrory, E. et al.  Science [H.W. Wilson - GS]. Mar 16, 2001. Vol. 291, Iss. 5511; p. 2165-8

b) Government reports

Government anxieties about literacy which have stimulated governments in USA, UK and Australia (National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, December 2005) have instituted inquiries. ‘Whole language’ is now discredited as a learning method and Phonics is in, but Phonics methods are handicapped by the unnecessary difficulties in spelling. The costs of literacy include the costs of spelling. The long term costs of literacy difficulties are estimated in a UK parliamentary report as £2,459.5m. See the table in the

c) Further scientific knowledge.

What psychologists and educators now know about reading, writing and learning processes can be utilised to improve spelling. e.g; U. Goswami, 'How to beat dyslexia,' Broadbent Lecture, The Psychologist, Vol 16 No 9. 462-465, September 2003, and Heather Hayes, Brett Kessler, and Rebecca Treiman, 'English Spelling: Making Sense of a Seemingly Chaotic Writing System,' Paper for IDA’s Perspectives Newsletter, The old ‘only phonemic’ reforms still have their advocates who are ignorant of modern research, but it only requires psychologists to be game enough to take the next step – actually cutting out the unnecessary difficulties their studies reveal.

d) The struggles of the disadvantaged.

It is now known that dyslexics and backward and disadvantaged learners struggle much harder to learn literacy in English that normally advantaged . It is a hard heart that demands that they must continue to struggle – and often give up.

e) What other countries do.  

  1. The achievements in Finnish education, with the most completely consistent orthography.
  2. Spelling reforms in other alphabetic languages with a mostly literate population. English has been too parochial to observe that these reforms in Spain, Portugal, the Netherlands, and Germany, and not wholesale phonemic reforms. They are also implemented by academies which monitor research and authorise dictionaries, e.g in the last year, the Académie Française, and the Royal Spanish Academy (Tje Real Academia Española de la Lengusand Portugal  La Gran Reforma del 2009 De La Ortografía Portuguesa, all covering many countries across the world, with many dialects). The Research Institute for the Languages of Finland develops its official spelling recommendations.  English similarly needs an International English Spelling Commission,( sponsored possibly by UNESCO, to monitor, collate and implement research

f) Spelling Bees. eg

These uniquely English-language institutions demonstrate that only a few can spell well in English. Words with simple spellings are rendered problematic by the presence of words with difficult spellings.  And ironically spelling bees demonstrate this.

g) The media

The media are continually publishing the faults of present spelling. They could overcome their reluctance to discuss what could be done about it, other than to ridicule.

What can be done to improve English spelling?

This is such an important matter that a Nobel Prize awaits the discoverers of how to meet the different needs, of readers, writers, learners, handicapped learners, ESL, the visual and phonic routes to using spelling, the great amount of our vocabulary nowadays shared by other languages and represented visually, and the need for our heritage of print to remain accessible. It is a major intellectual challenge but shouldn’t be ducked for all that. Most assumptions fall down when challenged – and challenging assumption is the first requirement for any scientific progress. Around 80% needs no change.


Final implementation requires an International English Spelling Commission, but much can be done in the  interim. The Académie Française, for example, introduced 6000 new spellings as alternatives in the premier French dictionary. Changes that are taken up by the people can replace the standard. 

A few suggestions for discussion

English spelling rules can be reduced to one page, and yet keep the appearance of print basically as it is.  This is done by going counter-intuitive and challenging assumptions.

Our present spelling system could be improved – as other nations have improved their writing systems. We do not need a radical change. We can keep our heritage of print accessible. See how easily the present system could be made accessible by a little change.

The five steps are:

1. An International English Spelling Commission.

An international body is necessary to monitor and assess research, and to implement findings.  Other nations have academies to monitor their language.

2. Meanwhile, cut out surplus letters in words

Surplus letters in words serve no purpose to represent meaning or pronunciation. This is the chief method in txting that is useful for general reading, although txt msges leave out more than most ppl wd find helpful, the acronyms bringing in too much private talk. See,  and  My doctoral thesis, 1991, contains a network of experiments showing the advantage for readers, spellers, learners and EFL of this step, and the little disruption it causes present readers. These are summarized at and can easily be replicated.

3. A hundred words make up half of everyday English text. Only 35 are irregular.

all almost always among come some could should would half know of off one only once other pull push put two as was what want who why, and international word endings -ion/-tion/-sion/zion

Keep them. This is counter-intuitive – generally people imagine the most common tricky words should be the first to go.  However, learners can cope with 35 spellings presented as special 'sight-words' A sing-song which helps to lern them is at: 1.htm

4. Reduce all the rules of spelling to one page. Then make all spellings obey those rules. 1.htm

5. Modify the BBC Text Pronunciation Guide to make a pronunciation guide in dictionaries and for learners' beginning spelling.

This is close to present spelling and takes into account the needs of dyslexics and disadvantaged learners. The modified form does not include the ‘schwa’ of indistinct vowels in casual speech, and it shows irregular stress in words. Spelling is a convention, like a stick man sketch, recognisable by all, and not a photograph of speech, like the International Phonetic Alphabet.

6. Follow the example of the Académie Française in 2009. Allow more variant spellings for words in dictionaries, within the limits of the rules, so that change can be decided by what people use. With Spelling-Rules-on-One-Page variability is accepted in spelling for reading without traps (recognition learning, very close to present spelling) but less for spelling for writing without traps (recall learning). Only seven vowels and four consonants need this variability.

Many of these steps can be taken by individuals and dictionaries.