Spelling BEEs used to be the acid test as to whether you
were Educated - or not.
The acid test for Education today is the Spelling ABC.
Answers are posted below.
1. How many
letters are there in the alfabet?
2. How many speech
sounds are there in the English language? (That is, the
basic minimum fonemes without going into fine
3. How many
spelling patterns in English spelling represent those
4. a. Are there any
letters in the alfabet that are always sounded the same
b. If so,
5. How many letters
can be silent? eg e is silent in private.
6. a. Are there any
sounds that are always spelled the same way? b. If so,
7. a. What sound
has the greatest number of possible spellings?
b. What consonant
sound has the greatest number of possible
8. What letter has
the greatest number of possible ways to pronounce it?
(Not counting when it is part of a letter combination
9. Eat can be
pronounced as in eat, great or sweat. How many different
sounds can be spelled with ough?
10. Did you know
that most major languages in the world, even French, have
improved their writing systems in the past 150 years? a)
Name five languages that have had sweeping changes in
their writing systems in the past 150
b) Name five
languages that have had small but important changes in
the past 150 years.
11. How many
reasons can you think of why English spelling can never
be changed? Look at the evidence for them.
12. About how many
vowel letters are in the English language? a) What are
b) About how many
English spelling patterns are used to spell them?
13. When did the
English first start saying that their spelling needed
14. Name three
great makers of English dictionaries who thought English
spelling needed reforming and tried to make some reforms
15. Name dozens of
eminent people who have wanted English spelling reform.
16.a. How many
different ways do children spell scissors? (Rough guess)
b. What is the most common way that children misspell
scissors? c. Which is sillier, the mis-spelling or the
17. How many
'contradictory facts' do children have to accept in
learning present English spelling, according to Sir James
Murray, compiler of the Oxford English
18. Name as many
principles of education that you can which are
contradicted when children have to be taught present
19. Do we learn
about the history of our words from their
20. How do people
in other countries with updated writing systems learn
about the history of the words in their language?
1. There are 26 letters in the alfabet.
2. There are around 44 speech sounds (fonemes).
Consonants are: h l m n r w y hw ng and voiced-unvoiced
pairs b-p, d-t, v-f, th-th, z-s, g-k, j-ch, zh-sh. The 19
vowels, including the most common fused diphthongs
(merging sounds) are: a e i o u ae ee ie oe ue ah er air
aw ow oy oo (boot) oo (book) plus the most common vowel
sound, which is the unclear sound 'schwa' as in proper,
3. A J Ellis worked out that these 44 English speech
sounds can be spelled at least 658 different ways.
4. a. Are there any letters in the alfabet that are
always sounded the same way? None. Even k and m are
sometimes silent as in knot and mnemonic. b) None.
5. All 26 letters can be silent at times. We have a
def and dum alfabet.
6. No sounds can be relied upon to be always spelt the
7. What sound has the greatest number of possible
spellings? The obscure vowel 'schwa' which is unstressed
has 66 posibl spellings. Next comes i and AE, with 51
possible spellings each. For a, 38 of these spellings are
in common use, as in - baby, made, played, maelstrom,
champagne, dahlia, maim, raise, campaign, straight,
trait, halfpenny, gaol, gaoled, plague, plaguing, gauged,
gauging, may, mayor, re, they, great, fete, feted,
matinee, veil, dossier, Seine, reign, reigned, eight,
weighed, ballet, conveyed, eyre, applique, bouquet.
7b. The sound s has 25 fairly common spellings: sit,
hiss, kissed, scene, coalesce, schism, case, dishonest,
raspberry, thistle, isthmus, Mrs, sword, cell, ace,
Gloucester, Worcester, psalm, worsted, boatswain, waltz,
next, except, exhibition, pizzicato
8. Letters a e o can all be pronounced in ten
different ways, eg,
for A - man about many stomach was making tamtam part
for E - egg open fern sergeant feted femme pretty be
for O - on orb atom reason women woman mother over do
9. Ough can be pronounced a least 6 different ways, as
in cough, dough, through, thought, doughty, enough,
10. Well, you know now. a) Possible answers could
Indonesian, Turkish, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Malaysian,
Vietnamese b) Possible answers include Dutch Greek,
Hebrew, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese.
11. Huh. The main ones are inertia and better spelling
might look different for a while.
12. a) Six letters used as vowels - a e i o u y b)
Over 213 common spelling patterns.
13. People first started saying that English spelling
needed spelling reform as soon as they started to spell,
in medieval times.
14. Great makers of English dictionaries who tried to
promote spelling reform - Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster,
James Murray and H W Fowler of the Oxford English
Dictionary and English Usage all thought English spelling
needed reforming and tried to make some sensible reforms
themselves, including Johnson.
15. Hundreds of eminent historical persons have wanted
English spelling to be reformed, including Shaw, Mark
Twain, Dickens, President Theodore Roosevelt, Prince
Philip . .
16. a) How many different ways do children spell
scissors? Over two hundred. b) The commonest way they
mis-spell is sisors. c) Which is sillier, the
mis-spelling or the 'proper spelling'? Your guess.
17. Sir James Murray, lexicographer, said there were
'thousands of contradictory facts' in English
18. Principles of education that are contradicted
include reason, independent thinking, self-help,
generalising, experimental method, respect for elders'
wisdom, creativity, useful task, efficiency . .
19 Not much. What do you learn from their spellings
about the history of words like are could through who you
that you could not find more reliably in a dictionary, or
that you need every day when you use those spellings?
20. They look up dictionaries.