Riform Ishyuez

I didn't really think Tesla would be successful, I thought we would most likely fail. But if something's important enough you should try even if the probable outcome is failure.
Elon Musk

I have designed this blog in an unorthodox way and that's no accident! I know that the purists -- who might come to stumble upon it--  will dismiss it, in a visceral way, for its form and its premise, no matter what! They have managed to master English and, either don't understand what is the issue, don't like anyone messing with their language, or don't look forward to any change. It is understandable! It is also very predictable! This blog is not for them! Can you have a conversation with a fanatic? This blog is not for the Manicheaeans of this world! My world is full of colour! Is yours? 

The Dialectal Conundrum ... Not!


1. There are too many accents (AKA dialectal variations in pronunciation).
  • Dialectal accents are started to be “learned” or “perceived” by the age of 2, BEFORE children can link phonemes, allophones, with any spelling, phonemic or not. Here is the research.
  • We know that children (their brain, really) have the capacity to learn many languages, many accents. In Italy, for instance, it is common to hear people know a dialect (usually oral) and speak/read/write the standard Italian as well. We suggest that the only reasonable way to deal with this issue is to make all Commonwealth children start to learn another standard dialect by Grade 1 which will —finally— be the lingua franca that all people around the world have long been awaiting for. (Thanks Roman Huczok for reminding me that keeping a dialect and learning a standard is very doable.)
  • To avoid political issues and help make English a true lingua franca, it would be wise to use the diaphonemes used on the International Phonetic Alphabet chart for English dialects - Wikipedia or some other agreed form. If some populations of certain countries or region not be interested, they would have the option of staying with the status quo or reform their dialect as they please.
  • This would not be the Armageddon, the end of English as we know it, an incredible loss of culture,… This is about spelling, not language.
  • The internet, public education for all, social media,... are helping standardizing many accents and, if it were to be reformed in this manner, it will be much easier.
2. I do not want to learn a new system.
  • You won't have to. I repeat … you will not have to. That is our pledge. I do not want to either. This reform is not for me, you, but for the next generation.
  • The change will occur in schools, starting with as many Grade 1 classes as it is possible. Opting out will be possible. In year 2, another group of Grade 1 will start to learn the new system. The first group will go in Grade 2 and will keep learning the new system (or rather learn using the new system since they will have it mastered decoding and spelling already).
3. There will be a need for some people to learn the new system.
  • The 20 to 40 will need to be familiar with the new system, but free programs will be able to transcode from the current system to the other and vice versa, seamlessly and fast. Transcoding is much faster than translating. It is also much more accurate.
  • The cohort that will go into the labour force after 12 to 16 years will speak the same language. Speech recognition software and transcoding programs will do the rest.
4. Street signs and vendor signs will need to be respelled/respelt.
  • No. The new spellers will be able to decipher the old system.
5. ALL documents will need to be reprinted.
  • No. Digital documents will be transcodable. It is much easier to do so.
  • Should a citizen be interested or be in need to read printed documents that are not in a digital format, I am sure we can figure out ways to efficiently recode these (text-to-speech recognition software to deal with that issue) or have someone read the text to him or her or transcode it.
6. Will translators lose their job?
  • No. A good segment of the population will still function in the current system.
  • No. The new spellers will need translation as much as the older generation.
  • There will be a need for some transcoding too.
7. Will teachers lose their job?
  • If a Grade 1 teacher were incapable or unwilling to teach the new system, they could be given the task to teach those children who are opting out or be asked to teach the old system (as a second language) or teach older grades. Substantial accommodations should be given to older teachers wanting to plan (prepare material) and/or learn the new code.
  • There will be a 4 or 5 year preparatory period to start the transition (Year 1/Grade 1) which should give people plenty of time to shift, should they want to.
  • Unions will be consulted and a system will be put in place to facilitate the transition for all
  • Retirement by attrition would be one of the ways used to replace teachers.
  • Grade 1 teachers are often able to teach other grades.
  • New students will need a few teachers to teach the old system as a second-language mode.
8. The language will lose the morphological links between words that will be lost or reduced with a new more phonemic system.
  • Everyone knows the link between language and linguistics or photography and photographer, for instance. These pairs of words resemble each other, but the link is not automatic in the first pair. A more phonemic system will sometimes improve the semantic relation and sometimes obscure it. At the end of the day, some of the words that are linked by how they look, require the learner to remember the pronunciation of the words since they might not be pronounced as they are written and, obviously, their spelling: photographic, but photography: (/fəˈtɒɡ.rə.fi/ VS /ˌfəʊ.təˈɡræf.ɪk/. Which is better? In a reform spelling, these words would be spelled something like this in Iezy Inglgish: fetogrefy VS fetegrafic. Notice that in both, the stressed syllable is the one that does not have the “e” or schwa. Huge advantage for foreign learners where now no one knows where the word stress is put. Is there anyone who canNOT link the two words semantically? A newer system will improve the link between words that are spoken and words that are written/decoded/read. Learning should be faster as a result. The current system obscures the link between words that are spoken (and heard) and words that are written/decoded.
  • Furthermore, yes, there are words that look like they are related and the link will be obscured, but if spelling and misspellings are so important aren’t they a lot of false-positives that a respelling would clarify? Is ready about readingPlea and pleasure (sure?) and pleasant (ant?are linked? Arch and archive? Country is about countingLead (the metal) is about leadingBus and businessCancelis about cans and cellsHave and haven are related? Ache and achievedReinvent and rein (vent)All and allowInventories and invent are linked? Reached and acheResent is about sent/sending? How many more do I need to prove the point that there are a lot of false positives currently?
  • There are words in the current system that appear to be linked, but aren’t. No one seems to be confused. Invest is about a vest that’s in a coat? Numb and numbersare related? Legal is about legAssertive about assActing and actual are related? Deli and deliverHeaven and heavyMan and manyAdd and addressEarl and earlyPet and petty? There are lots of false positives in that sense in the lexicon too.
9. Is it worth it?
  • Suppose we make English as regular as Finnish. Now consider, Finnish kids start school at age 7. Most English-speaking kids start at school at age 5.5. How much does it cost to teach all of those kids for an extra 1.5 years. Teachers are expensive. Daycare? Less so. Imagine the possibilities. Also, there is quite a bit of data that indicates that maybe kids do not need to go to go to school at age 5.5. Again, daycare or universal childcare could make the life of millions, dare I say billions of learners, that much better. THAT is not worth it? What is?
  • Illiteracy rates in the 30% levels in most Commonwealth countries will drop with a simpler system.
  • A simpler system will be MUCH cheaper to teach (fewer specialist teachers will be needed).
  • Learning will happen faster. As students HEAR a new word, they will be able to link it to its ONE possible spelling and when they read a new word, they will be able to link it to a word that they heard. The brain connections will be reinforced more efficiently. Lets take a word that you have never seen printed before: “tuleafashouhe”? Are you sure of it pronunciation? Where is that word stress? And then, a few weeks later, you hear on TV “tlayfaychor”? Would you be able to connect the 2? Most likely not, but if it had been spelled as it is pronounced, then the connections would have been made, with more certainty. It is self-evident that more coherence between systems would make learning faster and easier.
  • Fewer kids will be pulled out and shamed as reading disabled.
  • Less crime as more people will be able to read and write. (Robots will do the menial work that illiterate people sometimes must do).
  • Happier labour force.
  • Better educated/literate labour force.
  • Better economy.
  • More people around the world should be able to learn an easier system.
  • Easier travelling and understanding between people.
  • More people will be able to read books written in the new code. Higher profits for English-speakers.
10. Which industry will lose?
  • Tutoring agencies and tutors could lose out. Still, we could make the first generation that will learn the new code, bicodal. If this is so, they will surely need help to learn the old code, just like pasts generatiosn did.
  • We need to make this a win-win situation. Anyone displaced will be given a choice of work that is related to what they were doing before
  • Teachers (attrition and re-assignment will need to be addressed), but those who cannot cope will be re-assigned.
  • Publishing houses will benefit. Some of the old material will need to be digitized, but a lot has been (Gutenberg project, Google,…)
  • Psychologists who assess students’ reading and writing abilities/intelligence will lose out, but I suspect that this is a small number, seeing how many of these evaluations took place in my 25 years of teaching.
11. What do these new spelling systems look like?
  • Some are using most of the spelling rules that exist now. They are just regularizing many of the patterns. (Masha Bell has one system.)
  • A reform would not mean spelling using a phonetic system like IPA. There is no cursive writing (although this could be created I suppose). Cursive writing is faster than printing words, but aren’t more and more people going to use technology to avoid writing all together? Even in rare instances where people are asked to cursive write, a recorder with speech recognition software could do the work of transcribing much more efficiently than any one could, even with short-hand.
  • Others attempt to maximize the opportunity as a second shot at this will prove unlikely. Iezy Ignglish is such a system. It systematizes the easiest pattern of English: the vowel+e pattern found in many words (piece, clue, foe, reggae,…) and it echoes the long vowel+Consonant+e pattern found in a lot more words, which is more contrived than the first pattern and which makes decoding a much harder tasks than it should (late, cute, core, mite, mere). The simpler pattern would do away with the cumbersome doubling of the consonant rule to change the vowel value: pat/patting, mat/matting VS mate/mating/.
  • Others can be found on the English spelling society website.
12. Will communication between the ones who know the new system and the ones that don’t be affected?
  • The language/speech/conversations will be the same.
  • The only communication mode that will be affected is the written mode, but is there anyone who thinks that most people will not have smart phones or tablets or computers to allow this?
  • The internet will need transcoding work, but programs can easily be created I am told by programmers. These programs will be able to transcode tons of material and will do it faster that any translation program (and much better).
13. There will be many homophones. Will they not make communication harder? (Thanks to Tomas Murphy for that one.)
  • Hundreds of thousands of misspelling are okay, but 500 homophones will cause issues?
  • There are just 500 homophones. There are 1 million words in the lexicon. Hello?
  • Many cannot be confused as many are not even the same type of words: check (verb)/cheque (noun), ad/add, it’s/its, their/there/they’re,… No one when speaking and listening is confused!
14. Accents will vanish?
  • For the last 250 years (and more) they have NOT vanished even with an extremely POOR system representing them.

I am breaking many rules in writing this blog, but not as many as the spelling facists (Oh! Sorry! Fascists :)) who continually misspell words (the ones that do not respect those 91 spelling rules) and who tell everyone that they should spell words correctly (spelling words phonetically is the only correct way of spelling words). Mea culpa if my topic sentences are not always where they should. Like a journalist's insatiable need to grab the attention, I decided to bring out the facts quickly in the introduction, like a boxer, throwing quick jabs to get ahead in the count, ... like the English's spelling system, forcing its irregularities on learners! Mea culpa! Sorry! Forgive me! I have also tried hard to use a simpler, accessible vocabulary to make it accessible for as many people as I could, but I felt that sometimes it was necessary to show that I couldn't be dismissed as some amateur either. Purists, who will surely be against this reform, might decide to take me a little bit more seriously. I wrote "a little bit" and I think I am being optimistic! :) After all, management/leaders should recognize I used ADKAR to rationalize the change! They speak about ADKAR all the time, now it is time for them to be subjected to it. Let's see how they manage! :) They will resist! I know I can convert them, but do they want to? Surely, they will attack me! Voltaire is quoted as saying that if you need to "drown" your dog, just say that it has rabies! I am sure I have "rabies"! Who doesn't? :)

"Qui veut noyer son chien l'accuse de la rage" (Voltaire)

I quit teaching before turning 50, after 25 years in teaching, frustrated that I could not provide, year after year, the best service I know I can provide, as the working and learning conditions worsened, and the level of support needed to give students a chance had eroded. Some of these managers are urging everyone else to change, except them! They use words like "paradigm shift", but their shift is stuck on automatic! And, those who are trying to change things are usually not in the trenches managing those changes! I left seeing a system that was fast approaching the one that I faced  when I arrived in BC, 35 years ago, in Penticton, as frustrated as the student who could not say a word in English, muzzled like him, not getting any help of the kind an immigrant student should receive! I hope a younger teacher with more energy and less awareness about what things could be like has taken over. I know too much. 

Ignorance is bliss. I know too much and I also have lost trust in the system. When 15 years ago, school trustees (probably advised by management) asked me (and other French Immersion teachers), a native speaker of French, to teach English in BRITISH Columbia, when there were plenty of more qualified English teachers around when, at the same time, they were using mottos claiming to put students first, there was some major cognitive dissonance, if you know what I mean. :) But, they know better! :) They know about money! It was all about money, saving a buck on the back of some poor immigrant (and his or her family) who usually would be grateful no matter what or some poor kid who was so messed up as she dealt with years of abuse or even death of a mother. Sad! Sure, the ministry put the pressure on the trustees who had to put the pressure on teachers. Typical dumping! Counselling for that child? How about 3 times a week and the next 3 days you are on your own, kid! Parents, you can pay for that service now! As time went on, I lost, not only trust, but the ability to make a difference, as more kids with more severe problems went by, some of them needing much more than the system cared to provide. Efficiency, but at what cost? When the train crashes and the pilot loses control, that is when you know that efficiency counted for too much!

I am convinced that crises like the one teachers are facing today are the catalyst for change. Solutions can be found as the cameras and the microphones inform the public about this matter. I realize, though, that the magnitude of change that I am suggesting Commonwealth countries to take will be a 9 on the Richter scale, which, viscerally, many will dismiss, like the special interest groups who dismissed the likes of Carnegie or Roosevelt when they gave it a go and the others gave them the boot! I have a dream that  one day someone will comprehend that "they" were not disabled, but that the language was disabling!


valerie yule said...

Please add the links:



http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/spmisspells.htm The Book of Spells and Misspells. A funny and comprehensive treasury of spelling


http://www.ozreadandspell.com.au/ Half hour cartoon video of what it helps to know to read and spell. Takes reading and spelling from the alphabet on. Failing learners can find out where they got stuck.
http://home.vicnet.net.au/~ozideas/v22colorchecklist.htm Picture Checklist of 21 items, what it helps to know to learn to read and spell

David Halloran said...

Great stuff.

Thanks for having the courage and discipline to blog this.

I've been following a similar line of research myself for the past two years as I have been teaching kids to read and encountering the problems you call attention to here.

I realized I had no real idea how I know how to read and none at all about how to teach it. I looked into it and my eyes were opened.

It is proof I think of the truth of our analysis that we both arrived at the same conclusions quite independently.

I am in agreement with all your points.

There seems to be some sort of international conspiracy of silence on this issue. People seem to fear the enormity of it.

please email me davidhalloran@hotmail.com
I'd love to chat with you on this I've been working in a vacuum



Anonymous said...

You do not give your name.
That should be in many places

Blogger's author said...

Why do you need my name? Let's focus on what is being stated, not who states it! You do not give your name either, BTW!