Why is it easier to spell in some languages than others?

Whether we are writing/reading in English or Spanish, the challenge should be the same, but is it?  Why are we teaching only phonics in a language like English that I am told is only 46% phonetically correct?  How do we learn homophones (those words that sound the same and are spelt differently like ate and eight) and silent letters, in a purely auditory strategy? The answer is that auditory takes us so far but we need a clear visual image of the word and knowledge of its meaning for word recognition and spelling in languages such as English.

There is something called the “Orthographic depth” of a language. Putting it simply, a language with shallow orthographic depth, the spelling-sound correspondence is direct; such examples include Spanish, Finnish and Italian is an exemplar in this.  In contrast, in a language with deep orthographic depth, where the relationship is less direct, the reader must learn the arbitrary or unusual languagespronunciations of irregular words and rules associated with correct spelling. In other words, deep orthographies are writing systems that do not have a one-to-one correspondence between sounds and the letters that represent them. They may be irregular like English, which also has to cope with silent letters, homophones, heteronyms etc.  So the structure of the language has a significant effect and there is one thing that they all have in common……What a word looks like. If we can recognise words and spell them from our mental imagery, it will work in any language.

You should only need phonics for new words you have never seen before. Once you have seen them 2-3 times, the process that good readers have developed naturally is to hold words as a mental image, for rapid access, fluent reading and accurate spelling. People who do well with phonics, will also have automatically developed mental images of words.  Those who have struggled with phonics and have strengths in seeing the big picture,  can be taught how to directly develop mental images for words, in just a few minutes.

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You will find more information in my latest book,  “The Elephants in the Classroom: uncovering every student’s natural power of mental imagery to enhance learning“.  To find out more, order your own copy here, or more than 10 copies here or on  Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com.

#orthographic #phonics #english #spanish #italian #spelling #homophones #silentletters




About olivehickmott

I am a Forensic Learning coach, showing people how they can improve their own learning and change their health. Working with creative neurodivergent students is a joy, as they learn new skills to overcome many of their learning challenges.
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