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Dan Smith
Why don't people learning English complain about English spelling here on italki?

As a U.S. native speaker, I find it amazing that I don't see more complaints about the orthography of English. Perhaps people realize it wouldn't do any good, or perhaps their teachers have explained to them that it's just the way English is, or perhaps they are just too polite to mention it.

In English, the spelling of a word is not much more than a good memory aid for the pronunciation. 

Of course complaining wouldn't do any good. To my knowledge there is no serious effort to make English spelling phonetic. The most famous recent effort (the "Shaw alphabet") was such a failure that few people know about it. I used to have a little Penguin paperback of Shaw's play, "Androcles and the Lion," with the Shaw alphabet version on one side and the standard alphabet on the other. It was nothing more than a curiosity. I doubt that any other books have ever been published in the Shaw alphabet, even though with modern computer typesetting it would be cheap and easy to do. 

Many of the annoying differences between U.S. and British spelling are directly due to the personal tastes of Noah Webster, who published the first important dictionary in the U.S. He did the worst possible thing: he simplified the U.S. spelling of some scattered words here and there--enough to make U.S. spelling different without really making it simpler.

I struggled through spelling--it seems to me that ages 10 to 14 is the time you work the most on it in school. We were drilled on the differences between their, there and they're; between to, two, and too. We were given lists of "spelling demons" to memorize (separate; parallel; harass versus embarrass; sacrilegious versus religious; and so on). All my papers and exercises in English class always came back with lots of words underlined in red with "sp." next to them. I was a pretty good English student, but I always lost a point or two here and there because of spelling errors.

Anyway, as I say, I'm surprised that people don't complain more.

If you love words and languages, it's sort of cool to hear someone saying licht in Scots dialect and think "Aha! That's why we spell it light," but it hardly seems worth making millions and millions of people suffer just to preserve obscure bits of linguistic history.

Anyway, if you hate English spelling and are too polite to mention it, be assured you are not alone. Most native English speakers hated it while they were learning it, too.


Aug 30, 2016 2:01 PM
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Comments · 2
I do protest each time someone says that English is an easy language to learn, and spelling is one of the reasons I think such claims, although quite common, are nonsense. It took me several years to understand the whole idea of writing one thing and saying another and many more to memorize the spelling of only the commonly used words. But of course complaining has no purpose. Who should I complain to, and what should I try to achieve by complaining? It is as it is. And yes, spellcheck solves many problems.
August 30, 2016
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August 30, 2016
Dan Smith
Language Skills
English, Spanish
Learning Language
Spanish