(back to current newletter)


Volume 2 • #5 • January 2003


The average person doesn’t get very upset over the vagaries of English spelling. He probably never learned any rules in school anyhow, but he has seen words often enough to know more or less how to spell them, making him the barely passable speller that most Americans are. (Why do you think spell-check programs are so popular?)

The hapless dyslectic is, as my mother used to say, a gray horse of another color. The “looks” of a word is almost invariably wrong for him, so he has to have some rule to fall back on. It is all very well to know the VCV and VCCV rules, to learn that you have to “protect” a short (poor little thing) vowel, drop silent e’s when adding a vowel suffix and so on, but after he has learned to stop pating the dog and caning tomatoes, he comes across habit, topic, frigid or carol, lemon, satin and the like. No doubled consonants. You explain that the doubling rule mainly applies when you are adding a vowel suffix and you try not to bring up matter, mammal, coffee, traffic and hiccup.

The RfS program helps here. We teach and teach and teach the regular rules while the student is getting his left hemisphere activated, and by the time he is good at dropping silent e’s, doubling to protect short (poor little things) vowels, and using c, k, ck, and cc properly, some sort of linguistic awareness has kicked in and he appears to be unfazed by the weirder words like those with a silent gh—bought, daughter, eight, sigh, etc., or friend, only, aunt, foreign, busy, women, etc. (He generally reads these words perfectly well even if he has trouble spelling them.)

Until linguistic awareness kicks in, though, to avoid depression, rage or indignation, it helps to explain a little bit about the history of words and their relatives in other languages. The silent –gh words have cousins in Germany, Scandinavia and Holland, in which the gh is a ch and is pronounced: in German you pronounce both the k and the ch in knecht, although in knight in English, both are silent. “Friend” in Dutch is spelled the same but correctly pronounced freent. In English we tend to keep the spelling but get sloppy with the vowel sound. “Only” obviously had “one” in it somewhere. The “tw” of two is audible in twenty, twins and twice. To let a student know that things used to be a lot worse, show him a bit of Chaucer, and tell him that English was spelled any old way you wanted until Mr. Noah Webster finally put an end to individuality and wrote his first dictionary.

In any case, your student must know that if he doesn’t like English spelling, that’s tough. He has to learn it anyway. Learning spelling rules is NOT optional. No student of yours is going to go owdn in an elevator after going pu, nor wind the cklok before going to bed. (I didn’t make those up.)

Teaching tip:

All dyslectics should learn touch typing. No, not hunt and peck. TOUCH. Here’s why. After getting the location of the letters memorized under his fingers, he should then do certain common letter groupings, like -tion, -er, -est –fully and the like, a bazillion times until they are fast and automatic. At that point they become part of muscle memory and rarely misspelled. Typing also helps to avoid misplacing, or omitting apostrophes in contractions-- “I was gonna go back and put it in after.” The typewriter requres you to put it in as you go. This requires awareness of grammar, which he needs.



All contents of this website © Reading From Scratch - All rights reserved

Web site created and maintained by The Design Dept.