Why is English spelling such a headache?

Some languages have a ‘transparent’ phonic code. Take Italian or Spanish: the phonic code is simple and consistent. Once you have mastered the sounds for the letters of the alphabet, you can read and spell. The graphemes (written spellings of a sound) are reliable as they always represent the same sounds! Why is learning to read and spell English such a headache?

The English language has many ‘loan words’. Those are words borrowed from other languages that have added to its wonderful richness. Many words in English come from French, German, Latin, Greek and Saxon. Unfortunately, when the words were adopted, they kept the spellings from their language of origin. Take the word ‘knight’ which comes from German or ‘beauty’ which comes from French. This created 3 difficulties for pupils learning to read and spell English:

1. A sound can be spelled by 1,2,3 or 4 letters e.g.:
c a t, sh i p, n igh t, th r ough

2. There are lots of spelling alternatives for both vowels and consonants.
Take the vowel sound ‘ee’: you can spell it in lots of different ways: ee (sheep), ea bean), ie (thief), ei(receive), e (me), y (funny), ey (key) and i (ski)
Take the consonant sound ‘n’: you can spell it like this:
n (sun), nn ( funny),
kn (know), gn (gnome), ne (gone), pn (pneumatic)
(You can see the spelling alternatives in a free downloadable phonic code chart on our website)

3. A spelling can represent different sounds.
Take the spelling ‘ou’. It has a different sound in ‘you’, ‘out’, ‘cough’, ‘tough’

That is why English spelling is such a headache!

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