[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J22, 1997/2 p16]
[See Journal, Newsletter, Anthology, Bulletin articles, and Personal View by Edward Rondthaler.] and Spell-well on this page.]

New SSS Vice-President Edward Rondthaler.

The SSS Committee is delighted to announce that Edward Rondthaler, A.B., D.F.A., President of the American Literacy Council (New York), [see Links} has agreed to join our international panel of distinguished Vice-Presidents. He has devoted his long and active life to letters, and much of it to the study of the role of letters in providing a "speech that stands still". Part of his education consisted of training in speech-letter relationships at the universities of Pennsylvania, Yale and Princeton. His psychology research and thesis at the University of North Carolina dealt with subconscious and emotional responses to letter design. In the course of his career he helped introduce radical changes in the typesetting industry, playing a leading role in the historic developments that changed the substructure of typesetting from metal to film and set the stage for computer word processing. This story is told in his book Life with Letters and illustrated in a 3-volume Alphabet Thesaurus. He foresees that certain advances in the way words are now visually generated can help solve the pressing problem of English illiteracy. He is the author of numerous articles for magazines and newspapers. Because of his contribution to the world of letters, he received an honorary doctorate from Drake University, the New York Type Directors Club 1975 medal for noteworthy achievement in the art of typography, and in 1990 the John Amos Comenius Award of Distinction from Salem College. He is President Emeritus of Photo-Lettering Inc, a Founder and Board Chairman Emeritus of the International Typeface Corporation, a member of spelling reform organizations in England and Australia, and editorial consultant to the JSSS.


[Journal of the Simplified Spelling Society, J22, 1997/2 p17,18]

A Teaching Spell Checker
doing the job that ordinary spell checkers cannot do.

Edward Rondthaler

Liberating children, adults, and immigrants from their struggle to learn English spelling.

Dr. Rondthaler is president of the American Literacy Council (ALC), originally the Spelling Reform Association organized by members of the American Philological Association in 1876. Historically the ALC is the U.S. sister of the British Simplified Spelling Society. [See links.]

Children want to write before they want to read, says Dr. Donald Graves [1]. On 'Day One' in school very few children think they can read, but many think they can write. Perhaps they've scribbled some letters in a book at home, or crayoned on the refrigerator door. For them, that is writing.

Build on that, says Dr. Graves. Writing is the creative road to both writing and reading.

If you can write you can read. If you can code you can decode.


Children are discouraged if their writing does not look neat - and encouraged if it does, says Dr. Ben D. Wood [2], pioneer in educational research. The task of mastering the motor skills that manipulate pencil and pen should be separated from the task of developing the mental ability to represent words with letters.

Computers enable that separation. They let the learner focus on what is of first importance.

Computers write a pupil's words neatly, and can be made to drum spelling into memory.

Inadequacy of spell checkers.

Ordinary spell checkers, ably described by Roger Mitton [3], depend on the user having a good prior knowledge of English spelling. They are made for typists who already spell well enough to read and write, who can pick the right spelling out of a basket of choices, and know what to accept and what to reject. Pupils with spelling problems lack that skill. They know how to speak, but not how to spell - certainly not how to spell properly. They need a bridge that takes them safely from what they know to what they do not know - they need a checker that promptly links the spoken word to its written counterpart. Ordinary spell checkers do not do that consistently and dependably. When used with an expectation that they do, checkers are more likely to confuse than to help.

To illustrate this confusion let us assume that a remedial or foreign pupil has typed luv - a very probable misspelling. After an intensive search, a Microsoft 6.0 checker will offer only one suggestion: that luv be changed to lug! In view of our spelling's dizzy irregularity, how can a trusting pupil know that he or she has been grossly misled - that lug is preposterous? Even if the pupil had typed lov, the checker's response would have been a bewildering love, Loa, lob, log, lop, lot, low, lox, and Los. That is about as satisfactory to a struggling speller as a calculator that offers 96, 97, 94, 98, 101, 95 for the sum of 39+57.

A spell checker for learners.

One who is already confused by the illogic of English spelling is not helped by more confusion. What is needed is a checker - a super-checker - that immediately changes a misspelling into the normal spelling of the word the student had in mind.

To meet that need, Dr Edward Lias of the non-profit American Literacy Council, has developed a unique spell checker - a spell fixer & teacher - for the organization's computer-teacher program known as Spell-WellTM. Unless a misspelling is far beyond repair, the program will correct it instantly when the spacebar is touched at the end of the misspelled word. It does even more. It serve as a patient, private, non-judgmental teacher by changing the color of the misspelling, and moving it down underneath the correctly spelled word so that right and wrong may be compared carefully. Educators agree that instant correction - striking while the iron is hot - sends much stronger signals to memory than delayed correction.

Details of the Program.

Sound-spelling screen showing corrected words.

Fig.1

It is reassuring to a student to know that the word just typed was spelled correctly. The program gives that assurance, instantly. How? If the word does not change color, and if no other spelling appears below it, the pupil knows that the word was correctly spelled. No change means OK, as with kids in Fig.1.

A student can get the most out of the program by pronouncing a difficult word carefully, distinctly, and slowly; then typing it as it sounds using a 'sound-spelling' system [4] initially developed in the first half of the century and now revived, thanks to computers, to help troubled learners. It departs from present spelling no more than required for a practical sound-to-letter match. It matches standard pronunciation as closely as do the spellings of most other languages. (If the computer is equipped for sound, each word will be spoken.)

When an English word is typed in this way - as hav, lerning, and spel in Fig. 1 - the sound-spelling drops down a line (as shown), changes color, and is re-placed instantly by normal spelling on the line above it. No basket of choices appears - just the right word, correctly spelled, over the misspelling.

Learning the phonic rules of sound-spelling is desirable but not mandatory. Why? Because an ingenious masking technique in the program automatically corrects over a million flagrant misspellings, as shown by the misspelled words miny, trubbil and rit in Fig.1 above.

One of the most difficult tasks for learners is mastering 'sound-alikes' - steel/steal, one/won, here/ hear, etc. When the pupil types words like here or hear (or heer), the computer instantly displays a popup box (Fig.2) on screen. By pressing key 1 or 2 the spelling of the chosen meaning is automatically placed in the text.

Come  here to me. Press 1
hear singing. Press 2

Fig.2

When the student has completed all typing, the entire text may be printed out neatly.

How can teaching normal spelling promote spelling reform?

The big problem that has always faced spelling reformers is getting a foot in the door. By offering a new tool that helps teach normal spelling we have a powerful door opener. Once inside, a secondary feature of the program may or may not be used. This distinctive secondary feature enables pupils to see their writing changed, automatically, into simplified spelling. Such powerful demonstration gives spelling reform the platform it has always needed in order to be taken seriously. There is no more convincing way to tell the story and show the logic and benefit of spelling reform than to enable large numbers to see their own writing simplified automatically without any effort on their part.

Spell-well screen showing fonic version.

Fig.3

This breakthrough is loaded with potential for promoting simplification.

The strength of the concept lies in a dormant 'sound-spelling' based largely on Ripman's New Spelling and skillfully submerged deep in the software. Whenever the F12 function key is pressed, these simple spellings instantly appear, in brown color, beneath each normally spelled word on the screen (as in Fig.3).

This feature is entirely optional. It may be compared to an automobile radio that is silent until one wishes to hear it and turns it on. We can be sure that, like a car radio, the key will be pressed from time to time, if for no other reason than curiosity. (A second tap of F12 turns the sound-spellings off.) This compelling display is destined to be a driving force revealing the logic and feasibility of spelling simplification to large numbers of students, teachers and parents.

Even more convincing than seeing the simpler spelling on the screen is a print-out option that enables the student, by pressing the F9 key, to have his or her typing printed out on paper in normal English spelling - or in 'sound-spelling' - or, line-under-line, in both.

As the swing back to phonics shifts into high gear, it is vital that we do not miss the opportunity to plant seeds of reform where they will be watered. In Spell-Well we have an inoffensive, practical wedge that enables modern technology to step in where present remedial practices have failed. The program performs important tasks beyond a teacher's domain. It can provide, at the user's convenience, endless hours of intense, private, non-judgmental self-instruction. The program offers promise of rescuing millions. It could well be the key factor in raising English literacy closer to the norms of other languages and, as an ultimate by-product, ending our language's unnecessarily twisted spelling with all its crippling consequences.

A trial copy of the software is available via the Internet or contact American Literacy Council. [see Links.]

[1] Dr Donald H Graves was Professor of Education at the Univ. of New Hampshire, Research Editor of Language Arts, author (1983) of Writing - Children and Teachers at Work, London: Heinemann Educational Books.

[2] Dr. Ben D. Wood was Director of Bureau of Collegiate Educational Research, Columbia University; Education Consultant to IBM; close associate of Sir James Pitman and John Downing, and chiefly responsible for the introduction of i.t.a. into the United States in 1962.

[3] Roger Mitton (1996). Spellchecking by Computer. Journal of the Simplified Spelling Soc. J20 1996/1: 4-11.

[4] Walter Ripman & William Archer New Spelling (1st edition 1910), revised Daniel Jones & Harold Orton for the 5th edition 1940, further revised Godfrey Dewey 1955-65, then slightly amended by the American Literacy Council 1986-95.

[N.B. See New Spelling Sixth edition, 1948. revised by Professor Daniel Jones and Professor Harold Orton.]

Back to the top.