RESEARCH ON THE ENGLISH SPELLING AND LITERACY

The following is a selection of recent research on the connections between traditional English Spelling and literacy problems.

Suggestions for additions to this list should be sent to Stephen Linstead sglrml@btinternet.com

1984: Journal of Educational Psychology, vol 76, #4, pp 557-568: Decoding and comprehension skills in Turkish and English: Effects of the regularity of grapheme-phoneme correspondence; Banu Oney and Susan R Goldman, University of California, Santa Barbara.

The decoding and comprehension skills of Turkish and American first and third graders learning to read their respective languages were assessed. Turkish students were faster and more accurate on the decoding task than Americans at first-grade level and equally accurate but faster at third-grade level. 'The data suggest that languages with more letter-sound correspondences lead to faster acquisition of decoding skills.'

1991: British Journal of Psychology, #82, pp 527-537:  The effect of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills; Gwenllian Thorstad, The Tavistock Clinic, Child and Family Department, London.

This study compared Italian and British children, showing, for example, that 7-year-old Italians were able to read words they did not know, and some 11-year-old British children could not read words they DID know [in speech]. The report concludes: 'As a result of this learner-friendly orthography, Italian children do not need to spend so long learning the mechanisms of literacy skills as English children do, and have more time for other studies.'

1997: Cognition 63, pp 315-334: The impact of orthographic consistency on dyslexia: A German-English comparison; Karin Landerl, Heinz Wimmer, Uta Frith (variously of University of Salzburg and MRC Cognitive Development Unit, London).

'The main finding of the present cross-orthography comparison of development of dyslexia was that English children suffered from much more severe impairments in reading than the German children.'

2000: Nature Neuroscience, vol 3, #1: A cultural effect on brain damage; E Paulesu and 15 other researchers from Italian and English educational institutions.

The study was to see how the different orthographies of English and Italian were accessed by the brain. It found that Italians showed greater activation of the part of the brain that deals with phoneme processing. In contrast the English had greater activation of the part of the brain that deals with word retrieval. That is, reasoning v. memory. Among other results: 'Italian students were faster at both word and non-word reading, even when the non-words were derived from English words.'*

2001: Science 291, March 16: Dyslexia: Cultural diversity and biological unity; Eraldo Paulesu and 11 others (from Italy, France, England, and Quebec)*.

This study found that though the neurological basis for dyslexia is the same across English, French, and Italian languages, the disorder manifests itself in different ways according to the regularity of the orthography. The reading disorder is twice as prevalent among dyslexics in the United States (and France) as it is among Italian dyslexics. Again, this is seen to be because of Italian's 'transparent' orthography.

2001: How do children learn to read? Is English more difficult than other languages? Paper presented to the British Festival of Science, Glasgow, September; Professor Philip H K Seymour, University of Dundee*.

English-speaking children take up to two years more to learn reading than do children in 12 other European countries.

2004: Understanding English Spelling, Masha Bell

The book contains a history of the development of English spelling and illustrates why our spelling system is so difficult to master compared with other Indo-European systems.

2005: OECD-CERI Learning Sciences And Brain Research, Learning to Read Report: www.oecd.org/dataoecd/54/39/35562310.pdf

'The studies so far undertaken in individual countries are building evidence for the hypothesis that shallow [simple] orthographies are a real advantage in terms of acquiring reading proficiency for both normal and dyslexic children. Countries with deep [difficult] orthographies might possibly begin to consider the political and societal feasibility of implementing orthographic reforms.'

2006: KPMG Foundation: "The long term costs of literacy difficulties" December 2006

The study estimates the total costs to the public purse to age 37 arising from failure to read in the primary school years at £1.73 billion to £2.05 billion a year.

2007: “Learning to Read” Masha Bell, (published Pegasus Educational) ISBN 978 1 90349 023 5

2008: Zuzana Kotercova: "The cost of teaching English in primary schools"(commissioned by the Society)

An initial survey and analysis of the amount of time (and therefore money in staff salaries) spent by teachers in teaching English spelling to primary school pupils. The figure of £18m emerges from this final-year student research project.

2009 “Rules and Exceptions of English Spelling” Masha Bell , (published Pegasus Educational) ISBN 978 1 90349 039 6

A study of the rules and irregularities in traditional English orthography.