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

Page editor: S Linstead. Contact by email or form.
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.  

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.'

Another source for this paper is APA PsychNET

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.

The effect of the regularity of orthography on the acquisition of literacy skills was studied by comparing the reading and spelling of 70 Italian children aged 6–11 years with that of 90 English children learning traditional orthography (t.o.) and 33 children aged 6–7 years learning the initial teaching alphabet (i.t.a.), using an Italian passage for adults which was also translated into English. The Italian children learned to read at an earlier age than the English t.o. children, but not than the English i.t.a. children. The English t.o. and i.t.a. children could read more words than they could spell, whereas the Italian children could spell most of the words they could read and even some they could not read.

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.'

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.

2003: 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.

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 5562310.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.'

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.

2010 Effect of Transparency on Reading Development. Eduardo Onochie Quintanilla and  others.  5th ELDEL WORKSHOP Bangor, 23rd October 2010.      

A comparison of Spanish and English school children from Kindergarten to Year 2. The study suggests that the transparent nature of Spanish spelling permits Spanish children to master the necessary decoding skills faster than English speaking children.