Spelling Tip 2 - Understand why English spelling is so "weird" & confusing.

You may feel that English spelling is illogical, weird and just plain crazy. It's true that there are some strange irregular spellings, this is because it includes words from many languages and some very very old words.

But English is much more regular in spelling than we think. In fact about 75% of English spelling is regular.

According to David Crystal: English spelling gives the impression of being more irregular than it really is. There are about 400 words in English whose spelling is wholly irregular - the trouble is these are among the most frequently used words in the language. (David Crystal - The English Language.)

Let's look at some of the most popular of these irregular words:

although, among, answer, are, aunt, autumn, blood, build, castle, clerk, climb, colour, comb, come, cough, could, course, debt, do, does, done, dough, eye, friend, gone, great, have, hour, island, journey, key, lamb, listen, move, none, of, once, one, only, own, people, pretty, quay, receive, rough, said, salt, says, shoe, shoulder, some, sugar, talk, two, was, water, were, where, who, you

(Notice a lot of these words have silent letters in them. These used to be pronounced, but we leave the silent letters in there to show the history of the word.)

So how did English spelling become so 'weird' with its unusual spellings?

The English spelling system developed over the centuries and the irregularities came about because of various invaders and writers trying to fit their alphabet and sounds to English:

  • English developed from the Romans, Anglo-Saxons & Vikings,
  • the French scribes, (1066) caused the most problems with spelling,
  • then in the 1400s, the printers with their new fangled printing presses changed words and spelt them how they wanted,
  • and then the 16th Century English academics decided to make spelling more like its Latin roots and added all sorts of silent letters in words.
  • Then in 1828, American Noah Webster decided to simplify American spellings and brought out his American English dictionary.
  • This lot changed and brought 'strange' ways of spelling words.

    Also pronunciation changed over the centuries but the spelling remained the same. especially with the words with silent letters in them like knee, knock, light, cough, calm, daughter... we didn't change the spelling because that was set.

    60% of English words have silent letters in them. If you know they're not there to mess with your head but to show the history of the word it helps. For example: knock, knee, gnaw, gnat are all Viking (Old Norse) words, the 'k' and 'g' were pronounced but not now.
    Check out the lessons on Silent Letters- an explanation, history & rules

    As your knowledge of words increases, your confidence in learning improves, your ability to use a dictionary develops and your memory bank of words grow larger, you will start being able to predict likely spelling patterns or feel able to learn whole groups of words at once, and learning and remembering spellings will become easier for YOU. (Basic Skills Agency's The Spelling Pack)

    So my top spelling tip number 2 is knowing the history of spelling helps you realise why it is the way it is and stops you getting frustrated with it.

    Check out The Reasons Why English Spelling is so Weird and Wonderful ebook in the Shop section.

    Thank you for watching and see you in spelling tip number 3 - how to remember and stop forgetting spellings.

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