Over the years many people have suggested that our alphabet and spelling is at the root of our difficulties with literacy in the English-speaking world.
Are they right? The simple answer is yes! To a degree this is surely true.
Languages with simpler spelling systems such as Italian have far lower levels of illiteracy. So, if we simplified English spelling it would make learning how to read and spell easier. This was tested by the proponents of the Initial Teaching Alphabet. The ITA idea was to teach a child to read using simplified spelling and then switch them to our actual spelling system. Sadly the first part worked, but not the second!
Could our alphabet be easier to work with too? Almost certainly it could.
Our alphabet was not designed scientifically. It developed over the centuries from the alphabet originally developed by the Phoenicians around 3000 years ago.
Kanny Yeung and Gerald Morin have spent some time looking at what the alphabet could look like if it were more scientifically designed. It is often said that dyslexic people see letters as three-dimensional objects. This idea was the basis for the researcher’s creative effort. Each letter in this experimental typography is built out of a simple shape such as a circle, square or diamond, and so is easily recognized. These basic shapes allow the letters to be symmetric. This is important because if a dyslexic person inverts the character, (as is common with “b” and “d”) the character will still be recognizable.
One weakness to their system is that I cannot see how you would write it. All writing would have to be based on a keyboard, which seems like a massive limitation.
Anyhow, maybe a dictator will eventually come along and force everyone to change the way we read and write. It happened in Turkey in the last century, for instance, as part of their post-Ottoman modernization. In the meantime we need to get people reading what we’ve got!
David Morgan is the CEO of Oxford Learning Solutions, publishers of the Easyread System, an online phonics course specifically developed for children with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder and highly visual learning styles. Find out more about how Easyread helps remediate learning difficulties in children at www.easyreadsystem.com