June 21, 2009

"The spelling mantra "i before e except after c" is no longer worth teaching, according to the government."

"Advice sent to teachers says there are too few words which follow the rule and recommends using more modern methods to teach spelling to schoolchildren."

Okay. Responses:

1. Rules with exceptions may frustrate and annoy the young child:



2. The government doesn't want children to think about rules as things that have exceptions.

48 comments:

Gabriel Hanna said...

This is kind of silly. The number of exceptions is small compared to the number of times the rule is obeyed. The only common word I can think of is "weird"; and that makes it easy to remember.

A language that imports words from so many sources can't help but be inconsistent. Usually you can spell the word if you know the origin.

One problem is that we have been a literate people for so long that a lot of phonetically obsolete spellings are preserved. Chaucer would have pronounced every letter of "knight", and to Shakespeare "reason" and "raisin" were rhymes.

You want to see some godawful orthography, have a look at Irish:

Dubhshláine (Delaney)
Conchobhair (Connor)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_names

I think learning to spell is a good thing. Snobbish people might choose to treat spelling as a shibboleth, but in real life there are any number of arbitrary and senseless things that just have to be learned to get along, and kids can't learn that too early.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dust Bunny Queen said...

There is another word that is an exception and it could be their downfall to not/knot know/now it.

English is very confusing. :-)

You want to see some godawful orthography, have a look at Irish:
Could be worse. It could be Welsh.

Monique said...

Support for Spelling - http://nationalstrategies.standards.dcsf.gov.uk/node/183127 - is a British document/strategy. It isn't being adopted in the USA.

We have always allowed/encouraged our homeschooled children to use creative spelling. We do share the *rules* with them but have found the best way to be a good speller is to be a good/voracious reader. A key element to that is to read together even with our older (10+ years) children.
-MoniqueWS
Oregon

Penny said...

Whew! BRITISH taxpayer dollars. A momentary sigh of relief that I haven't helped to pay for this particular rubbish study.

Gabriel Hanna said...

DBQ, forgot about "their". But didn't you get the rhyme?

"i" before "e"
except after "c"
or when sounded as "a"
just as in "weigh"

But "weird" isn't covered/

chuck said...

Speaking of Welch, spot the typo.

The River Otter said...

@Gabriel Hanna- The first word I thought of was "weird."

English is a funny language, such an amalgamation of other languages from throughout history...I keep multiple dictionaries, thesauri, and online resources handy. You cannot depend on spellcheck- no way. (Classic: letting "pubic" through when "public" was intended...and the time I wrote an essay on CNA's and the auto-spellcheck turned it into CAN every G-D time!! No, you don't have to know how to spell every word (It helps, though, of course). You do have to be willing and able to use your resources and common sense, and accept constructive criticism- which is what schools should be teaching, anyway.

Fred4Pres said...

This is obviously a lot bigger than a spelling rule.

michael farris said...

There are no spelling 'rules' in English, there are general tendencies some stronger than others.

"You do have to be willing and able to use your resources and common sense, and accept constructive criticism- which is what schools should be teaching, anyway"

ITA, except that no school system in the world is going to focus on common sense utilization of the resources at one's disposal.

rhhardin said...

C: My teacher holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.

L: Did you say your teacher held the baby rabbits?

C: Yes.

L: What did you say she did?

C: She holded the baby rabbits and we patted them.

L: Did you say she held them tightly?

C: No, she holded them loosely.

_Mistakes_, Arnold M. Zwicky, p.25

Baby rabbit.

Revenant said...

DBQ, forgot about "their".

Science. :)

bearbee said...

chuck said...
Speaking of Welch, spot the typo.

re: Welch s/b Welsh

re: sign, intended to be humorous?

Ralph L said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
American Liberal Elite said...

"i" before "e"
except after "c"
or when sounded as "a"
just as in "weigh

"Either," "neither," "leisure," "seize,"
are four exceptions, if you please.

bearbee said...

YouTube
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerych- wyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch

Ralph L said...

Now I can't think of any words with i before e, except at the end.

bearbee said...

clarification re: sign, Lleave intended as humour?, not the name of the village.

AllenS said...

"i before e except after the 'ss' of Barack's middle name."

Barack Hussein Obama

rastajenk said...

If you have to think about a handful of exceptions, then it's a pretty good rule, is it not? Actually, not so much a rule as a guideline.

Jason (the commenter) said...

Could be worse. It could be Welsh.

Could be worse. It could be Qwghlmian.

Pogo said...

Britain is an entirely silly nation, an idiocracy, a country of endlessly meddling pecksniffs, whose great past mocks its bland and bankrupt present, where the only two remaining virtues are tolerance by the many of the intolerable few and the meager shared helpings of national health care.

What a deluded mess they've become, how that mighty has fallen, from Shakespeare to shallow in a century, from Churchill to compliance in a few decades.

No longer an empire's citizens, but serfs scuttling about to please the master of its fate, a bloated unserious schizophrenic mass of PC blather and shameless corruption, ready to bow to Mecca in exchange for peace.

They're bowing down now as it is, what difference does it make which direction?

Pogo said...

And yet here we are, marching headlong in the exact same direction.

Nigel said...

Rules help you to predict how something will be so this is not a rule but a (memorable and misleading) ditty that only covers about 14 words such as receive, receipt, ceiling etc; it does not help you to predict the spellings of words like proceed, precede, Science & neither etc. There are more exceptions to this so-called rule than words that comply. It seems some experts believe it is not worth it - I find its usage highly limited.

There are precious few "rules" in English Spelling and as a consequence we have high rates of illiteracy: 40 Million Americans & 7 million Brits are functionally illiterate.

By contrast Welsh is highly regular: you learn the rules and they mostly don't let you down when reading or writing.

Interesting fact: We have bi-lingual Welsh/English children who have been diagnosed with dyslexia. They have literacy problems while using English but not while using Welsh. The same is true of dyslexic bi-lingual Spanish/English users. Dyslexia is more of a problem in countries which have opaque spelling systems.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I moved a lot as a child, and this was one of several things that I missed as I changed elementary schools (my old school hadn't covered it yet, but my new school already had by the time I got there). I've always been a terrible speller, and have a very difficult time with words that follow this rule, such as piece, belief, field- I often have to spell check them just to make sure.

Monique said: "We do share the *rules* with them but have found the best way to be a good speller is to be a good/voracious reader. A key element to that is to read together even with our older (10+ years) children."

I find that odd, because I've always been an extremely good and voracious reader, and I actually blame my lack of spelling skills on this- I read so quickly and naturally that I don't really see the letters or even words- more like phrases. I wonder if there are studies that show whether I'm the anomaly or not?

class-factotum said...

"i" before "e"
except after "c"
or when sounded as "a"
just as in NEIGHBOR or "weigh"

raf said...

I believe the rule applies when the two vowels are a dipthong. In "science" the i and e are pronounced separately and the rule does not apply.

Or I might have made that up at some point in life just so the rule would apply....

Peter S. said...

from the ghoti dept.

Other exceptions (not including the "neighbor and weigh" -- and veil -- cohort):

conscience
either/neither
feisty
foreign
forfeit
gneiss
heifer
height
heist
seize
society
sovereign

Could "heir" fit here too? Maybe not if you're from Scotland.

The tough coughs as he ploughs through the dough.
The tough coughs as he ploughs through the dough.
The tough coughs as he ploughs through the dough....

Zeb Quinn said...

Me, I always thought there were way too many exceptions to rely on that rule.

I agree with Monique above, the way to become a good speller is through voracious reading, and I'll add an overall enjoyment of words.

Richard Fagin said...

Just another educrat excuse not to teach rules. Rules are merely devices used by those in power to oppress the powerless. We do want to be sure children understand that point rather than learn self-restraint and discipline.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Peter S, did you notice how many Latin, French, and German words were in your list?

French:

foreign
forfeit
heir
seize
sovereign

Latin:

conscience
society

German:
gneiss

In English, word origin is key.

"i" before "e" will do for kids.

"Either" and "neither" were once pronounced "ayther" and "nayther", still are some places.

"Height" I can't explain, but I think Chaucer said "hi-gh-th".

Xmas said...

I just had a nice example of government spelling this morning:

Inturns

Gabriel Hanna said...

Oh, don't forget "cuneiform". Constantly tripped me up in first grade, just learning to spell. :P

Jennifer said...

Being a voracious reader is wonderful for spelling, but not much help when speaking. I thought misled rhymed with sizzled for a very long time.

Smilin' Jack said...

Rules with exceptions may frustrate and annoy the young child

Steven Pinker wrote an entire fascinating book ("Words and Rules") on the rules for regular and irregular verbs and how children learn them. It's amazing how much insight this simple thing gives into how language and the mind function and evolve.

Old RPM Daddy said...

"bearbee said...
YouTube
Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerych- wyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch"

But it's pronounced "Sidney"

Monique said...

Jennier wrote:
"Being a voracious reader is wonderful for spelling, but not much help when speaking. I thought misled rhymed with sizzled for a very long time."

My response to this is ... we read out loud together all through my children's life. We read out loud while Lego play is happening, while the dishes are being cleaned, while laundry is being folded, while snuggled on the couch together.

I realized this possible probelm early on when my eldest was discussing his book with me. He kept saying "ya-chet". I came to realize he meant "yat" for the word YACHT.

Read together. Talk about it together. Enjoy the words together! English is such a rich, deep, nuanced, borrowing language. It is amazing and fun!

Synova said...

Considering how often I recite the rule to myself... i before e except after c or when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh... it seems moronic not to teach it. There is so much taught in school that is *never* used for the rest of your life, why throw out something that *is*. People have no sense.

Shanna said...

Me, I always thought there were way too many exceptions to rely on that rule.

That’s why I think it’s a fun rule. You can’t rely on it, sure, but it’s fun to have a rule with more exceptions than not. And it is something you can use and that everyone remembers. How helpful would it be to just tell kids that there is no rule and they just have to memorize?

Being a voracious reader is wonderful for spelling, but not much help when speaking.

I have this problem sometime. There are words I’ve never heard spoken, but I know what they mean and how to use them…but I don’t want to use them because they might be mispronounced!

Pogo said...

Clearly there is a need to change to Esperanto, for mondo paco.

Gabriel Hanna said...

@Shannon:

Like "schism". Has anyone heard it spoken?

George said...

Several posts back, martyr, in the headline, is misspelled 'matryr'.

Nigel said...

"The way to become a good speller is through voracious reading . . "

There are many ways to become a good speller - that is the problem - none of them are reliable. The best way is to be blessed with a photographic memory for all the exceptions, but only 10% seem to have this. The rest of us have to use doggy mnemonics and tricks like this ad hoc I befor E "rule".

Has no one noticed the problem with "the way to become a good speller is through voracious reading"? You have to be able to read in the first place - that is understand the spellings. It is a sad fact that many of us don't come from nice families where our parents sit and read with/to us and help us to achieve our literacy milestones. The irregularity of the spellings in English effectively discriminates against a whole class of our people.

Again, folks: 7 million Brits & 40 million Americans are functionally illiterate and do not get to first base.

I am making a comment about the spelling system and not the language: the languaqe is fine as it goes the spelling system is antique and not fit for purpose.
Nations that have languages with rule-orderly spelling systems do not have these problems to nearly the same extent.

Mark said...

I'm just stunned at how uneducated kids are. I'm 51 now and we all learned how to spell without all this babbling about what's confusing and stressful to children. We learned to spell, read write and do arithmetic and deal with stress. What ridiculous drivel. Sad sad sad.

Maureen said...

Re: schism

If you want to hear it spoken, you need to listen to EWTN, or one of the many fine broadcast and podcast theological and/or historical programs, easily available to you in our modern world. :)

Those people influenced by English pronunciation assiduously avoid pronouncing it "SHI-zum", as sounding way too much like a scatological term. "SI-zum" or "SI-zim" becomes the default for them.

Those of us who are defiant in pronouncing all "sch" words with "sk" are equally correct in pronouncing it "SKI-zum" or "SKI-zim".

It is funny how foreign pronunciation systems creep into American English more easily when it comes to seldom-spoken words. It's more important in such cases to sound like the limited social circle using the term than to be "right" according to your native system.

Maureen said...

Anyway, the point is that the government has nothing to say in the matter. Cute little student/teacher sayings and rhymes are the property of our common humanity, not any government. I've never seen them in any textbook.

Proverbial information wants to be free.

Mark Pennington said...

Hilarious comments. Great article! I have a nice list of the spelling rules with examples and MP3s of spelling rule songs and raps to check out at Spelling Rules Songs and Raps.

Paul said...

"i before e except after c" is one of the truly useful rules that kids understand and can easily fall back on.

However, most “rules” are in reality a form of pattern. I teach my students to be pattern recognition experts. We do talk about rules, but I really think the way of the world these days is “discovering pattern.”

I talk a lot about understanding pattern and patterns in writing in the writing program and on the blog.