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1. Definition of Functional Illiteracy
2. Extent of the Problem
3. Why We Do Not See the Extent of the Problem
4. Seriousness of the Problem
5. English Spelling Confuses Everyone
6. the Solution in a Nutshell
7. The Obvious Solution Never Tried
8. Characteristics of NuEnglish
9. Spelling Reform is the Only Proven, Easy Solution to English Illiteracy
10. Learn to Read Now!
11. All Reasonable Objections to Spelling Reform Have Been Debunked
12. Twelve Serious Linguistic Problems With English Spelling
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How to End Illiteracy in English
Here is the transcript of this video.
The world's biggest challenges deserve even bigger solutions. No compassionate person — or company — can disagree with the stated purpose of permanently ending illiteracy in English. Hopefully what is proposed here is not so BIG that it causes anyone to fail to mentally engage with something that seems too good to be true. The problem of illiteracy in English is far more serious and the solution is far easier than almost anyone can imagine. You may have difficulty believing what is stated in this video, but everything stated here has been proven on the LearnToReadNow.org website.
The first step in solving ANY problem is to find what is causing the problem; otherwise, you can spend enormous amounts of time and money fighting the symptoms of a problem without solving the problem. Although more than 32 nations have corrected the type of problem we have with learning to read, it has never been attempted in English.
The Problem: the written material of few, if any, alphabetic languages is more difficult to learn than English.
The Symptoms of the Problem:
(1) almost half of English-speaking students never become fluent readers
(2) most of those who do require more than two years of schooling.
Over the last two centuries, there have been numerous reading education changes made to alleviate the symptoms of the problem, but NONE of them make learning to read English EASY because they are not correcting the problem which makes learning to read English DIFFICULT. Numerous linguists over the last two centuries have proven that the problem is NOT because English is a more difficult language. English is an easier language than many European languages, in which students learn to read in less than three months.
Dr. Frank Laubach spent more than 40 years teaching thousands of students how to read in more than 300 languages, other than English. Dr. Laubach taught students to read fluently in from one to 20 DAYS in 95% of these languages because the languages in which he taught were almost perfect phonemically: the words were spelled the way they sound. Most English words are NOT spelled the way they sound. Dr. Laubach stated that if English words were spelled phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week!
There are many reasons why learning to read English is so difficult. Very few people realize how bad English spelling really is, but here is the provable bottom line: because English spelling is so illogical and inconsistent, the ONLY way to learn to read English is to learn each word in your reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use.
Almost anyone can think of objections to spelling reform, but every reasonable objection to spelling reform has been thoroughly disproven. It is even more important, however, to understand how serious the problem of illiteracy really is. Almost every American can read a thousand or more simple words learned in the first three years of school. Three shocking statistics, however, are proven by a careful analysis of the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adults ever commissioned by the U.S. government. First, 48.7% of U.S. adults read and write so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job and are therefore functionally illiterate. Second, 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and third, illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other causes combined.
Bob Cleckler, a retired Chemical Engineer, and Gary Sprunk, who has a Masters Degree in English Linguistics, have spent several years developing a very simple, logical, and perfectly phonemic spelling system that present readers can learn in less than ten minutes and that beginning readers can learn in a few weeks. Some students can learn this spelling system in a week, as Dr. Laubach stated. Only someone who has not honestly examined the multitude of facts upon which this solution to English illiteracy is based will think that what is recommended here is too good to be true.
For more info, go to LearnToReadNow.org.
To see a slightly longer, more detailed description of the problem and the proven solution, click here to see the video.
Functional Illiteracy in English: The Only Proven Cure
Here is the transcript of this recent video interview. Although the text below within square brackets, [. . .], is vital information, it was deleted from the video to make room for commercials in the thirty minute TV interview. The transcript also corrects an inadvertent error concerning the average number of pronunciations of all of the graphemes and the number of pronunciations an individual grapheme can have, which is not corrected in the video.
Host: Our guest tonight is Bob Cleckler, a retired chemical engineer who has written a book titled, Let's End Our Literacy Crisis. How did you decide to write this book?
BCC: In 1985, I read Jonathan Kozol's shocking new book, Illiterate America. Kozol wrote about 34 different types of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems of the many illiterate people he knew and loved. He stated that if most of us had to endure the problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives, we would consider it a crisis. I decided to use my research skills as an engineer to see if there was a solution to the problem. I spent more than a year reading every book I could find on the subject of my research. I read dozens of books from the large Marriott research library at the University of Utah. What I discovered is what made me decide to write this book.
Host: What did you discover?
BCC: I discovered the primary cause of English illiteracy. The very first step in solving any problem is to find what is causing the problem. Otherwise, you can spend a lot of time and money fighting the symptoms of a problem without solving the foundational cause of the problem. A good analogy is fighting the symptoms of pneumonia with cough medicine, decongestants, and painkillers rather than taking antibiotics to cure the disease. [The amount of functional illiteracy in English is much worse than almost anyone realizes, partly because the media has given very little attention to this very serious problem. As a result] We have been fighting the symptoms of the difficulty in learning to read for over 90 years now.
Although there are obviously many reasons why any one student does not learn to read, there is only one problem affecting every student. Books I read by Dr. Frank Laubach made the primary cause of illiteracy very clear to me. Dr. Laubach spent almost his entire adult life teaching thousands of adult illiterates around the world how to read. He taught in more than 300 alphabetic languages other than English. He prepared reading primers in 313 languages and even invented spelling systems for 220 languages that were unwritten. His books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, document a truly amazing fact about the languages in which he taught. His books never mention being unable to teach any of his students to read fluently, but listen to this: He was able to teach adults to read fluently in from one to twenty days in 95% of the languages and in less than three months in 98% of the languages!
Host: It takes a lot longer than that for most Americans to learn to read, doesn't it? Is that because English is a more difficult language?
BCC: No, the problem is not with the language itself. The English language is neither among the easiest nor among the most difficult. [Axel Wijk states on pages 56-57 of Alphabets for English, edited by W. Haas, that English is a comparatively easy language to learn for foreigners, "... mainly due to its grammatical structure, which is far simpler that those of most other important languages, particularly so in comparison with French, German, Russian, or Spanish." Sir James Pitman states on page 264 of his book Alphabets and Reading, "No other major language possesses such a simple grammar and syntax or combines the following advantages:... " The first two of the eight advantages he lists, for example, are: there are no arbitrary genders and agreement between adjectives and nouns is unnecessary.] The grammar and syntax of English is easier than that of many European languages, for example. In most European languages, students learn to read fluently in less than three months. Here is the reason: Dr. Laubach was able quickly to teach his students to read fluently because 98% of these languages had an almost perfect phonemic spelling system. That is, the words are spelled the way they sound. A perfect spelling system has only one grapheme for each phoneme. A grapheme is a letter or digraph (a two-letter grapheme) that represents a phoneme, syllable or word. A phoneme is the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect.
Host: You told me before we started today that almost half of U.S. adults cannot read very well. How do you know that is true?
BCC: Analysis of a report released by the U.S. Department of Education in April 2002 titled Adult Literacy in America proves this is true — and the follow-up report released in 2006 confirms it. The Adult Literacy in America report is from the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult literacy ever conducted. It is based upon a five-year, $14 million study involving lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults statistically chosen by age, gender, ethnicity, and location to represent the entire U.S. population. Interviewees were chosen from urban, suburban, and rural locations from twelve different U.S. states and included 1,100 prisoners from 80 prisons to represent the entire U.S. population. Analysis of this report proves that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate, proves that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty, and proves that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. With 31% of functional illiterates in poverty, that means that about 15% of all U.S. adults are in poverty, which is in close agreement with recent estimates of U.S. poverty.
Host: Those are certainly very shocking statistics. Why have I not heard of this before?
BCC: There were very few media reports on this study, and the reports that appeared, in effect, minimized the seriousness of the findings. Most people have underestimated the amount of illiteracy because illiterates are very good at hiding their illiteracy. We do not see much of the evidence of poverty because most families have more than one employed adult and because low-income families receive help from government agencies, family, friends, and charities and because of the natural separation that occurs between people in different economic groups.
Host: If learning to read English does not take longer because it is a difficult language, why does it take so much longer?
BCC: The reason it is so difficult to learn to read English is very simple: English is not a logically designed alphabetic language. English is more like Chinese writing that uses specific shapes in specific positions to represent a word. English uses a specific combination of letters in a specific order to represent a word.
Despite the difficulty our spelling causes for beginning readers, especially for immigrants, apologists for the present method of teaching reading will tell you that most English words are phonemic. That is true only if you allow more than one spelling of the phonemes. If each of the 38 English phonemes that are needed to learn to read is allowed only ONE specific spelling, only about 20% of English words are phonemic. More than one spelling of the phonemes requires a huge amount of memorization when individual phonemes can be spelled in as many as 60 or more ways and the spelling of each phoneme varies from one word to the next. As a result, the only way to learn to read English is to learn each new word in your reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use of the word. Almost every American can read at least a thousand simple words they learn by memory in the first three grades in school. In order to be a fluent reader, however, one must be able to recognize 20,000 words or more by their spelling. Many fluent readers have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 English words. Recognizing a correctly spelled word by its spelling and by its context is much easier than remembering the correct spelling when trying to write the word. Even many fluent readers are very poor spellers.
Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College did an extensive study of six standard desk dictionaries. He found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English phonemes! We need only 40 ways of spelling 40 phonemes — one each. If he had used unabridged dictionaries he would have found even more. Other apologists for our present spelling will say that you can learn to read using spelling rules. The truth is that there is not even ONE spelling rule that does not have exceptions. Some of the exceptions even have exceptions! A computer programmed with 203 English spelling rules was able correctly to spell only 49% of a list of 17,000 common English words. Can we honestly expect the average human to do better?
In English, a syllable can be a vowel all by itself. Each syllable has only one vowel, but a consonant — or several consonants — can be before and/or after the vowel. All English words can be pronounced by learning only 38 phonemes, and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. So 26 of the phonemes could be spelled with a single letter and twelve of the phonemes could be spelled with a digraph. Instead, there are at least 184 two-letter graphemes, at least 131 three-letter graphemes, at least 22 four-letter graphemes, and even four or more five-letter graphemes.
Host: Are you saying a combination of five letters is used to spell ONE sound in English?
BCC: Yes, more than half of all English phonemes are spelled with graphemes of two or more letters. There are at least three vowel phonemes and one consonant phoneme spelled with five letters that I know of. The most familiar is in the word weighed, (spell) in which five letters represent the A phoneme. That sound is spelled with the single letter A in words such as fading. Most English words have two or more syllables, and with multiple letters used for a single phoneme each syllable in a word can have a very complex combination of vowels and consonants.
If each vowel and each consonant in these syllables always represented the same sound, there would be nothing in the logic of these syllables that would be beyond the abilities of most four- or five-year-olds, but they do not. The real confusion comes since one grapheme often represents many phonemes when reading, and many graphemes are used to spell most of the phonemes. Although only 38 are needed, there are at least 367 different letters or letter combinations used as English graphemes with an average of at least 2.2 pronunciations each. Some of the graphemes are used to spell eight different phonemes! Only four of the 26 letters — B, K, P, and V — have only one pronunciation. Adding to the confusion, however, all four of these letters are doubled in some words and not in others; all but six of the 26 letters are doubled in some words. There is an average of at least 44 spellings of each of the 38 phonemes. The worst example is the U vowel phoneme as in the word nut that can be spelled in at least 60 different ways. If that is not nutty, I don't know what is. That is why spelling correctly is even more difficult than learning to read.
More than one pronunciation of graphemes or more than one spelling of phonemes requires a type of logic that most children do not develop until they are eleven or twelve years old. Before that age, students have difficulty thinking of the same letter or letters in more than one combination at the same time. So they just have to be helped to memorize (or learn by repetition) the spelling of new words. Most of us are not familiar with spelling systems in other languages, so we do not realize the comparative difficulty of learning to read English. Most of us learned to read as a child and have long since forgotten (or proudly dismiss) the difficulty we had. Our eyes skip easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers.
Host: I never realized that what I was reading was full of traps for beginning readers. What can be done about that?
BCC: As most teachers will tell you, reading is the foundation of all learning. Reading ability is required for class work, homework, and testing for nearly every subject in school. Based upon more than 40 years of teaching students of phonemic languages to read fluently, Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book Forty Years With the Silent Billion, "If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week." Although present educational and political authorities may have a financial interest in believing that this is overly optimistic, it would be a serious mistake to discount Dr. Laubach's findings and his advice. Other than remedial reading, most instruction in reading ends after fourth grade. With our present inconsistent and illogical spelling, most U.S. students require at least two years to learn to read well enough to be able to keep increasing their reading skills after fourth grade — and almost half of the students never become fluent readers. Statistics prove that almost half of U.S. adults never read an entire book after they leave school. If English spelling were as simple and logical as most other languages, the better students could learn to read English in one week and all but the most mentally challenged students could learn to read in less than three months — for many students, much less than three months.
Two non-profit educational corporations, Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., have developed a perfect phonemic spelling system such as Dr. Laubach recommended. It is a spelling system called NuEnglish, which has ten beneficial characteristics that no other known proposed spelling system claims, and I've examined every proposed spelling system I can find. NuEnglish spelling is so simple that present readers can learn the ten simple NuEnglish spelling rules in six to eight minutes. Adoption of this spelling system is the only proven way permanently to end English functional illiteracy.
More than 93 million adult Americans read so poorly that they do not like to read and seldom try to read. They read so poorly that they cannot hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. Although they can read about a thousand words, they are functionally illiterate. Along with an estimated 500 million English-speaking adults around the world who are also functionally illiterate in English, they desperately need our help to avoid the problems, pain, and suffering their illiteracy causes. In addition, functional illiteracy costs every adult American — readers and non-readers — an average of more than $5,000 each year for government programs used by illiterates, for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to illiterates in the labor pool and in the workplace.
Host: Hearing these facts and statistics makes me wonder if there is some reason why we do not make the changes you are suggesting.
BCC: When people learn that we are proposing spelling reform, they may think of one or two objections to changing the spelling. Numerous respected scholars, however, have thoroughly disproven the validity of every reasonable objection to spelling reform. They have also described the many benefits of making the spelling of our words as easy to learn as those of other languages. It does not take a genius to know that it is much easier to learn the spelling of 38 phonemes — and how to blend them into words — than to learn by rote memory, or by repeated use, every word in your reading vocabulary. By learning to read quickly, English-speaking students can finally compete with students of the same age in other languages by studying most subjects about two years earlier.
Host: Are American students really that far behind students in other nations?
BCC: Yes. It is not well known by the general public, but American educators who are familiar with reading education in other nations and members of some of the think-tanks such as The American Enterprise Institute know that most American students are two years behind students of the same age using logical alphabetic languages. American students have ranked near the bottom in three or more recent scholastic competitions with more than twenty other industrialized nations. Although some improvements have been made as a result of the 1983 education report titled "A Nation At Risk", there have not been any overall statistically significant improvements in the teaching of reading for ninety years or more. Dozens of reports on educational problems have come out since 1983, but most of these reports have not received the media attention they desperately need.
Host: I have thought of several questions, but our time is up. Do you have any closing remarks, Bob?
BCC: What I am proposing is very simple: Let's spell our words the way they sound, the way the rest of the world does — the way alphabetic languages are logically expected to spell words. The many facts that support changing our spelling and how it easily can be accomplished are not quite so simple. My book, Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, provides these facts and is available as an e-book at no cost or obligation on our LearnToReadNow.org website.
Host: Your book is available free?
BCC: Yes. It is an award-winning 265-page e-book with 164 pages of text, eight appendixes, 178 extensive end notes and references, a glossary, an extensive bibliography, an index, and numerous tables and graphics. Among other things, my book explains the disproven objections to spelling reform and lists the benefits of making our spelling consistent and logical.
There are roughly 600 million people around the world hoping we can help them escape from English functional illiteracy. [Simplifying our illogical, inconsistent, chaotic spelling is the only proven way of helping illiterates in English around the world to learn to read English without each of the hundreds of millions of illiterates receiving more than a year of one-to-one tutoring. At least 25 other nations — both smaller and larger than the U.S., both advanced and developing — have simplified their spelling. We desperately need to do the same — with a perfectly phonemic spelling system.] Listen to this: All that is needed to begin the process of ending illiteracy in English is to publicize the proven solution to illiteracy. I have been passionately working on this problem for many years, and I KNOW — as an absolute fact — that what I am proposing will not only solve the problem but will also be much easier than almost anyone else may understand. And I know that anyone who honestly examines all of the facts will agree with the solution I am proposing. Our website provides the proof for everything I have said here. As a result, I am humbly asking listeners to tell at least three people about our LearnToReadNow.org website who do not know about our humanitarian project for ending illiteracy. When enough people know the seriousness of the problem and how easy the solution will really be, the problem will be solved. Although what I have said may raise more questions than it answers, most of your questions will be answered by a careful reading of our website. My book, Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, which is available free on our website, should answer all of your questions. If there are any remaining questions, our website provides a way to get the answers. Despite all the naysayers and all those who oppose change — even change for the better, to believe we cannot significantly improve the teaching of reading is to underestimate our human ability to solve this problem — the illogical and inconsistent spelling — instead of merely fighting the symptoms of this problem, as we have been doing for almost a century now.
Host: Thank you, Bob. This has certainly been informative about a very serious, but unfortunately a very well-hidden problem.
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