Functional illiteracy

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Functional illiteracy is generally defined as possession of reading and writing skills that are inadequate "to manage daily living and employment tasks that require reading skills beyond a basic level".[1] Functional illiteracy is contrasted with illiteracy in the strict sense, meaning the inability to read or write simple sentences in any language.

Foreigners who cannot read and write in the native language where they live may also be considered functionally illiterate.


Functional illiteracy is imprecisely defined, with different criteria from nation to nation, and study to study.[2] However, a useful distinction can be made between pure illiteracy and functional illiteracy. Purely illiterate persons cannot read or write in any capacity, for all practical purposes. In contrast, functionally illiterate persons can read and possibly write simple sentences with a limited vocabulary, but cannot read or write well enough to deal with the everyday requirements of life in their own society.

For example, an illiterate person may not understand the written words cat or dog, may not recognize the letters of the alphabet, and may be unable to write their own name. In contrast, a functionally illiterate person may well understand these words and more, but might be incapable of reading and comprehending job advertisements, past-due notices, newspaper articles, banking paperwork, complex signs and posters, and so on.

The characteristics of functional illiteracy vary from one culture to another, as some cultures require better reading and writing skills than others. A reading level that might be sufficient to make a farmer functionally literate in a rural area of a developing country might qualify as functional illiteracy in an urban area of a technologically advanced country. In languages with regular spelling, functional illiteracy is usually defined simply as reading too slow for practical use, inability to effectively use dictionaries and written manuals, etc.

There are several methods of determining functional illiteracy. By far the most accurate is the method in which those trying to determine if persons are functionally literate or not have a financial interest in being accurate, such as trying to hire workers who can read and write well enough to be able to earn more for their employer than the wages they earn. The most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adults, described in detail in the Prevalence section later, included a study of the yearly earnings of the interviewees grouped into one of five levels of functional literacy by testing their response to written material they were given to read.

Links with poverty and crime[edit]

In developed countries, the level of functional literacy of an individual is proportional to income level and risk of being incarcerated for a crime. For example:

  • Over 60% of adults in the US prison system read at or below the fourth grade level[3] Up to 80% of adults in the US prison system are non-readers.[4]
  • Florida Judge Charles Phillips stated, "Eighty percent of the new criminals who pass my desk would not be here if they had graduated from high school and could read and write."[5]
  • From a recent census of prisoners more than twenty-five years of age, 75 percent are not high school graduates and 35–42 percent of them had not completed ninth grade, as compared to 38 percent of the total adult population who have not graduated high school.[6]
  • 85% of US juveniles appearing before the court are functionally illiterate.[7]
  • 31.2% of adults in the two lowest of five literacy levels lived below the poverty line, as opposed to 4.7% of those with the highest level of literacy. Those below the poverty line were more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined.[8] and[9]
  • 44% of U.S. adults who were "Below Basic" in literacy tests, reported in February 2009, were in poverty as compared to 17% of the entire U.S. population in poverty (below the 2003 U.S. Census Bureau threshold poverty). The report listed 13% or thirty million U.S. adults as being in the below basic category, but did not show percentages or other facts about the basic, intermediate, or proficient categories, the other three literacy groupings.[10]

According to[11]

  • Two-thirds of students who cannot read proficiently by the fourth grade will end up in jail or on welfare.
  • Three out of four individuals who receive food stamps read on the two lowest levels of literacy.
  • 16-to-19-year-old girls at the poverty line and below with below-average reading skills are 6 times more likely to have out-of-wedlock children than their more literate counterparts.

Remedial reading[edit]

The reason for the reference to the fourth grade level mentioned above is that in nearly all U.S. schools, the only reading taught after the fourth grade is remedial reading. Almost every native English-speaking person around the world can read at least a thousand simple words they learn in the first four grades in school; if that is all they can read, however, they are functionally illiterate.[12]

Most public schools in the U.S. have remedial reading classes, or remedial reading groups in classes, for almost every grade level. Remedial reading classes are also common in college. David Harman states,[13]

One indication of [functionally illiterate high school graduates] can be found among students in community colleges, all graduates of high schools. Over half of community college entrants, researcher John Roueche found, are lacking in adequate basic skills: "The most offered courses in American community colleges were remedial reading, remedial writing, and remedial arithmetic.... Community colleges do not have a monopoly on remedial reading courses for high school graduates: a number of Ivy League colleges also make such courses available to entering freshmen who are found to need them.

A September 1997 report states that "almost one-third of college freshmen require remedial instruction." [14] Are there remedial reading classes in other languages? Dr. Rudolph Flesch states,

Do you know that there are no remedial reading cases in Germany, in France, in Italy, in Norway, in Spain—practically anywhere in the world except in the United States? [15]

Part of the reason is that the school systems in many other nations do not try to make high school or college graduation a possibility for every student, the way the US does. It is also true that there is much less need for remedial reading classes in most other nations.

Students in no other nation on earth have the difficulty that English-speaking students have in learning to read. Although we like to take pride in our literacy level, the truth is that in the US—where by law every child must attend school throughout childhood (and almost all do) – there are more adults who cannot read than in some nations with far less than universal schooling.

Many of those needing remedial reading do not receive any remedial reading teaching because many teachers — either purposely or inadvertently — do not notice that a particular student needs remedial reading. John Corcoran, who wrote the book The Teacher Who Couldn't Read, published in 1994 by Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colorado, explained that all through twelve years of public school, no teacher ever seemed to notice that he never correctly read anything aloud in class. Corcoran explained that, by their inaction in attempting to solve the problem of teaching reading, parents, teachers, school administrators, and politicians are in denial that functional illiteracy is a serious problem in America. Even if a teacher notices that a student has not learned to read, since most teachers do not know how to ensure that every student can learn to read, students who cannot read are simply passed on to the next grade in hopes that they will learn to read later. Corcoran backs this up by giving the details of his entire school experiences from kindergarten through college graduate, and how he was able to teach high school in California for 17 years. He also gives the names and experiences of numerous others who also graduated from high school and several others who graduated from college and were functionally illiterate. Statistical studies, detailed in the "Prevalence" section below, prove that John Corcoran's experience is far from unusual.[16]

Reasons for functional illiteracy[edit]

There are many reasons why any one particular student may not learn to read fluently, as in the following list. Since more than one of these reasons may apply to any particular student and since there is so much variation from one group of students to another, it is not possible to say which is the most frequent of these causes.

  • The student or his or her parents or friends place little or no importance on learning to read.
  • The student is far more involved in numerous activities than in spending the time needed to learn to read, as explained below.
  • The student goes to school hungry, frightened (over gang violence, increased levels of school bullying, or classmates who bring weapons to school, for example), worried over schoolwork or problems at home (such as increased levels of divorce or insufficient family income for essentials), or embarrassed (about failing to read aloud properly in class or about his or her old, ragged clothing, for example).
  • The student has poor eyesight, poor hearing, or learning problems.
  • The student uses addictive drugs.
  • The student does not like the teacher or the teacher is ineffective.
  • The teaching materials or the teaching method is ineffective.

In today's world, besides all the school and societal problems which hinder learning, there are many fun-but-time-consuming activities interfering with learning which did not exist in simpler times—before the twentieth century. Some of these pleasurable activities include radio, television, movies in theaters and on DVDs and electronic devices, musical concerts or recordings, computer games, social networking on the internet, internet browsing and searching, newly developed sports, profitable full- and part-time jobs, and gang and other youth activities.

Like the items in Pandora's box, once these time-consuming or distracting activities are loosed upon society, they cannot be taken back. It thus becomes very difficult to get many of the students to spend the long hours learning to read that were spent in more simple times[citation needed]. This is especially true if—due to teaching methods inferior[weasel words] to the memorization and "dull drill" used in prior centuries—the student is having difficulty learning. (Although memorization and "dull drill" used in the 19th Century was effective[citation needed], it required devoted effort for both student and teacher.) If the student is having difficulty learning, it will be very difficult, perhaps impossible, to persuade the student to spend time on an unpleasant and difficult activity rather than a multitude of readily available pleasant activities.[17]

Although one or more of the reasons above apply to every student, there is only one cause of the difficulty of learning to read that affects every student. This difficulty will be explained in detail in the "Ending functional illiteracy" section below.

Problems functional illiterates face[edit]

This is a list of 34 different types of physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that most functional illiterates must endure almost every day of their lives. There are other problems that functional illiterates have, of course, but this list is representative and undoubtedly covers types of problems that functional illiterates have that you have never considered. Some of these items may seem merely to be annoyances, but in total they would amount to a crisis if we, personally, had to endure them. Many of the simple everyday tasks we perform daily are beyond the abilities of functional illiterates and cause their lives to be difficult. These problems will take on added significance if some of our loved ones (or even just our acquaintances) have to endure them. Almost everyone has family, friends, or acquaintances who — unknown to us — are functionally illiterate.


  1. Jobs lost upon discovering illiteracy. Today, even the most menial jobs require the ability to read.[18]
  2. Low pay for low reading ability.
  3. Pay tied to reading ability, not social class. Those who have completed high school have incomes about double those who have not completed grade school, and half again higher than those with an eighth grade education. This situation prevails among all sectors of the population: men and women, white and black, and all age groups.[19]
  4. Unemployment versus reading ability. The lower the reading level the greater the likelihood of unemployment.
  5. Unemployment versus retraining. Of the eight million unemployed, the U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 75 percent lack the skills necessary to be retrained for high-tech jobs.[20]


  1. (6.)The Percentage of functionally illiterate juvenile delinquents. Among juveniles appearing before the court, 85 percent are functionally illiterate.[21]
  2. (7.)Percentage of non-reading first-time offenders. Eighty percent of the new criminals have not graduated from high school and cannot read and write."[22]
  3. (8.)Non-reading prison inmates. Up to 80 percent of prison inmates are non-readers.[23]
  4. (9.)Education level among prison inmates. From a recent census of prisoners more than twenty-five years of age, 75 percent are not high school graduates and 35–42 percent of them had not completed ninth grade, as compared to 38 percent of the total adult population not high school grads.[24]

Standard of living

  1. (10.)Income level versus education level. In 2000 the median annual earnings were, for men: bachelor degree or more, $48,000; some college, $33,000; high school graduate, $29,000; high school dropout, $20,500 and for women: bachelor degree or more, $34,500; some college, $25,000; high school graduate, $20,000; high-school dropout, $14,500.[25]
  2. (11.)Education level versus percentage of families on welfare. There are twice as many on welfare with less than a sixth-grade education than there are with six to eight years of schooling. There are almost four times as many on welfare with less than a sixth-grade education than have completed nine to eleven years of school.[26]

Consumer rights

  1. (12.)Victimization of non-readers by their landlords. An apartment to live in and fuel to keep it warm in winter are uncertain if the one signing the lease or receiving past due bill notices can't read.
  2. (13.)Lack of understanding of insurance coverage. Insurance policies cannot be used for insuring against losses if the policyholders do not remember (or more likely were not told) all the details of the insurance coverage and cannot read the policy for themselves.
  3. (14.)Lack of checking account equals loss of interest payments. Those who cannot read and write seldom keep their money in checking or savings accounts.[27]

Citizens' rights

  1. (15.)Democracy is denied to nonvoters and uninformed voters. Most illiterates either do not vote or cast uninformed votes. Their knowledge of candidates is usually limited to paid political radio and television announcements and to events newsworthy enough to deserve air time. Democracy, for them, is an unreachable ideal.
  2. (16.)Loss of citizens' rights through lack of knowledge of them. Illiterates must learn of their rights, deadlines they face, and things they must do from the radio or television or depend on people they often have reason to distrust to keep them informed. Their rights are just a hollow mockery if they don't know about them.


  1. (17.)Denial of the right to an education. It is understandable if school officials, after reviewing the records, decide that certain students are wasting a teacher's time and the school's budget for school materials. It is easier for all concerned to believe the student has failed than that the educational system didn't do what it should for the student.
  2. (18.)Children of the functionally illiterate lose educational rights. Illiterate parents do not read letters from their children's teachers or study materials designed to help their children prepare for college, nor can they help their children with homework.
  3. (19.)Embarrassment over the inability to read to children who request it. Illiterates must often suffer the embarrassment of having young children know their parent(s) can't read.[28]
  4. (20.)The cost of truancy. Truancy is now such a serious problem that ordinances have been enacted allowing police in many U.S. cities to impose a $500 fine or thirty days in jail for the parents and suspension of drivers licenses of the students. Most truancy occurs because the truants have failed to learn to read. Better education significantly reduces both truancy and other forms of juvenile delinquency.[29]

Basic lifestyle choices

  1. (21.)Restaurant roulette: stick to basics or eat detested food. Illiterates can't always order what they want when they go to a restaurant. If there are no pictures, they may not know what they have ordered until it arrives—and it may be something they do not like.
  2. (22.)Supermarket roulette: what is in this can? Illiterates have to buy products based on pictures on the package or buy labels they recognize from TV commercials, but how could they buy Campbell's soup and get what they want when every can looks the same? Most illiterates will not ask for help in the supermarket, and therefore waste money on household items they can't use or on foods they detest.
  3. (23.)Expense, time, and stress of traveling to pay bills. Illiterates cannot manage checking accounts, so they seldom pay bills by mail. This means they must spend several hours each month in time-consuming and often expensive travel, an added cost for every payment they make.
  4. (24.)The dangers of travel. Although illiterates may learn to decipher many traffic signs and symbols, street signs they have never seen before are a complete mystery to them. Bus stop and subway station names are equally meaningless. Imagine your frustration at being lost in a foreign country with a language you know nothing about. A similar frustration or fear usually keeps most illiterates close to home.
  5. (25.)Lack of choice of TV programs. Illiterates do not have the luxury of deciding in advance what TV shows they will watch. They stick with weekly programs they know come on at a certain time or find what they can by flipping through the channels, frequently missing programs that would be of much more interest to them.
  6. (26.)Inability to follow food preparation instructions. There is a danger, for illiterates, in purchasing some new food item or in trying a new recipe by following a friend's oral instructions. They run a high risk of wasting food for which replacement would be difficult or impossible because of limited finances. Even government food handouts are a mockery if the recipients cannot read instructions.
  7. (27.)The dilemma of having to trust someone who is untrustworthy. Illiterates do not have even the most basic lifestyle choices that the rest of us have. They must rely upon others to choose for them. Illiterates can cite many times when wrong choices were made for them or times when they were cheated. They find themselves in the dilemma of having to trust people that they are not sure can be trusted. They are often terrified by not knowing the right word for the right thing at the right time.

Dangers and health risks

  1. (28.)Medicine bottle precautions. Illiterates can't read precautions on a medicine bottle. The expiration date for safe usage, possible allergic reactions, sedative effects, who should not take it, possible side-effects, and dosages, thus may be a mystery to them.
  2. (29.)Inability to read health pamphlets. Illiterates can't read health pamphlets and bulletins, and thus often do not know about the preventive health measures they describe. They often do not know, for example, the seven warning signs of cancer.
  3. (30.)Inability to read product warnings. Illiterates can't read, for example, the warning sign on a pack of cigarettes. They may know that smoking is bad for them, but they can't read the details that could give them the determination to quit.
  4. (31.)Unintended surgery through lack of understanding. Illiterates can't read waivers that they must sign before undergoing surgery, so they don't know their rights. They often do not understand the medical jargon and fear the unfamiliar atmosphere found in hospitals. They sometimes find, too late, that they've agreed to something that in the confusion was not adequately explained to them.
  5. (32.)Workplace injuries. Working with toxic chemicals can be a frightening job for someone who can't read package labels or the warning signs on the walls. The same is true regarding warning signs about machinery and other dangers. U.S. workers are more likely to be killed on the job than workers in other major industrialized countries (for example, thirty-six times more likely than in Sweden). One out of eleven U.S. workers will be killed or seriously injured at work.
  6. (33.)Inability to use telephone directories. Although some can find the name of a friend, far fewer have the sorting skills to use the yellow pages. Even the emergency numbers on the first page are beyond recognition for many of them. Even if illiterates can remember an emergency number they can call, they may still be in trouble. If they are away from home, the inability to read street signs may keep them from explaining their location well enough to get help in an emergency.[30]
  7. (34.)Death Rate of Children Tied to Mother's Education. A 1999 study by the World Bank showed that the average death rate for children under five years old whose mothers had no education was 144 per 1000 live births. This dropped to 106 per 1000 for mothers with a primary education only and to 68 per 1000 when the mothers had some secondary education also. When the infant's care giver cannot read the directions on baby formula or medications, a wrong guess can lead to injury or death of the child.[31]

Monetary costs of functional illiteracy[edit]

Not only is the extent of functional illiteracy much worse than most people may realize, but functional illiteracy is much more costly than most people may realize. Unfortunately functional illiteracy is costly not only for the functional illiterates but also for fluent readers — in several unexpected ways.

Determining the monetary costs of functional illiteracy is difficult because various methods of determining the number of functional illiterates are so imprecise. Also, sufficiently complete and accurate studies are only conducted periodically, not annually. No recent data for the monetary cost of functional illiteracy was found in a November 2014 internet search. The April 2012 final report by the World Literacy Foundation reported, "The cost of illiteracy to the global economy is estimated at USD $1.19 trillion."[32] This report did not specify what percentage of the illiteracy was functional illiteracy. This USD $1.19 trillion, if shared equally by everyone over the age of 15 years old around the world, would be $228 each year. (With a 2012 global population of 7.06 billion,[33] 74 percent[34] — 5.2 billion of them — are 15 years old or more.) The proportionate share of the cost of functional illiteracy will obviously be larger for individuals in the more developed nations than in the developing nations. Also, nations with higher rates of functional illiteracy will have a larger share of the costs. How much larger than $228 per year this will be (for persons older than 15 years in a developed nation with a high functional illiteracy rate, such as the U.S.) is unclear.

The costs of functional illiteracy take several forms: the governmental funding given to those who are unemployed or in poverty because of functional illiteracy, the higher recruiting and training costs for businesses since functional illiterates are in the labor pool, the lower productivity of functionally illiterate employees, the cost of preventing and correcting mistakes made by functionally illiterate employees, and the higher costs of real estate and consumer goods because functional illiterates are not — or cannot afford to be — customers. It is fairly obvious that if all functional illiteracy were magically eliminated today, taxes would not decrease tomorrow. The government would quickly find somewhere else to spend the money previously given to welfare recipients. But consumer goods would quickly become less expensive in a competitive U.S. market and the markets of all other capitalistic nations. This would simultaneously make U.S. goods more competitive in world markets, thereby helping expand the U.S. economy. Other English-speaking capitalistic nations would benefit similarly.

One source reports annual costs of functional illiteracy for adults in the U.S. (other than crime costs) as $3861 in 2007. This is higher than the $228 mentioned above because costs will be higher in 2014 (seven years later) and partially may be due to the previous inclusion of data for illiterates as well as for functional illiterates.[35]

The World Literacy Foundation did not report what percentage of the cost of illiteracy was due to crime committed by illiterates. Accurate global crime costs are unavailable, but there are a few detailed reports on U.S. crime.[36] and[37] David A. Anderson's 1999 report, one of the reports using the most complete list of different types of costs of crime, listed a $1.7 trillion annual cost, (or $1.1 trillion if you do not include the value of goods transferred from the victim to the criminal in theft and fraud) with an annual per capita burden of $4,118. Conservatively assuming that only 30 percent of the crime costs is due to functional illiteracy — it could be much more, see data in the previous section titled "Links with poverty and crime" — functional illiteracy accounts for an annual per capita cost of $1,235. The $4118 per capita cost distribution may be including children; if children were not included the per capita cost for functional illiteracy would be higher than $1,235. Another method of computing this cost is based upon 254 million people aged 15 years or more (79.8 percent of 319 total population in 2014[38]) sharing equally the $0.51 trillion ($1.7 trillion times 30 percent or more attributable to functional illiteracy) equals $2,007 annually. This compares to a 2007 report of $1,325 annual cost of crime due to functional illiteracy reported elsewhere.[39]


In the United States, according to Business magazine, an estimated 15 million functionally illiterate adults held jobs at the beginning of the 21st century. The American Council of Life Insurers reported that 75% of the Fortune 500 companies provide some level of remedial training for their workers.[40]

The most comprehensive and statistically accurate study of US adult literacy ever commissioned by the US government, titled Adult Literacy in America, was completed in 1993. It was a five-year, $14 million study involving lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults statistically chosen by age, gender, ethnicity, and location (urban, suburban, and rural locations from 12 different states across the US and including 1,100 prisoners from 80 prisons) to represent the entire US adult population. Interviewees were given reading material in English to read and were then questioned on what they had read. This was therefore a functional literacy test. The interviewees were grouped into five different literacy levels, depending upon how they responded to what they read. The prose, document, and quantitative literacy values were averaged for each grouping. This showed that of the 191 million US adults in 1993:

  • 22.0% (42.0 million) were Level 1 (least literate),
  • 26.7% (50.9 million) were Level 2,
  • 31.7% (60.5 million) were Level 3.
  • 16.3% (31.2 million) were Level 4, and
  • 3.3% ( 6.4 million) were Level 5 (most literate) [41]

A 2006 follow-up report — a study using a database of 19,714 interviewees — showed no overall statistically significant differences from the 1993 study.[42] The Adult Literacy in America study included data on how many days each year the interviewees worked full-time and part-time and the wages in dollars per hour they earned when working. Their yearly earnings were compared with the US Census Bureau threshold poverty level wages for an individual in 1993.[43] Level 1 and Level 2 wages, totaling 48.7% of the interviewees, were below the threshold poverty line. The Adult Literacy in America report also showed the percentage of each literacy level group that was in poverty. In Levels 1 and 2 combined, 31.2% of the interviewees were in poverty. In Levels 3 through 5, 10.1% of the interviewees were in poverty. Although there are many reasons for poverty, since the study statistically balanced the interviewees by age, gender, ethnicity, location, etc. and since there is no obvious provable differences other than literacy level, if 10.1% is taken as being the poverty NOT resulting from illiteracy and is deducted from the 31.2%, the resulting 21.1% due to illiteracy, when compared to 10.1%, provides strong evidence that 48.7% of US adults in 1993 (92.9 million of them) were functionally illiterate, 31.2% of them were in poverty, and they were more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. Although all 48.7% of the individuals in the study were functionally illiterate, only (!) 31.2% of them were in poverty because a literate spouse or other literate person(s) in the household could pull the family above the poverty line. Most families with a functional illiterate also receive financial assistance from government agencies, family members not in the household, friends, and charities.[44]

Although the Adult Literacy in America study shows a shockingly high functional illiteracy rate, the Adult Literacy in America study can be relied upon for the following reasons: (1) it used a careful statistical sampling to achieve a true representation of the population regarding age, gender, ethnicity, and geographical location. (2) It included development of an accurate objective means of judging reading ability based upon predetermined absolute standards. These standards measured functional literacy. (3) Educational Testing Service personnel used an accurate means of ensuring that test information was (a) gathered under strict guidelines prepared for evaluating test responses, (b) verified by independent outside testers, and (c) protected from being changed by anyone who might have any reason to want the data to show different results than they appeared to show. For example, no school was given access to the data until the study was complete.[45]

The Adult Literacy in America study shows a much lower literacy rate than has been previously reported. Jonathan Kozol's 1985 book, Illiterate America, explains why previously reported literacy rates are so inflated. It depends upon how the literacy data are gathered. Those who want to build up America's political and educational pride, as a means of keeping their jobs, can get varying results depending upon how large the interviewee groups are, how the interviewees are chosen, the starting and ending times when the literacy data are gathered, the method of determining the true literacy ability of the interviewees, and other factors. Kozol points out that the reported literacy rate for the US was determined by the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau included questions about literacy in each census from 1840 to 1930.[46] Many who are most knowledgeable about the literacy rate believe that most of the changes in the literacy rate have been reductions in the literacy rate since the early 1960s.[47] The Census Bureau reintroduced questions about literacy in 1970 at the insistence of the military.

In the 1970 census, the only question asked about literacy was on grade level completion. The Census Bureau considered those with fifth grade completion or higher to be literate. A little more than five percent reported less than a fifth-grade education. For some unexplained reason, the Census Bureau decided that 80 percent of those with less than a fifth grade education were literate, so they reported a 99 percent literacy rate.

In 1980 the Census Bureau mailed out forms and based most of their calculations upon written responses to questions about grade completion. In addition they used a small sample of home visits and telephone interviews. They asked people what grade they had completed. If the answer was "Less than fifth grade,” they asked if the person could read and write. They then added the unsubstantiated answer to their record as an established fact. This method of determining an accurate account of the literacy rate is almost certain to underestimate illiteracy for the following reasons:

  • Illiterates would not respond to written forms, and their family — likely to also be illiterate — would not either.
  • Because of unemployment or low-paying jobs, fewer illiterates have telephones.
  • The underprivileged poor, and especially illiterates, may feel they are being singled out like criminals. They therefore have cause to distrust salespersons, bill collectors, or strangers knocking on their door seeking information — especially if the answer to the questions would be embarrassing. Home visits by Census Bureau workers who are not known by the person answering the door cannot be expected to yield accurate information under such circumstances.
  • As any teacher who is even moderately aware of what is happening in the classroom knows, grade-level completion does NOT equal grade-level competence. John Corcoran was passed to the next grade 13 times, even though he had not learned to read. Almost every teacher will tell you that literacy is the foundation of nearly all learning. Only a few physical education classes and a few arts and crafts classes — which do not require written tests to determine competency — can be passed without knowing how to read. Reading ability is required for class-work, homework, and testing in almost every class.
  • Those who have no permanent address, no phone number where they can be reached, no post office box, or no regular job — a condition shared by almost six million people in 1980, most of whom were illiterate — often are not counted. They cannot be found by the Census Bureau in time to be included in the census.[46]

The above information applies not only to the US but also to every nation where English is the native language. Due to the huge variation in literacy rates reported in most nations, especially under-developed nations, and for much the same reasons as reported above, the literacy rates reported for non-English-speaking nations (as well as for the English-speaking nations) is often unreliable. From a list of the 39 "most advanced" nations [48] the following literacy rates were reported: China, 95.1%; Portugal, 95.4%; Singapore, 95.9%, Australia, 96%; the other 35 all reported literacy rates of from 97 to 100%. Keep in mind that these are "literacy" rates, not "functional literacy" rates and, for some countries, may include persons who could only read a thousand or so simple words learned in the early grades in school.

The first step in understanding functional illiteracy in English is to report which nations have a large number of English-speaking people. Year 2000 data from Wikipedia shows that of the 7.199 billion people in the world, 1.295 billion of them speak English and 342 million of them speak English as their native language. English is used as a "second language" — to communicate with a person who does not speak a person's native language — far more than any other language. Only Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more people than English, and nearly all of the Mandarin Chinese speakers are in China. There are seven countries where all those who speaks English constitutes more than one percent of all those around the world whose native language is English, as follows.

Country Native English-

speaking people

 % of population

speaking English

 % of All Native

English speakers

United States 225,505,953 94.2 65.9
United Kingdom 58,200,000 97.7 17.0
Canada 18,232,195 85.6 5.3
Australia 15,581,334 97.0 4.6
South Africa 4,892,623 31.0 1.4
Ireland 4,400,000 98.4 1.3
New Zealand 3,500,000 97.8 1.0
Total 96.5

There are from 30 to 2,600,000 persons in sixty-nine other countries that speak English as their native language. Altogether, they constitute the other 3.5% of the native English speakers. Four nations with a population of more than five million people and with 85% or more who speak English as a "second language" are Netherlands, 90%; Sweden, 86%; Israel, 85%; and Denmark, 86%. One hundred thousand of those who speak English in Israel are native English speakers; all others in these four nations speak English only as a "second language."

The functional illiteracy for six of these nations (excluding South Africa which is not a predominantly English-speaking nation) is as follows. The Wikipedia article from which the above data were taken states, "Moreover, some numbers (in the Wikipedia article) have been calculated by Wikipedia editors from data in other sources, so these figures are imprecise and should be treated with great caution."(emphasis added) This also applies to all functional illiteracy rate calculations.

Country Functional Illiteracy Rate, Percent
1. United States [49] 48.7
2. United Kingdom[50] 21.8
3. Canada[51] 48.0
4. Australia[52] 47.0
5. Ireland[53] 23.0
6. New Zealand[54] 45.0

As shown above, there are various ways of determining functional illiteracy. The accuracy of the determination depends to an extent upon the lower average yearly earnings of those in poverty as being strongly indicative of functional illiteracy. This may explain the lower functional illiteracy rate of the United Kingdom and Ireland. The United Kingdom and Ireland may be using an advanced phonics reading education program such as Dr. Diane McGuinness refers to in her book, Why Our Children Can't Read, which has a higher success rate. Whatever the functional illiteracy rate, however, learning to read English, at present, requires at least two years longer to teach most children to read than in other languages, and even 21.8% is a high rate of functional illiteracy compared to the literacy rates of other advanced, industrialized, non-English-speaking nations which attempt to make a high school education available to every student.

An alternate indication of the literacy of various nations is the data from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) of The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).[55] The overall reading score for the OECD nations [56] was 493. The ranking of the English-speaking nations was Canada, 524; New Zealand, 521; Australia, 515; United States, 500; Ireland, 496; and United Kingdom, 494.[57] These results cast doubt on the reported functional illiteracy in the table above because the United Kingdom and Ireland have the lowest scores of any of the English-speaking nations in the PISA 2009 rankings!

Page 19 of the report of the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Sutton Trust of London titled, "Social Mobility and Education Gaps in the Four Major Anglophone Countries"[58] quotes the data from the PISA 2009 report to show the "Percent of students with reading scores below level 2" (the three least literate of the eight levels) as being 14.2 for Australia, 10.3 for Canada, 18.4 for the United Kingdom, and 17.6 for the United States, as opposed to an OECD average of 18.8 percent.

Page 47 of the PISA 2009 report mentioned above and this note[59] gives the requirements of level 2. It is true that reading scores below level 2 are very low and should be noted, as in the Carnegie Corporation report above. It is almost certain, however, that students who cannot meet the level 2 requirements are functionally illiterate. Page 194 of the PISA 2009 report[55] lists the percentage of students in the six English-speaking nations whose literacy level was less than level 3: Australia, 34.7%; Canada, 30.5%; Ireland, 40.5%; New Zealand, 33.6%; United Kingdom, 43.4%; and United States, 42.1%. These data also strongly indicate that the functional illiteracy of the United Kingdom and Ireland should be higher than the table above shows – and that the functional illiteracy level for the United States shown by the extensive and comprehensive testing in the Adult Literacy in America study is typical of all English-speaking nations.

The UK government's Department for Education reported in 2006 that 47% of school children left school at age 16 without having achieved a basic level in functional mathematics, and 42% fail to achieve a basic level of functional English. Every year, 100,000 pupils leave school functionally illiterate in the UK.[60] With nearly four times as many English-speaking people, the US obviously has many more dropping out or graduating high school each year than the UK. One report states that more than two million such function illiterates are added to the US population each year.[61] Other native English-speaking would be expected to have a proportionate number of functional illiterates added each year.

In addition to the information presented and documented here, there is also a large amount of other readily-available information about functional illiteracy. Although some improvements have been made, thoughtful persons who carefully examine the evidence may be puzzled. As they discover the shockingly high functional illiteracy rate of English-speaking nations they may wonder why no overall statistically significant improvements have ever been made in the effectiveness of teaching reading. There are some obvious reasons.

First, most people do not realize the extent and seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy. This is because most people are busy meeting their priorities: their family needs, their emotional needs, their occupational needs, their spiritual needs, and their recreational and hobby pursuits, not necessarily in that order. As a result, they seldom spend time reading or investigating something in which they are not already interested.

Second, the media are not very interested in literacy. Although they may have become aware of some of the problems with literacy, it is "old" information. It is not "news" unless some interesting and "newsworthy" information becomes available which has not already been reported.

Third, those who are somewhat interested in literacy do not spend much time seriously investigating the problem of functional illiteracy for several reasons: (1) they do not realize it is a serious problem, (2) they believe that educational and political authorities can and will eventually solve any educational problems that exist, (3) if they become aware of how long the problem of functional illiteracy has existed without any significant improvement they may resign themselves to the belief that the problem cannot be solved, and in any case: (4) they have no idea whatsoever of how to solve the problem and believe that they do not have the responsibility of doing anything to help end functional illiteracy.

Regardless of these difficulties, there IS a solution to the problem of functional illiteracy, as the following section, "Ending functional illiteracy," clearly demonstrates.

Research findings[edit]

A Literacy at Work study, published by the Northeast Institute in 2001, found that business losses attributed to basic skill deficiencies run into billions of dollars a year due to low productivity, errors, and accidents attributed to functional illiteracy.

Sociological research has demonstrated that countries with lower levels of functional illiteracy among their adult populations tend to be those with the highest levels of scientific literacy among the lower stratum of young people nearing the end of their formal academic studies. This correspondence suggests that a contributing factor to a society's level of civic literacy is the capacity of schools to ensure students attain the functional literacy required to comprehend the basic texts and documents associated with competent citizenship.[62]

Ending Functional Illiteracy[edit]

In some countries functional illiteracy is the result of the unavailability of sufficient schooling or because students cannot or do not attend available schooling. In the U.S. and most English-speaking nations, this is seldom the problem; there are a sufficient number of available schools and most students attend school at least through high school. There is a very different problem in English-speaking schools.

In order to effectively and permanently solve any problem, it is first necessary to find what is causing the problem; otherwise you are merely fighting the symptoms of the problem rather than solving the problem — by correcting what is causing the problem. With illiteracy in English-speaking countries:

  • learning to read English is more difficult than learning to read many other languages: "up to three years of extra learning is required on average" to learn to read English compared to most other languages,[63] almost half of US adults are functionally illiterate in reading English.

Statistics show that "44% of the American adults do not read a book in a year" and 6 out of 10 households do not buy a single book in a year.[64] From the Prevalence section above it is obvious that one or more adults in more than 4 out of 10 households do not read a book a year because they are functionally illiterate. Only about 0.6 percent of US adults ever get enough training after leaving school to become fluent readers and then go on to complete eighth grade.[65] Even an eighth-grade education is usually insufficient; most jobs today require at least a high school education.

The United States — and most other native English-speaking countries — have been fighting the symptoms of the difficulty in learning to read for almost two centuries, but has never tried to correct what is causing English to be so difficult to read. Although there were some changes following the 1983 "A Nation At Risk" education report,[66] there has been no overall statistically significant improvements in the success of teaching reading for more than two hundred years. In fact, some education experts believe that US literacy began going down in 1963 and has been going down ever since.[47]

What is causing English to be difficult to read?[edit]

The very first understanding needed is what is not the cause of the difficulty of learning to read. People who are not familiar with the differences between languages can easily assume that learning to read English is difficult because learning the English language is difficult. A lecture by Axel Wijk, a Swedish linguistic expert, at Manchester University on January 28, 1965 and data from Sir James Pitmam's book, Alphabets and Reading, are very revealing on this subject.

The need for a common auxiliary language for the whole world has become more urgent every year in the course of the present century.... For a number of reasons English is undoubtedly the living language that is most suitable to fill this important role. For one thing, English is, though native speakers may perhaps find it hard to believe, a comparatively easy language to learn for foreigners at least as far as the everyday spoken and written forms of it are concerned. This is mainly due to its grammatical structure, which is far simpler than those of most other important languages, particularly so in comparison with French, German, Russian, or Spanish. We need only mention such advantages as:

  1. The absence of inflection for gender, case and number in the articles....
  2. simple ways of forming the plural,
  3. the absence of inflection in the adjective,
  4. the simple formation of tenses and other verbal forms, etc.[67]

Pitman states, "No other major language possesses such a simple grammar and syntax or combines the following advantages:

  1. ...[T]here are no arbitrary genders (except in such rare instances as referring to a ship or a machine as 'she').
  2. agreement between adjectives and nouns is unnecessary;
  3. nouns have no cases except for the possessive ‘’s’ for the genitive.
  4. the definite article has only one written form;
  5. verbs have very few inflexions and these tend to be regular.
  6. very few verbs are irregular.
  7. most words in common use have less than four syllables....
  8. Few modern languages are capable of such precision, flexibility, and subtlety, allied with brevity."[68]

English is an alphabetic language, but is English a logical alphabetical language? The design goal of a logical alphabetic language is to have one grapheme (a letter or a specific two-letter combination) for one phoneme (the smallest sound in a language or dialect which is used to distinguish between syllables or words). There are 26 letters in our alphabet. The C, Q, and X represent phonemes more often spelled with other letters. With only twenty-three single letters to represent 38 of the phonemes, this means that we need 15 digraphs (specific two-letter combinations) for the other 15 phonemes. Instead, what do we have and what are the phonemic problems with English?

Thirteen of the phonemic problems with English spelling are as follows:[69]

1. For Reading: there are at least 26 single letters, 184 two-letter graphemes, 131 three-letter graphemes, 22 four-letter graphemes, and 4 five-letter graphemes, for a total of at least 367 graphemes when only 38 graphemes are needed. Only five single letters (B, K, P, R, and V) and 212 of the multiple letter graphemes represent only one phoneme. The other 150 graphemes (367 minus 217) represent from two to eight phonemes each. When all of the different phonemes that these 367 graphemes represent are totaled, these 367 graphemes represent an average of 2.1 phonemes each. Note that even B, K, P, R, and V have two pronunciations if you consider being silent a pronunciation.

2. For Spelling: There are at least 1680 spellings of the 38 phonemes, for an average of at least 44 spellings each (1680 divided by 38). The spellings range from only (!) four spellings for the H and the TH phonemes, as in hat and that, to at least 60 spellings of the U phoneme, as in nut.[70]

3. Silent Letters: All 26 letters of the alphabet are silent in some words (reAd, deBt, sCent, velDt, havE, halFpenny, siGn, rHyme, busIness, mariJuana, Knot, taLk, Mnemonic, autumN, sophOmore, rasPberry, lacQuer, suRprise, aiSle, depoT, bUilt, savVy, Write, fauX pas, maYor, and rendeZvous) with no reliable way of knowing whether a letter is silent or not in a word.

4. Doubled Letters: All but H, Q, U, W, X, and Y are doubled — to represent a single phoneme — in some words and not in others, with no reliable way of knowing whether a letter is doubled or not.

5. Unrepresented Phonemes: Some consonants blend together (such as the B and L in blend); others do not — they must have a vowel between them. Some phonemes are not spelled in some words. For example, you cannot be sure you are pronouncing the word "spasm" correctly without knowing which vowel should be between the S and the M.

6. Graphemes Not in Order of Pronunciation: The phonemes are not spelled in the correct order in some words. For example, if the E in the word "little" is properly to represent the phoneme U (as in the word nut), it should be between the T and the L.

7. No Reliable Spelling Rules: No one can realistically be expected to learn to read by using English spelling rules. Every spelling rule has exceptions, and 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.[71] Few, if any, humans can do better.

8. Lack of Logic in Syllable Patterns: Page 78 of Dr. Diane McGuinness' book, Why Our Children Can't Read, lists sixteen syllable patterns of a vowel and from one to three adjacent consonants that each syllable can have (C = consonant, V = vowel, CV, CCV, CCCV, CVC, CCVC, CCCVC, CVCC, CVCCC, CCVCC, CCVCCC, CCCVCCC, CCCVCC, VCCC, VCC, VC, and V). This is really only a small part of the difficulty in syllable patterns, however. This shows a maximum of three adjacent consonants and only one vowel in each pattern, but each vowel or consonant phoneme can be represented by graphemes of as many as five letters — and either a vowel or a consonant phoneme can be represented by a mixture of vowel and consonant letters! For example, the THES in clothes represents the Z phoneme, the OUGH in nought represents the O phoneme, as in "not", in one pronunciation of the word, the DDING in studding sail represents the N phoneme, and the OUGHA in brougham represents the UE phoneme (as in blue). To clarify the use of a mixture of vowels and consonants in a syllable pattern, two of the worst examples: the word "brougham" is one syllable with one consonant blend and two phonemes — and could be spelled "bruem." The syllable pattern, with a dash dividing the phonemes, is: CC (a consonant blend) - VVCCV - C. A second, less-used pronunciation of the word is where the OUGHA represents the OE phoneme, as in doe. Some speakers may put a U phoneme (or to be more linguistically correct a schwa phoneme) just before the final M, thereby making a diphthong with the UE or OE phoneme. The "studding sail" is a term used my many sailors for centuries. The most common pronunciation is not a linguistic problem, but the secondary pronunciation is "stun(t)sul" (or with a schwa instead of a U), in which the phoneme pattern would be two syllables, CC (consonant blend) - V - CCVCC (first syllable of the word) and CVC (second syllable of the word).

English is among the most difficult five percent of the world's languages in one narrow aspect: consonant clusters or consonant blends. A good example of this is the word "strengths." The syllable pattern of this word is CCC (consonant blend) - V - CCCCC (consonant blend of three phonemes, NG, TH, and S where NG and TH are digraphs used because there are not enough letters for all of the phonemes).

It is not, however, the consonant blends nor the grammar and syntax of English that is the real problem of English spelling — it is the totality of these thirteen phonemic problems with English spelling.

There are two or more syllables in most English words.[72] Each syllable can have any one of the syllable patterns. If each vowel and each consonant grapheme always represented the same phoneme (one-to-one mapping), 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. There is one-to-one mapping where one phoneme is represented by a digraph (two letters) because there are not enough single letters to represent all of the phonemes. Almost half of English sounds are represented by digraphs.[73] The real confusion, however, comes because there is also one-to-many and many-to-one mapping, i.e. one phoneme is represented by many graphemes (up to 60 or more letters or letter combinations for spelling) and one grapheme represents many phonemes (up to eight or more pronunciations when reading). This requires a type of logic that most children do not develop until they are eleven or twelve years old.

The types of logic required for one-to-many and many-to-one mapping are (1) the logic of "classes" (categories where objects or events that are similar are grouped together) and "relations" (where objects share some features but not all features, e.g. all poodles are dogs, but all dogs are not poodles) and (2) "propositional logic," which involves combining both the classes and the relations types of logic. This requires the ability to think of the same item in more than one combination at the same time. These combinations require the use of relational terms such as "and," "or," "not," "if-then," and "if and only if" in formal statements of propositional logic. For example, one of the problems of digraphs can be stated as:

  • if an H follows the letter T, then say /th/ (thin) or /th/ (then),
  • but if any other letter or no letter follows the letter T, then say /t/ (top, ant).[74]

9. Increasing Your Reading Vocabulary: It does not take a rocket scientist to know that it is much easier to learn the spelling of 38 phonemes with only one spelling and how to blend them into words than it is to remember the spelling of at least the 20,000 or more words required to become fluent readers. Although many people have speaking vocabularies of more than 70,000 words, very few people have reading vocabularies that large. With a perfectly phonemic language, if you know how to pronounce a word you also know how to spell it, and your reading and speaking vocabularies are identical. Also, with a perfectly phonemic language, you do not have the problem that people frequently have at present: forgetting the spelling of a word that you have not used for a several months—which often seems to happen when you need the word the most.

10. The only Way to Learn Present Spelling: The most devastating fact about present English reading: The only way to learn to read English is to add each new word to your reading vocabulary one-at-a-time by rote memory or repeated use. In this way, English is more like Chinese writing than alphabetic languages. In the same way that certain strokes in certain positions represent a Chinese word, certain letters in a certain order represent words in English. Although a small number of the Chinese characters represent more than one syllable and although a few syllables are represented by more than one character, after you learn the Chinese characters you always know what they represent. English spelling is much more confusing. Most graphemes represent more than one phoneme (graphemes can be pronounced an average of 2.1 ways) and often change from one word to the next. Most phonemes are spelled with more than one grapheme (an average of 44 spellings per phoneme) and often change from one word to the next, making it necessary to know the spelling of each word that you write and making reading much more confusing.

11. No reliable way of knowing how to pronounce written English words: Those who are expected to read aloud to others often have to endure the embarrassment of mispronouncing words — unless the speaker is from a different country than most of the listeners, in which case the listeners may believe that people from that country pronounce the word differently.

12. Resisting Change: Because of the great difficulty in learning to read imposed upon all but the most brilliant students, and especially upon the many immigrants in our midst, no one should proudly resist an attack upon the written version of "our mother tongue." Although it is not common knowledge, all reasonable objections to spelling reform have been thoroughly disproven. A book by Thomas Lounsbury, LL.D., L.H.D.,[75] is an early example. A free 276-page e-book[76] is another example. Although spelling reform has never been attempted in English, more than 32 nations larger and smaller than the U.S. and both advanced and developing nations have successfully implemented spelling reform. The languages Afrikaans, Albanian, Brazilian, Chinese, Czech, Danish, Dutch Netherlands, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Modern Greek, Greenlandic, Hebrew, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian, Niuguini Wantok, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, Swedish, Taiwanese Mandarin, Turkish, Vietnamese and a few others have been corrected by simplifying the spelling. Twelve of these languages were simplified more than once.[77]

13. Child Abuse and Brain Damage: Present English spelling is so bad, in fact, that at least two educational psychologists claim that teaching children to read present English spelling damages the brain and amounts to child abuse! [78]

Most of us who are fluent readers learned to read as a child and have forgotten, many years ago, the difficulty we had. Those of us who remember some of the difficulty we had in learning to read may not want to have to learn a new spelling system, believing that learning the new spelling system will also be difficult. Learning a new spelling system where there is a perfect one-to-one mapping of grapheme-to-phoneme, however, will be very easy. This has been proven by having fluent readers of English spend five or ten minutes to learn a new spelling system with a perfect one-to-one correspondence of grapheme-to-phoneme. They are then able to immediately read the new system with only an occasional two or three second stumble over the pronunciation of a few words.[79]

How did English spelling become so confusing?[edit]

Professor Julius Nyikos, a linguistics expert born and raised in Hungary, learned numerous languages in his elementary school, high school, and university training. He came to the US in 1949 and, after a few years of studying English, was able to continue his profession as a linguist that he began in Europe. He spent many years as a professor at Washington & Jefferson College in Pennsylvania studying the languages of the world. In his scholarly article for the 1987 Linguistics Association of Canada and the United States Forum, titled "A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy," he made the statement, "It would be both ludicrous and tragic if it took lawsuits to jolt us into the realization that neither the teachers, nor the schools should be faulted as much as our orthography [spelling], which is incomparably more intricate than that of any other language (emphasis added).[80] If English is not the absolute worst alphabetic spelling in the world, it is certainly among the most illogical, inconsistent, and confusing. This is due to the developmental history of the present English spelling.

The language of the British Isles was originally Celtic, similar to what is now used in Wales. Many of the words — and usually the spelling — of every language group that occupied the British Isles before the mid-1700s (Norse, Icelandic, Latin, German, Anglo-Saxon, Danish, and Norman French) were added to the English language.[81] Prior to the mid-1700s publishers in England employed a large number of typesetters from mainland Europe, who were much more adept at typesetting than those in England. These typesetters knew very little about "correct" English spelling, and since there were no guidelines for spelling, they very often doubled some of the letters in words to justify the right-hand margins. This was much easier than manually adding spacers between words to achieve equal spacing and justify the margins. In order to improve the quality of their published materials, the publishers hired Dr. Samuel Johnson to prepare a dictionary to standardize the spelling. There were other dictionaries at the time, but Johnson's dictionary, published in 1755, was more complete and thus received the approval of the publishers and of Johnson's peers. Although Johnson was diligent in his work, he was not a linguist, and therefore he made a serious linguistic mistake. What Johnson should have done was to determine all of the phonemes used in English and assign each of them a grapheme, as linguistic logic demands. Instead of freezing the spelling of phonemes, he froze the spelling of words as they had been spelled most recently, with a few changes he made to agree with what he believed (sometimes erroneously) was the spelling in the language of origin.[82]

As you know, the pronunciation of words changes with time, so what was not phonemic in 1755 became even less phonemic later. The English language, unlike most other languages, readily adopts words from other languages. According to page 2 of Henry Hitchings book, The Secret Life of Words, [83] English has now adopted the words — and usually the spelling — from more than 350 other languages! At the present time, if each English phoneme is allowed only the most-often-used grapheme for that phoneme, only about 20 percent of English words are phonemic.[84]

Conventional wisdom on spelling[edit]

It is conceivable that one may read all the details of how serious the problem of functional illiteracy really is, shown above, and the details of how illogical, inconsistent, and confusing English spelling really is and still not believe that it has been proven that spelling reform will solve the problem — because, as psychologists will tell you, people have a very strong tendency to believe what they want to believe, often despite seeing the facts. After all, spelling reform goes against "conventional wisdom." Conventional wisdom is anything the majority of people believe, whether it is true or not. At one time, almost the entire world believed that the earth is flat. Conventional wisdom concerning spelling reform is that (1) spelling reform has been tried and did not work, or (2) if spelling reform were the way to solve the problem of teaching reading, the expert educational scholars would have tried it, or (3) spelling reform is unnecessary and is therefore too radical.

The truth is that (1) spelling reform in English has never been attempted. There was an abortive partial attempt at spelling reform when President Theodore Roosevelt decreed that all government agencies under his control use a simplified spelling of 300 common English words.[85] The government agencies very soon rebelled against that decree, and the Chicago Tribune newspaper gave up the attempt to use these simpler spellings after more than a year of use. (2) Educational and political scholars are extremely reluctant to try anything that they fear the public will resist. They are much more interested in maintaining the status quo and thereby keeping their jobs than they are in solving any problem that they are not pushed into solving by an angry public. (3) The literacy rate has not had any overall statistically significant improvement since 1755 when Dr. Samuel Johnson's dictionary froze the spelling of the words. Some scholars believe, as mentioned above[47] that the literacy rate has actually been declining since about 1963. A perfect one-grapheme-to-one-phoneme spelling system is not radical — it will be much easier to learn than the present spelling system. Present fluent readers can learn such a spelling system in less than ten minutes. Furthermore, as stated above, all reasonable objections to spelling reform have been thoroughly debunked by reputable scholars. Most importantly, however, correcting the cause of our illogical, inconsistent, and confusing spelling is the only proven method of at long last solving the problem.

All but the most confirmed sceptic should be convinced by seeing the lifetime experience of Dr. Frank Charles Laubach, who is arguably the foremost teacher of all time of adult illiterates around the world. Dr. Laubach spent his entire adult life teaching illiterate adults around the world to read in more than 300 languages. His books, Teaching the World to Read[86] and Forty Years With the Silent Billion,[87] show that he prepared reading primers for 313 languages, other than English, and that he even invented written languages for 220 language groups that did not have a written language. Dr. Laubach's books never mention being unable to teach a student to read, but the really amazing thing his books show is how quickly he was able to teach adults to read fluently. He was able to teach students to read fluently in 98% of the languages (in which he taught) in less than three months. He was able to teach students to read fluently in 95% of the languages (in which he taught) in from one to twenty days In some of the simpler languages, such as some dialects of the Philippine language, Dr. Laubach was able to teach students to read fluently in only one hour Dr. Laubach shows that he was able to do this because 98% or more of the languages in which he taught, other than English, were almost perfectly phonemic — the words were spelled the way they sound. Dr. Laubach states 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."

Advocating a single proposal is not wrong if that proposal is the only way to successfully solve a serious problem. The point of view that spelling reform is the only way of solving the difficulty of learning to read English can easily be proven by carefully, honestly examining the evidence presented here—even though researchers, educators, educational administrators, and politicians may wish otherwise. Multiple thousands of changes have been made over the last two hundred years in areas in size from one isolated American school district to the entire state of California—mandating that all California public schools teach reading by the "whole language" method. California's population of more than 38 million people, by the way, is more than the English-speaking population of all but that of the US and UK. All of these thousands of changes, however, merely amounted to "tweaking" the existing systems for teaching reading. They were all attempting to fight the symptoms of the problem of the difficulty of learning to read English with no attempt whatsoever of correcting what is causing English to be so difficult to read.

As the section above, "Why some students become functionally illiterate," explains, there are many reasons why any one individual student does not learn to read. Educational and political authorities may sometimes blame some of these reasons. More often they will say that more money must be allocated to education and that class size must be reduced. Both of these proposed solutions have been thoroughly debunked in former Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's book, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators[88] and several of the books on American education by Samuel L. Blumenfeld.[89] and [90] and [91] Furthermore, U.N. statistics for 2006 show that the U.S, spends more per pupil on education than any other nation except Switzerland. Since educators and politicians do not want too much change in their lives they almost never blame the real cause, the illogical, inconsistent, and confusing spelling. The spelling is never considered. If the objections to spelling reform are not carefully examined and dismissed, the spelling is mistakenly looked upon as "unchangeable." It is so convenient and it is so much less convicting of teachers and everyone involved in what is taught in schools to blame the student rather than the spelling. As a result, the most frequent reason that the experts blame for lack of learning to read is lack of diligence on the part of the student and/or lack of support and help from their parents or guardians. As Rudolph Flesch explains,[92]

Generally speaking, students in our schools are about two years behind students of the same age in other countries. This is not a wild accusation of the American educational system; it is an established, generally known fact.... What accounts for these two years? Usually the assumption seems to be that in other countries children and adolescents are forced to study harder. Now that I have looked into this matter of reading, I think the explanation is much simpler and more reasonable: Americans take two years longer to learn how to read — and reading, of course, is the basis for achievement in all other subjects.

Another way that educators and politicians tweak the existing system instead of solving the problem is to "raise the standards." What effect does raising the standards have on students who are not learning to read? It often causes them to drop out of school because they cannot meet the higher standards. After the poorer students are "squeezed out," the average class achievement may be higher, but it is only at the expense of those who could not meet the higher standards. It did not have any beneficial effects on teaching reading.

Every five or ten years educational scholars hired by the textbook companies come up with a "new and improved" method of teaching reading. The scholars will be very convincing that their method—which will only amount to more "tweaking"—will be successful. The educators, educational administrators, and politicians will attempt, once again, to avoid "too much unnecessary change," fearing they will meet resistance from the public. At least 32 non-English-speaking nations have simplified their spelling, but the huge, lumbering giant, the United States of America, is considered too big to fail — too proud to admit that English spelling is as illogical, inconsistent, and confusing as it has been ever since Johnson's dictionary was published in 1755.

Human nature being what it is, several scholars will very likely take issue with what is presented here. They will do so, not because they have answered all of the evidence presented here point-by-point — they can't. They will answer it by pointing to their advanced degrees in Linguistics and/or Education, their years of professional experience as an educator or linguist, and their unquestioning acceptance of conventional wisdom concerning spelling reform. The facts presented in this article on functional illiteracy are the result of 29 years of researching, writing, and revising. Some of the scholars claiming that amount of experience may instead be reporting "one year of experience repeated 29 times." Not long ago a book came out which claimed that there is no "literacy crisis." Appendix 6 of Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition and Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision and Appendix 7 of the original 2005 version refutes all of the claims in the book point-by-point. The author of the book claiming that there is no literacy crisis is an apologist for the California school system who thought he was proving his contention apparently without realizing that if he had chosen an earlier start date for his data collection—with the same end date—he would not have been able to claim that there is no literacy crisis. Almost anything can be proven if the parameters of the study are carefully controlled.

Julius Nyikos wrote about the 1985 study by Richard C. Anderson, et al., titled "Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading," published by the National Institute of Education of the U.S. Department of Education.[93] Three of the quotes from this report that Professor Nyikos mentioned in his article[70] showing the frustration over finding a solution to improving reading education are:

The more reasonable assumption is that phonics can help the child come up with approximate pronunciations — candidates that have to be checked to see whether they match words known from spoken language that fits in the context of the story being read.(page 38)

All that phonics can be expected to do is to help children get approximate pronunciations. These must be "tried out" to determine whether recognizable words have been produced that make sense in the context.(page 41)

. . . the approaches to phonics recommended in programs available today fall considerably short of the ideal, and we call for renewed efforts to improve the quality of instructional design, materials, and teaching strategies.(page 43)

The introduction to the study (page 4) by Anderson, et al. contains this very informative quote: "It is unrealistic to anticipate that some one critical feature of instruction will be discovered which, if in place, will assure rapid progress in reading." (emphasis added)

Professor Nyikos sums it up as follows:

Most certainly no "feature of instruction" can do it! Within the confines of the existing orthography, that is all that can be said. . . . Since neither method of teaching reading [phonics or "look- say," detailed in Anderson's study] seems to be the answer, the conclusion is inescapable that the cause of the difficulties lies in the intrinsic nature of the existing English orthography. . . . I am convinced that adequate further preparation and presentation of sufficient evaluative and comparative linguistic evidence will lead even persons now fervent in the defense of English orthography to the conclusion that they can no longer accept the intellectual responsibility of defending it.

William Dwight Whitney offered the following conclusion about the English language in his article, How Shall We Spell? which first appeared in 1867: ". . . we have hardly the right to hand it down to posterity with such a millstone about its neck as its present orthography."

The "present orthography" referred to 120 years ago is still our present orthography. . . . This regrettable fact seems to be more the answer to the question of why Johnny still can't read than any other single cause.

Left as it is, English orthography will keep looming as an interminably time-consuming, revenue-squandering and energy-wasting, yet totally unnecessary bottomless sinkhole.[94]

This final quote sounds very much like the way Arthur W. Heilman, a world-wide acclaimed linguist, chose to end his book Phonics in Proper Perspective:

There is no question that spelling reform is long overdue. The present practice of attempting to teach all American youth to read and spell English is the foremost example of conspicuous consumption of a nation's resources since the building of the pyramids. Unfortunately for many children, the belief is still widely held that our economy can still afford this cruel waste. . . . It would be unbecoming of educators not to attempt hundreds of new and devious approaches to the problem rather than advocating the one logical (and eventually inevitable) solution.[95]

There were actually two large-scale, well-funded, prestigious studies of the problem of teaching reading of English. Professor Nyikos, referred above to the study in the United States. There was a similar study in the U.K. in 1975. There was a disturbing report issued in 1972 by the National Foundation for Educational Research in Great Britain. As a result of this report, Mrs. Margaret Thatcher, the Secretary of State for Education and Science at the time, set up a twenty-member committee to study reading and the use of English. In 1975 the committee, headed by Sir Alan Bullock, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, issued its report. The report was more than 600 pages and cost nearly £100,000 to produce. In his book, Regularized English, Axel Wijk says this about the report:

The most serious criticism that must be leveled against the Committee's report is, however, the fact that they have so completely failed to study and take account of the methods of teaching reading which are universally used in all other European languages. In all these languages phonic methods are almost exclusively predominant, due to the fact that they have all fairly regular spelling systems, whereas in the English-speaking countries reading is usually taught by the aid of mixed whole-word and phonic methods or to some extent even by a purely whole-word approach.

Phonic methods, which presuppose a fairly regular spelling system, are distinctly superior to mixed whole-word and phonic methods, because they are the only ones which permit of a predominantly logical approach to the teaching of reading. It is of vital importance to realize that for practically all children of normal ability the use of a regular spelling system will make it possible and very much easier to learn to read and write. The most essential advantage of such a spelling system is that it permits us to introduce the various phonic units more or less one by one, whereas with the mixed or the purely whole-word approach such a large number of different sounds and spelling units are introduced at the same time that there can be no question of trying to establish an immediate relationship between spelling and pronunciation, especially not in such a language as English which displays an unusually large number of irregular spellings among the commonest words in the language.

When they maintain that "there is no one method, medium, approach, device or philosophy that holds the key" to the solution of the reading problem, they overlook the fact that in all European languages except English phonic methods are almost exclusively predominant, due to the fact that they have all fairly regular spelling systems. . . .

Since English differs from all other European languages in having such a large number of irregular spellings among the commonest words, it is extremely difficult, almost impossible, to apply exclusively phonic methods to the teaching of English reading. By replacing the irregular spellings by regular ones traditional English may be turned into a "phonetic" language, which can be taught in accordance with definite rules of pronunciation. It seems therefore that we are fully justified in saying that there is one reliable and efficient method of teaching reading, namely by the aid of a regular spelling system.[96] (emphasis added)

Kenneth Ives quotes an earlier statement by Axel Wijk on this subject:

If an orthographic system for English could be devised which would be just as simple, regular and logical as those found in most other European languages, it would be possible for all English-speaking school children to save at least one year's work. Perhaps even more important would be the fact that such a reform of English orthography would make it possible for English-speaking school children to learn to read and write in the same way as the children of other nations, i.e. by using and training their sense of logic instead of by training and relying mainly on their eye memory, learning words by heart without much reference to the sounds of the letters of which they are composed. The present lack of system constitutes a very serious obstacle to the development of the child's reasoning powers.[97]

Kenneth Ives adds,

With traditional spelling having to be learned by rote, reading [and] writing in it are made difficult from [the] start. [The] usual result is dull drill, which discourages or destroys [the] child's curiosity [and] creativity about [the] world.[98]

Perhaps the most concise way of describing the problem of learning to read English is the literacy ranking given the United States by the Washington Post, November 25, 1982 and Foundation News, January/February 1983: "The United States ranks forty-ninth among 158 member nations of the U.N. in its literacy levels." [99] Optimists may assume that the literacy ranking has improved since 1985, but U.S. rankings near the bottom in recent scholastic competitions with more than twenty other industrialized nations and the Adult Literacy in America" report and the 2006 follow-up report indicate otherwise.

When linguists and educators do not consider (or refuse to consider) correcting the cause of a problem, because of their acceptance of "conventional wisdom" concerning the problem, the only other choice is to continue to fight against the symptoms of the problem—as we have been doing for more than two centuries now.

Literacy rate improvement is only half of the problem. The length of time wasted in learning to read fluently is the other part of the problem. Even if all of the English-speaking nations were to adopt the improved methods of teaching phonics, as Dr. Diane McGuinness describes in her book, Why Our Children Can't Read, and the percentage of beginning readers who became fluent readers was increased to 97 to 99 percent, as reported by most other advanced, industrialized nations, it would still take all but the most brilliant students more than one-and-one-half years to learn enough words by rote memory or by repeated use to reach the "tipping point"—the point at which they can read enough of the words to keep reading from being a detestable chore—a point at which they do not need a dictionary or a teacher's assistance to understand many of the words they need to know to make reading enjoyable and informative.

Although conventional wisdom may dictate that English-speaking nations continue to make minor changes, as "new and improved" methods of teaching reading appear, those who have carefully and honestly examined the evidence presented here will want to examine the following research about proposed spelling reforms, thereby admitting, perhaps reluctantly, that spelling is, in fact, the correct way—the only right way—to solve the problem.

Spelling Reform Proposals[edit]

There are five types of proposed spelling reforms:

  1. Augmented — adding symbols to the 26 letters so that there is a separate symbol for each of the 38 phonemes (the minimum number of phonemes that students need to learn to become fluent readers), e.g. i.t.a. (initial teaching alphabet, popular for a few years in the mid-1960s).
  2. Diacritical — adding marks above or below the 26 letters to show pronunciation.
  3. Diagraphic — using the 26 letters and combinations of these letters to show all of the sounds (this is the spelling system used in English and one form of a spelling reform proposal called NuEnglish).
  4. Color Codes — to distinguish the sounds.
  5. Non-Romanic — adoption of an entirely new alphabet with a new symbol for each phoneme, e.g. the spelling system chosen as the winning contestant in George Bernard Shaw's competition.

In order to avoid the billions of dollars of cost for new keyboards, computer programs for word processing and typesetting, and related expenses, only the diagraphic spelling reform proposals and those diacritical reform proposals using readily available diacritical marks on existing keyboards and computer programs can logically be considered.

What should be the goals in choosing the best spelling system proposal? Those most concerned about ending functional illiteracy quite obviously have as their goal a spelling system that is primarily easy for beginning readers to learn and secondarily easy for present readers to learn (since present readers can learn a perfectly phonemic spelling system more easily than beginning readers can learn to read any spelling system — because they have already learned to blend letters together and blend letters to form words and because they have the experienced the confidence gained by being able to read). Unfortunately, almost everyone involved in promoting spelling has auxiliary goals — which often conflict with these obvious goals. Many of those interested in spelling reform are linguists or those interested in great precision in reproducing all of the different sounds in written form. Beginning readers are not only not interested in minute details of representing different English sounds, they do not need a precise representation of the sounds. If they can learn to understand the sound-to-letter(s) correspondence well enough to be able to be fluent readers, they are perfectly willing to leave such details of pronunciation to the linguists! Many of the promoters of spelling reform have an auxiliary goal of either promoting a spelling system that they have invented or have previously gone on record as promoting or they want to avoid choosing a "best spelling system" to avoid offending friends and associates who have invented or previously promoted a specific spelling.

With those caveats in mind, the goals of a spelling system to permanently end functional illiteracy in English should obviously be as follows.

  1. For the sake of beginning readers: there should be a one-to-one correspondence of grapheme-to-phoneme.
  2. For the sake of beginning readers: the phonemes chosen to teach the students should be the minimum number required to become fluent readers. Some of the sounds that linguist consider as separate phonemes can easily be learned as blends of a vowel and the letter R — in the same way as they learn all other blends of letters.
  3. For the sake of present readers of English: the grapheme chosen to represent each of the phonemes should be either (1) the most-used grapheme for that phoneme as shown by a very lengthy, representative selection of English prose (people do not ordinarily spend a great deal of their time reading dictionaries or word lists, which some spelling reform proposals are based upon) or (2) the sound that most people normally expect a certain letter to represent. This second choice should be kept to a minimum and used only to avoid having more than a one-letter-to-one-phoneme correspondence.
  4. For the sake of both present readers and beginning readers: the diagraphic or the diacritical system — with readily available diacritical symbols to every computer user — should be used, and the number of "Rules of Spelling" should be the minimum necessary for logical, consistent spelling of all English words.

Sir James Pitman's book,[100] lists all of the major spelling reform proposals and their basic characteristics proposed in the 1960s or before. In order to avoid additional learning and confusion for beginning readers, only those spelling systems that do not have more than three graphemes that have more than one pronunciation should be recommended. If that allowance were not made, none of the pre-1970 spelling reform proposals would be acceptable. There were only four proposed spelling systems that met this maximum of three multi-use graphemes criteria: Glossic (devised in 1870), New Spelling (which was replaced by New Spelling 90 by The English Spelling Society, perhaps in1990), Follick's spelling system (a 1934 system which was apparently abandoned after Mont Follick's death in1958), and World English Spelling (a 1968 proposal which was replaced by SoundSpel in 1987 by the American Literacy Council). Pitman's book listed NO spelling reform proposals which had a strict one-grapheme-to-one-phoneme design. Most spelling reform proposals include features to make the proposal more acceptable to present readers, simultaneously making the system more difficult to learn for beginning readers and thereby destroying the most important reason for expending the effort to even design a new spelling system!

The Glossic, New Spelling 90, and Soundspel spelling systems (mentioned above) meet goal 1 (if an allowance is made for up to three graphemes with more than one pronunciation is made), goal 2, and the first part of goal 4. Whether or not a proposed spelling system is easy for beginners to learn — based upon the number of spelling rules — is certainly a subjective decision. The inventors and promoters of spelling systems almost always believe that their spelling system is easy learn because the rules are very familiar to them. Also, the inventors and promoters of new spelling systems are very familiar with present English spelling — which is not true of beginning readers. The spelling rules of many of the proposed spelling systems are patterned after present English spelling rules to be more acceptable to present readers. After evaluating dozens of spelling systems proposed in the last 150 years, numerous examples can be found where the spelling rules require three or four 8.5 by 11 inch pages of ten-point type to list all of the spelling rules (including two of the spelling systems highlighted here). Even a spelling system boasting of being describable on one page, which is well-known to spelling reform advocates, is very difficult to learn and depends upon the knowledge of present English spelling. It includes numerous graphemes with more than one pronunciation and more than 35 "sight words" that must be learned!

The characteristics of these spelling systems are as follows: (only the differences in consonants are shown)

1. Glossic:[101] sixteen vowel sounds, as follows: Five "short" vowel sounds: bat, net, bid, not, nut Five "long" vowel sounds: bait,beet, height, coal, cool Four "other" vowel sounds: haul, foil, fuot (for the sound in foot), foul The YUE diphthong: feud (not recognized as a diphthong) The long AH sound in British pronunciation of father: faather The consonant digraphs are: chip, thin, dhen (for then), shin, rouzh (rouge) There is no mention of whether finger is spelled as finger or fingger. The vowel graphemes in bait, height, coal, cool, fuot, and dhen are not the most-used graphemes for those phonemes in Godfrey Dewey's landmark 100,000 word representative sample of current English prose.[102]

2. New Spelling 90:[103] and [104] fourteen vowel sounds, as follows: Five "short" vowels: fat, set, fit, lot, but Five "long" vowels: maed (made), feet, by, roep (rope), moon Four "other" vowels: taut, oil, good, out No mention of how the YUE diphthong is spelled, indicating that the OO in moon is used for both the UE in sue and fuel.cce Kwik for quick TH for both the sound in thin and then. The vowel graphemes in maed, by, roep, and moon are not the most-used graphemes for these phonemes in Godfrey's 100,000 word study. This website is on two web pages, approximating about eight pages of print matter containing dozens of exceptions and clarifications.

3. SoundSpel:[105] fifteen vowel sounds, as follows:

Five "short" vowels: sat, set, did, dot, cut Five "long" vowels: sundae, see, die, toe, moon Four "other" vowels: saw, coin, buuk (book), out There is no mention of whether finger is spelled as finger or fingger. The TH is used for both the sound in thin and then. The vowel graphemes in saw, moon, and buuk are not the most-used graphemes in Dewey's 100,000 word study.

4. NuEnglish:[106] lists fourteen vowel sounds, as follows

Five "short" vowels: bat, bet, bit, hot, but.

Five "long" vowels: Mae, beet, lie, doe, sue. They can also be spelled with macrons as in Thā ēt frīd tōfū. (They eat fried tofu.)

Four "other:" vowels: haul, good, oil, out.

There are 18 single letters and six digraph consonant graphemes, CH, SH, TH, TT, ZH, and NG. The only digraph different than present spelling is the use of TT for the less-often used phoneme as in thin. The TH grapheme is used for the most-used phoneme, as in then. Each of the vowel and consonant digraphs constitute less than one percent of the total phoneme usage, except for the TH phoneme, which constitutes about 2.75% of all phoneme usage. All of the NuEnglish graphemes except AE, E, IE, O, OE, F, S, Y, and TT are the most-used grapheme for these phonemes in Godfrey's 100,000 word study. All nine of these graphemes have the sound that people expect them to have, as explained in the reference. NuEnglish cannot be made any simpler without introducing letter usages or letter combinations that are very unusual or unknown in present spelling.

See also[edit]


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  67. ^ From a speech January 28, 1965, by Axel Wijk at Manchester University published in W. Haas, editor, Alphabets for English, (Manchester, England: Manchester University Press, 1969), pages 56–57.
  68. ^ Sir James Pitman, Alphabets and Reading, (New York: Pitman Publishing Company, 1969), page 264
  69. ^ Cleckler, Bob (2012). Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision. Salt Lake City, Utah: Literacy Research Press. pp. 65–66. ISBN 978-1-58982-000-5.  This is the free 276-page e-book version available at by clicking in the left-hand column.
  70. ^ a b Nyikos, Julius (1988). "A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy". The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987 (Lake Bluff, IL: The Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States): 156.  Professor Nyikos found 1,768 spellings of 40 phonemes in his study of six standard-sized dictionaries. It is possible to teach students to read fluently by learning 38 phonemes. Some phonemes can easily be learned by blending a vowel with a following R phoneme. When 1,768 is multiplied by 38 and divided by 40, the proportionate number of spellings of 38 phonemes is 1680.
  71. ^ Ives, Kenneth (1979). Written Dialects N Spelling Reform: History N Alternatives. Chicago, IL: Progresiv Publishr. pp. 25, 80, 81. ISBN 0-89670-004-6. 
  72. ^ McGuinness, Diane (1999). Why Our Children Can't Read (First Touchstone Edition ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 78. ISBN 0-684-85356-6. 
  73. ^ McGuinness, Diane (1999). Why Our Children Can't Read (First Touchstone Edition ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. p. 158. ISBN 0-684-85356-6. 
  74. ^ McGuinness, Diane (1999). Why Our Children Can't Read (First Touchstone Edition ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 156–169. ISBN 0-684-85356-6. 
  75. ^ Lounsbury, Thomas (1909). English Spelling and Spelling Reform (HardCover ed.). New York: Harper & Brothers. pp. 280–330.  This book has been out of print for many years but is available as a free download from
  76. ^ Cleckler, Bob (2012). Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision. Salt Lake City, Utah: Literacy Research Press. pp. 125–136. ISBN 978-1-58982-000-5.  This is a free 276-page e-book available by clicking in the left-hand column of
  77. ^ Yule, Valerie. "Writing Systems of the World - Introduction - OzIdeas". Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  78. ^ "Welcome to NuEnglish". Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  79. ^ Cleckler, Bob (2012). Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision. Salt Lake City, Utah: Literacy Research Press. pp. 114–124. ISBN 978-1-58982-000-5.  This edition is a free 276-page e-book available by clicking in the left-hand column of Prove it to yourself. Go to and click on "Home (in NuEnglish)" in the left-hand column to see a perfect one-grapheme-to-one-phoneme spelling system. Even without knowing the spelling system (which is described on page 10. Learn to Read Now! In the left-hand column), you will probably be able to read most of the words without having to pause very often to figure out what the word is.
  80. ^ Nyikos, Julius (1988). "A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy". The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987 (Lake Bluff, IL: The Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States): 148–149. 
  81. ^ Laubach, Frank (1947). Teaching the World to Read. New York: Friendship Press. pp. 100–102. 
  82. ^ "The English Spelling Society". Retrieved 22 October 2014. 
  83. ^ Hitchings, Henry (2008). The Secret Life of Words (First American Edition ed.). New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 2. ISBN 978-0-374-25410-0. 
  84. ^ Cleckler, Bob (2012). Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision (free 276-page e-book available from the left-hand column of ed.). Salt Lake City, Utah: Literacy Research Press. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-58982-000-5. 
  85. ^ Marks, Paula (March 1985). "The Three-Hundred Words". American History Illustrated: 30–35. 
  86. ^ Laubach, Frank (1947). Teaching the World to Read. New York: Friendship Press. 
  87. ^ Laubach, Frank (1970). Forty Years With the Silent Billion. Old Tappan, NJ: F. H. Revell Co. 
  88. ^ Bennett, William (1994). The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators (Touchstone ed.). New York: Simon & Schuster. pp. 82–99. ISBN 0-671-88326-7. 
  89. ^ Blumenfeld, Samuel (1973). The New Illiterates. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House. ISBN 0-87000-184-1. 
  90. ^ Bumenfeld, Samuel (1996). The Whole Language/OBE Fraud. Boise, ID: The Paradigm Company. ISBN 0-941995-09-7. 
  91. ^ Blumenfeld, Samuel (1984). NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education. Boise, ID: The Paradigm Company. ISBN 0-941995-07-0. 
  92. ^ Flesch, Rudolph (1986). Why Johnny Can't Read. New York: Perennial Library. pp. 76–77. ISBN 0-06-091340-1. 
  93. ^ Anderson, Richard (1985). Becoming a Nation of Readers: The Report of the Commission on Reading (PDF). Washington, D.C.: National Institution of Education, U.S. Department of Education. pp. 4, 38, 41, 43. Retrieved October 28, 2014. 
  94. ^ Nyikos, Julius (1988). The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987. Lake Bluff, IL: Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States. pp. 162, 163, 149. 
  95. ^ Heilman, Arthur (1968). Phonics in Proper Perspective. Columbus, OH: Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company. pp. 112–113. 
  96. ^ Wijk, Axel (1977). Regularized English. Stockholm, Sweden: Almqvist & Wiksel International. pp. 8, 9, and 11. 
  97. ^ Ives, Kenneth (1979). Written Dialects N Spelling Reforms: History N Alternatives. Chicago, IL: Progresiv Publishr. pp. 27–28. 
  98. ^ Ives, Kenneth (1979). Written Dialects N Spelling Reforms: History N Alternatives. Chicago, IL: Progresiv Publishr. p. 31. 
  99. ^ Kozol, Jonathan (1985). Illiterate America (First Plume Printing, 1986 ed.). New York: New American Library. pp. 5, 226. ISBN 0-452-25807-3. 
  100. ^ Pitman, Sir James (1969). Alphabets and Reading. New York: Pitman Publishing Company. pp. 314–315. 
  101. ^ "International Auxiliary Languages" ( '' Retrieved 22 Ostober 2014.
  102. ^ Dewey, Godfrey (1950). Relativ Frequency of English Speech Sounds. London, UK: Harvard University Press. pp. 123–133. The 100,000 words were tabulated manually (before the age of computers) and consisted of the following sample of English prose to be representative of common English prose literature available. This information has not been expanded or updated. The samples were from 1,000 to 5,000 words each from these sources: 6 newspapers, 2 novels, 2 short stories, 2 dramas, 3 speeches, 2 letters, 5 business manuals, 19 advertisements, 5 religious writings, 3 popular scientific magazines, 5 magazine editorials, and one article each from 6 other magazines.
  103. ^ "The Spelling Society" ( Retrieved 22 October 2014
  104. ^, accessed 22 October 2014
  105. ^ To see this spelling system, click the word "Soundspel" immediately before this note.
  106. ^ Cleckler, Bob (2012). Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision (free 276-page e-book available from the left-hand column of ed.). Salt Lake City, Utah: Literacy Research Press. pp. 98–104, 114–119, 189. ISBN 978-1-58982-000-5.  Nine letters represent the expected sound rather than the most-used sound, as follows: 1. AE represents the sound as in Mae or maelstrom, which is the way the AE digraph is always pronounced, but the AE sound is usually spelled with graphemes that conflict with other choices. 2. E is expected to have the sound as in "set;" it more often has the sound of the U in "nut" because of its use in unaccented syllables. 3. IE is expected to have the sound as in "pie;" more often it has the sound of E in "be" because of changing Y to I and adding ES or ED for plurals or past tense. 4. O is expected to sound as in "pop;" more often it has the sound of the U in "nut," for the same reason as no. 2 above. 5. OE is expected to sound as it does in "doe;" more often it has the sound of U in "nut," entirely because of the very common word "does." 6. F is expected to sound as it does in "fan;" more often it has the sound of V, entirely because of the very common word "of." 7. S is expected to sound as it does in "set;" more often it has a Z sound because of the common words "is" and "was" and plurals such as "bags." 8. Y is expected to have the sound as in "yes;" more often it has the sound as in words ending in Y, such as "party." 9. TT" is used for the less-often used pronunciation as in "thin;" the TH" is reserved for the more-often used sound as in "then." With 29 of the 38 phonemes represented by the most-used grapheme for that phoneme in traditional spelling, 76.3% of the NuEnglish graphemes are the most-used graphemes in traditional spelliing. If it were not for the common words, of, does, is, was, and plurals such as bags, 84.2% of the NuEnglish graphemes would be the most-used in traditional spelling. There are ten simple, unvarying spelling rules for NuEnglish that can easily fit on one-and-one-half pages of 8.5 by 11 pages of 12-point type, the most frequently used size type for published books. A person can easily learn to read by knowing only rules 1, 2, 3, 7, and 10. Knowledge of rules 4, 5, 6, 8, and 9 are needed to ensure consistency in spelling. Consistency in spelling is needed if the Respeller computer program is used to convert present English spelling into NuEnglish. Spelling rules 1, 2, 3, 7, and 10 will easily fit on one page!

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