June 5, 2010

'Enuf is Enuf' The Spelling Bee Protesters

Have you heard about the spelling bee protesters? A group of people, dressed in bee outfits, stood outside of where the Scripps National Spelling Bee competition was held. Their message? Keep it really simple with how we spell certain words. For example, instead of enough it would be be better to spell it enuf. The point is that when you look at a word it should be spelled in a way so that you can phonetically read it with ease. Basically, what you see is what you get.

Should I give more examples?  Instead of more it would be moor. Instead of instead it would be insted. But what about the past tense of read? (Which sounds like red). Would we spell it red? What would we do with the word red, as in the color red? It would be a bit confusing.

I see where they are getting at. And I think dressing up as bees is both brilliant and hil-lare-ee-us. However, simplifying how we spell words would be rather confusing. Maybe if we did this with certain words, sure. But not all the words in the English language can be simplified without it getting a little complicated. 

With some of my deaf and hard of hearing students who are learning how to read and sound out the words, when it comes to the complicated words, what I will do is write down the word as it should be spelled and then write it out in a way that it is simplified, which is what the Spelling Bee protesters are proposing. With the simplified version, they can read it how it is supposed to sound like. For example, the past tense of read sounds like red and the present tense of read is reed. And then I'll tell them that the word reed is a word that describes a type of plant and a musical instrument. Huh?

Yes, English is a bitch to learn. I feel really bad for those who are trying to learn English.

When one of my students was learning to read, I asked her how she determines how some words are supposed to be read. How does she know that the word enough sounds like enuf'? She told me, "You just know. You see them and hear them over and over again and you just know they are supposed to be read in a certain way."

It is pretty simple. The constant exposure to language is what helps many of us learn how to read. (Now, not everyone can learn to read in this way, hearing or deaf), some have to be taught in a different way. Or some will take longer than others, even if they are constantly exposed to good fluent language. Reading is not natural. We are not born with the understanding of how to read. We have to be taught it. I can go on and on about how just because someone has trouble reading does not mean that they are not intelligent. This will be saved for another post for another day.

Anyway. . .

This is why when someone has a deaf or hard of hearing child, they have to really consider which would be the best way their child will be constantly exposed to the preferred language of wherever they live. Constant exposure to fluent language models is the key to successful learning. Simplifying the spelling of words in the English language is not the answer.

My question to people who use sign language:

Over the years, have you noticed many signs that have been shortened or simplified? Would you feel that it would make sense to simplify signs even moor?

Layter Aligayters,



  1. Great article! I've always been amazed out how complicated English is. So many rules that make no sense. Why is "deaf" pronounced "deff" if "leaf" is pronounced "leef?" And if the plural of "leaf" is "leaves," shouldn't a group of deaf people be called "deaves?" :)

  2. Whether you meant to or not, you've just made a really good argument for using cued speech with not only DHOH students, but those who have problems processing language in order to learn to read.


  3. Drolz - LOL. 'Deaves' Good one!

    barb - I agree. Cued speech is a really good tool. It helped me figure out how some words are really pronounced. I'll have to write about this later.

  4. Eek! I just realized that I spelled the word 'protesters' in this post's title wrong! I made the correction (from protestor to protester).



  5. Part of it has to do with the great Vowel Shift that occurred during the 15th-16th century (also a time period when the word spelling was changing). Can be very confusing sometimes. Pick up a good linguistics book - should have some info about that.


Keep it civil.