" 'i' before 'e' except after 'c' "
Look at the words below and make up your own mind. How many of these words follow the rule:
Image made by me at Wordle (click on thumbnail to go there)
So is it a good rule? There are SO many exceptions to this that it is confusing. Some people say you should use a fuller rule:
When the sound is ee, 'i' before 'e' except after 'c'
'i' before 'e' except after 'c' or when sounded like 'a' as in neighbour and weigh
But they still have exceptions and those rules are now becoming long and complicated. So I agree with the British government (for once) - it's probably not worth teaching.
But what has really interested me about this has been other people's reactions to it in the media. This business about dropping this particular rule was one short paragraph in a 124-page document called Support for Spelling. But the Shadow Children's Minister said:
"Having systematically lowered school standards for a decade, it is sadly no surprise that the Government is now actively telling teachers not to bother trying to teach children how to spell properly."Ummm...but this is in a 124-page document detailing some excellent ways to approach English spelling. What is he talking about?
He added: "The best schools in richer areas will continue to teach children how to spell and the victims of this dumbing down will be, yet again, poorer children living in poorer areas."
And then I read this from a senior English lecturer at King's College, London:
"It's a very easy rule to remember and one of the very few spelling rules that I can remember and that's why I would stick to it.Both quotes from here.
"If you change it and say we won't have this rule, we won't have any rules at all, then spelling, which is already terribly confusing, becomes more so."
So she thinks a bad rule should stay because then it makes it look like we have one rule in English rather than none - and that is supposed to be helpful?
And in a discussion about the subject on another site a lot of people called Keith and Sheila had something to say about this rule!! One Keith said it wasn't until he was 25 years old that he learnt how to spell 'their' - when he suddenly realised that the 'ei' was the same as the 'ei' in his name! I've always said we should encourage learners to link what they don't know to what they do know - it took Keith a while but he eventually got there!
(By the way, I was asked to speak about this on National Public Radio - but unfortunately I got the message too late. The item is here, but it's obviously not me speaking.)
As always there'll be more on this and other 'rules' in my book "Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners"