The the Impotence of Proofreading - very funny

Here's a video clip that a friend (thanks, Shaz!) showed me. It's a poem written by Taylor Mali about someone who can't spell. Very clever, very funny and rather rude in parts! So if you're easily offended, best not to watch!

If you want to read the words, they're on Taylor Mali's website

Spelling names - does it matter?

Darren Elliott ( @livesofteachers ) had this little outburst on Twitter this morning! And it made me think: how important is it to spell names right? It seems it's not very important if it's someone else's name but very important if it's yours!

My own name is a bit of a spelling nightmare. Johanna is not usually spelled with an h in English (the h is completely silent), so people often write Joanna or even Joanne, which is a more common name. To a lot of people I'm Jo, but I'm definitely not Joe (same pronunciation but that's a man's name). My Stirling is spelled with an i not an e (Stirling not Sterling, same pronunciation), so I always have to say 'like the Scottish city not the money'.

So people often spell my name wrong. Do I mind? Yes! Well, no! But yes! And no! Intellectually, of course not: my name isn't easy, people are busy, life is short, what does it matter? But my gut feeling is: 'that's not me!'

Perhaps the spelling of our name is part of our identity.

And of course sometimes it really does matter, because if someone types my misspelled name into Google they might find somebody far more interesting than me! Or emails offering me an all-expenses paid trip to the Seychelles may never get to me (not the spam kind- they always get through).

What about you? How important is it that people spell your name right?

When two vowels go walking - Is it the truth we're talking?

There's an English spelling rule that native-speaker children are taught:

"When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking - it says its name."

It means in a word like bean, the e is pronounced (with the long sound like the name of the letter E) and the a is silent. Here are some more examples:


And here is a video about it for kids. Beautifully made, cute and convincing ...

BUT ...

... I was going to write about this 'rule' in my book (Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners). First thing that happened was that I was a bit stuck for examples. Then I got suspicious and decided to check it out. I wrote all the possible vowel digraphs (two written vowels together that make one sound), such as ae, ai, ao, au, ea, ei, etc and I put them into a concordancer at

And what did I find? I found this rule was just not true. It only works for a few digraphs and then not always. Look, these ones generally do work:

oa - coat, load, approach, goal, etc (most words with oa make the o sound and the a is silent, except if it's followed by an r: board, coarse)

ai - rain, paint, rail, failure, etc (this one is pretty good too but some common words don't follow the rule: said, pair, etc)

ea - sea, beans, easy, please, beach, etc (this one sometimes behaves according to the rule but look at all these exceptions (and there are lots more) : leather, already, early, appear, break, bread, etc)

Some pairs have a few examples
ui - juice, fruit, suit (but not liquid, build, guide, biscuit and many more

ei - ceiling, receive but not height, eight,

oe - toe, woe, goes, potatoes but not in shoes, does, poem, foetid or canoe

ue - blue, true but not in guest, league, queen, affluence and any more.

And the others really do not follow this rule at all. At best there are two or three words that follow the rule for these combinations, but generally none,
ae, ao, au, eo, eu, ia, ie, io, iu, ou, ua, uo.

Now those of you who follow my work know that I don't give a fig for 'rules' in spellings. We can only look at patterns, or precedents, and make guesses. But it does annoy me to think that children are taught 'rules' like this when they're just not true.

Do you agree? Are you a teacher who has taught this 'rule'? Can you justify it? Do you know any other 'rules' that are not true? Is a 'rule' that's partly right better than no rule at all?

Visualising words - starring a young Tony Buzan

There are several differences that we often find between good spellers and weak spellers. One of these is the ability to visualise words. Ask a good speller the spelling of a word and you will probably see them look away from you and 'read' the word. Often people look up and to their left as they do this. They may be able to 'see' the word projected onto a wall or surface there.

Ask a weak speller and they'll probably just look worried!

Here is a (very old) video of a (very young) Tony Buzan talking about just this.

(Note: I've got the video to start in the right place but for some reason not finish where I want it to. If anyone can tell me how to do this I'd be grateful. I suggest finishing at 3.17. In fact the video freezes at 3.46 anyway)

So to help weak spellers, we need to help them to 'see' words too.

Some techniques for doing this coming soon.

Thanks, by the way, to Tim Kenning for the video link.

Oh and ... a very happy 2010 to you all.