Wednesday, February 17, 2010

No wonder Finnish kids do so well in school...

According to this Medical News Today article, A Crucial Tool In English Language Development: Reading To Our Children, there are other languages that don't require parental support at home in order for the kids to learn to read:
Georgiou notes that students are able to learn to read faster in languages such as Greek and Finnish, because there is one-to-one correspondence between a letter and its sounds. This difference with English, he says, implies that Greek or Finnish parents do not need to read as frequently to their children to give them an edge on learning the language. Simply put, Greek or Finnish children will eventually learn to read regardless of how rich the home literacy environment may be.

That's so unfair. How can we get English to have one-to-one correspondence? Dropping the letter "c" would probably be a good start. Still, having mastered English myself, I don't want to give it up. It's pretty.


  1. I believe the English language has at least 42 phonemes, which would mean adding quite a few letters if we want 1-to-1 sounds correspondence. English has a significantly larger (as in several times larger) vocabulary than any other language, partly because English-speaking people have simply adopted many foreign words and made them our own--that would be harder, at least from other languages that use a latin alphabet, if we used an entirely different one (it would be harder to adopt a word from, say, french, if we had to significantly change the spelling to do so--as it is, we just start using "cafe" and pretty soon it is as English as French). I love the history contained in English spellings, but then I'm somewhat obsessed with linguistics:-) I wonder how our literacy compares to, say, the Japanese--they teach their children a one-to-one phonetic system (the kana) to begin with, but it sure gets more complex from there!

  2. I love linguistics, too. The fact that we have at least four ways to say "characteristic of a king" (kingly, royal, regal, monarchic) because of contributions from other languages is very cool. But the lack of one-to-one sounds correspondence does make it harder to learn to read well. :( I'd give up English's richness if it meant that we could substantially lower the number of functional illiterates in the USA.