English spelling and its problems: An interview of Masha Bell conducted by Dr. Sam Bommarito
There is a real need for researchers and teachers to talk with one another and learn from each other. The best of all worlds is when the researcher is also a teacher. The result in that case is the creation of valuable information in a form that other teachers can easily use. Masha Bell is one of those teacher/researchers. Her story is compelling. In the first part of the interview, Masha tells us her life story. She was born in Lithuania. English was not her first language. She learned English after learning other, more phonetically based languages. When she did learn English, she was quite surprised at the inconsistent sound-symbol relations that characterize the English language. She made it her life’s work to study those sound-symbol relations. In the process of doing that, she became a teacher herself and later became a teacher of teachers. She has done serious research into that topic and written many books. She also shares her insights about this topic using her blog. The blog allows her readers to download useful charts and tables. Masha ends the interview with a powerful message for teachers. She pushes back against those who blame teachers for the current problems in teaching reading. She is passionate about arming teachers with the knowledge they need to understand the complexities of the English language. Her books and blog go a long way toward giving teachers the tools to do just that. And with those tools, she is helping to create a generation of teachers who are armed with the information they need to teach our children to read. Let’s look at what Masha had to say during her interview.
Masha has identified these as some of her most useful posts on blogspot.com:
For common words with reading problems
All tricky-to-spell words are listed as exceptions from the main spelling patterns for each sound
7,000 words with regular/irregular spellings
The charts you can download from these blogspot.com posts are quite detailed. Here is one sample so you can see what I mean. This one deals with the inconsistency of many sounds associated with the vowels.
Here are some of the books Masha talked about during the interview. All are available on Amazon.
English Spelling and its Problems (Kindle 2020) LINK
Understanding English Spelling
Rules and Exceptions of English spelling.
I first want to thank Masha again for agreeing to the interview and for all she has shared. I am aware that some folks use the fact of the complexity of English spelling as a reason to say we don’t need to teach phonics. I do not subscribe to that idea, and neither does Masha. It is not a question of whether to teach phonics but rather when and how. That is a whole other topic. I do think anyone attempting to teach phonics will find Masha’s books and charts quite informative.
I’m going to have a busy time in the next month or so. I’ll be interviewing Dr. David Andrews from the School of Education, Durham University and Eric Litwin, well-known children’s author and co-author of the book The Power of Joyful Reading LINK. I also have upcoming presentations at LitCon LINK, Write to Learn LINK, Missouri Early Childhood Conference LINK and I’ll be doing a webinar for Pioneer Books LINK. Busy times!
Dr. Sam Bommarito, aka the centrist who uses ideas from all sides to inform his teaching
Copyright 2022 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely the author’s view and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.
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A great interview with Masha Bell! It is much needed, especially for teachers of English as a foreign language whose students speak a transparent first language (L1).
This is absolootly fantastik. I hav noen Masha Bell for a long time. I think we furst met at a speling reform conferenss up in Mannheim, Jurmany, qiet a fue yeers ago. As U hav probably noetist, I am uezing an aulturnativ orthografy for Inglish noen as “SoundSpel”, and I hav bin uezing it in its prezent form for th last thurty yeers.
I am th viess prezident of th American Literacy Council, and we just had our anueal meeting veea sumthing liek Zoom last Friedae, so this is an amaezing coeinsidenss.
I hav uther guud nues as wel. About a munth ago I got into contakt with Caleb Baham, hoo is th indivijual responsibl for th Wikipedia paej on SoundSpel. He taut himself to reed and riet SoundSpel on his oen, which I fiend extreemly impresiv.
In uther nues, th SoundSpel convurzhon dikshonaery now has oever 100,000 wurds in it. I tried convurting Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer, and th rezults wer absolootly buetiful!