Johnny in Topeka can’t read, but Janne in Helsinki is effortlessly finishing his storybooks. Such a disparity may be expected by now, but the reason might come as a surprise: It probably has much less to do with teaching style and quality than with language. Simply put, written English is great for puns but terrible for learning to read or write. It’s like making children from around the world complete an obstacle course to fully participate in society but requiring the English-speaking participants to wear blindfolds.
Adults who have already mastered written English tend to forget about its many quirks. But consider this: English has 205 ways to spell 44 sounds. And not only can the same sounds be represented in different ways, but the same letter or letter combinations can also correspond to different sounds. For example, “cat,” “kangaroo,” “chrome,” and “queue” all start with the same sound, and “eight” and “ate” sound identical. Meanwhile, “it” doesn’t sound like the first syllable of “item,” for instance, and “cough” doesn’t rhyme with either “enough,” “through,” “furlough” or “bough.” Even some identically spelled words, such as “tear,” can be pronounced differently and mean different things.