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Push to dump 'i before e' rule

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IT is one of the best-known spelling mantras but now there are calls for Adelaide schoolteachers to stop using the "i before e except after c" rule.

It is claimed the rule is too confusing, and follows a shift in official UK teaching guidelines, with British teachers now being instructed to avoid using the mnemonic device, because there are too many exceptions to the rule.

Flinders University senior English lecturer Lyn Wilkinson said "i before e except after c" was a generalisation, rather than a rule, and should be avoided.

"If teachers teach it, they need to be prepared for students to be very confused," she said.

"If it creates confusion for too many children, then it's not worth teaching it."

Ms Wilkinson said other commonly used rhymes, such as "when two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking", also did not work for all words.

"There are lots of exceptions to that generalisation too, so you've got to be very cautious when you're teaching these things because some children will get very confused," she said.

The guidelines released by the British Government this month say the "i before e" rhyme is not worth teaching because it applies only to words in which the "ie" or "ei" stands for a clear "ee" sound and unless this is known, words such as "sufficient", "veil" and "their" look like exceptions. Other exceptions include "heinous", "protein", "weird" and "seize".

However, University of Adelaide English language associate professor Dr Tom Burton said the rule applied most of the time, and it had been a useful learning method for generations of students.

"Nothing's changed at all," he said. "The only thing that has changed is the attitude of educational theorists and these are the do-gooders who want to improve the world and make it worse by the stupid way they go about it."

Prof Burton said as long as the exceptions were explained, it was still a valid teaching tool.

"(Banning it) is dumbing down, talking down to students, treating them as idiots because they're not capable of dealing with exception," he said.

"The motives behind these things are always good, the people who want to make the course of education for children smooth are well-motivated, but the deleterious effects of it are catastrophic and this is why we get university students who can't spell their bloody name."

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Any thoughts on this, oh noble writers?

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If these educators think school kids will be confused because not all ei and ie words conform to their rhyme, what did they think would happen when they introduced 'new math' back when I was a kid? We're trying to memorize multiplication tables, and they're trying to teach us to work in base 7.

It took a couple of years of parent rebellion and the amazing discovery that kids could no longer do simple math problems before those pedants tucked tails and ran.

I'm all for doing what works. Sure, i before e doesn't work all the time, and there are a few exceptions to learn, but it's easier doing that than trying to memorize every ie and ei combination without a road map, even if the road map is somewhat flawed.

C

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English is a very complex language, with a lot of weird exceptions for spelling and usage that I'm sure drive foreigners crazy.

But to avoid teaching the rule because it's too "confusing" is ridiculous. What are they gonna teach next? No more capitalizing the first word of every sentence? I bet most text messages and Tweets (and blogs) are already being done that way as it is.

Literacy is definitely getting dumbed-down in the world, and to me, this is just another example. I just saw a misspelling on the front page of the LA Times, and to me, that's an additional sign of the apocalypse.

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The English language is full of anomalies, and as a result spelling is a nightmare. Contrast it with German, for instance, where spelling and pronunciation are consistant.

The 'i before e' rhyme will get the spelling right for you about 80% of the time. If you don't know how to spell a particular word containing the 'ie' or 'ei' pair, you might get it right on your own 50% of the time. So the rhyme helps. But like loads of other stuff in English, to get it right 100% of the time there's no substitute for learning all the exceptions. Very few of us can spell perfectly. (Pre-empting the inevitable, yes, I know - p-e-r-f-e-c-t-l-y).

The well-meaning reformers who are instructing teachers to stop teaching the rhyme are depriving them of a useful tool. Not a perfect tool, but a useful one. If they really believe it's essential to make English spelling easier for kids to learn, they will have to bite the bullet and make the language easier to spell. It could be done and would make life much easier for those learning English as a foreign language.

But wee'd hav too get yused to reeding Inglish spelled lyk this.

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I couldn't help but remember a choice bit of humour about this topic.

The European Commission has just announced an agreement whereby English will be the official language of the European Union rather than German, which was the other possibility.

As part of the negotiations, the British Government conceded that English spelling had some room for improvement and has accepted a 5- year phase-in plan that would become known as "Euro-English".

In the first year, "s" will replace the soft "c". Sertainly, this will make the sivil servants jump with joy. The hard "c" will be dropped in favour of "k". This should klear up konfusion, and keyboards kan have one less letter. There will be growing publik enthusiasm in the sekond year when the troublesome "ph" will be replaced with "f". This will make words like fotograf 20% shorter.

In the 3rd year, publik akseptanse of the new spelling kan be expekted to reach the stage where more komplikated changes are possible. Governments will enkourage the removal of double letters which have always ben a deterent to akurate speling. Also, al wil agre that the horibl mes of the silent "e" in the languag is disgrasful and it should go away.

By the 4th yer people wil be reseptiv to steps such as replasing "th" with "z" and "w" with "v".

During ze fifz yer, ze unesesary "o" kan be dropd from vords kontaining "ou" and after ziz fifz yer, ve vil hav a reil sensibl riten styl. Zer vil be no mor trubl or difikultis and evrivun vil find it ezi tu understand ech oza. Ze drem of a united urop vil finali kum tru.

Und efter ze fifz yer, ve vil al be speking German like zey vunted in ze forst plas.

If zis mad you smil, pleas pas on to oza pepl.

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Cole wrote

That's vunderful, Trab.

Should not that have been, "Dat's vunderful Drab?"

Whatever way you spell it though, I agree with you Cole. It's a great example of the cure being worse than the problem. I would also add, we should be extremely careful in accepting any changes proposed by government because we rarely know the motives behind such changes.

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Cole wrote

Should not that have been, "Dat's vunderful Drab?"

Whatever way you spell it though, I agree with you Cole. It's a great example of the cure being worse than the problem. I would also add, we should be extremely careful in accepting any changes proposed by government because we rarely know the motives behind such changes.

Fritz, your last sentence is worth incorporating in the declaration of human rights.

The idea to simplify education through abandoning simple rules and mantras like 'i before e' has another more sinister extension to dumbing down the students.

Quite often the mantra itself introduces an awareness of something in addition to the more explicit meaning of the rule. In the case of the, 'i before e, except after c, with some exceptions to this rule,' , the student is introduced to the idea that exceptions to rules do occur.

The statement in this case of there being exceptions to the rule, clearly shows that flexibility is being accommodated and that is one of life's great lessons, and one that is not often discussed in the class room as a prelude to exploring rules of acceptance in human relationships.

If you think that is stretching things a bit, I can clearly remember discussions amongst my fellow students about exactly this method of learning in 6th grade primary school, as causing us to extend our thinking*. Later as teenagers, we cited the condition of exception to a rule as a reason to accept differences amongst ourselves (in a somewhat primitive fashion that I won't go into here, in case comparisons make some people feel inadequate.) :wav:

Nevertheless, mentioning exceptions to rules was indeed a jump point for us to learn more than just a spelling rule.

My point being that the mantra was not only means to learn how to spell, but that the form of the mantra was in itself educational beyond the awareness of those, whom today, seek to remove it from usage.

I somehow think that Trab's wonderfull transition is also beyond these peanuts.

I am also reminded of those (often parents) who say that algebra or poetry or some other subject should be abandoned in schools as such subjects are never used in later life. Frankly, I have never stopped building on every thing I learned at school, and wished I had learned more about everything. I am also constantly surprised at how much I remember or learned from those seemingly, silly ditties our teachers used to teach us more they may have known or suspected.

*I therefore pee except in the sea. :hehe:

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Wow, Des. You have seen a depth to this that was waaaay beyond what I was seeing, but, having been said, reveals its significance well.

BTW, that translation is something someone else came up with, and I only repeated it here for our enlightenment and discussion.

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Frankly, I have never stopped building on every thing I learned at school, and wished I had learned more about everything.

Truer words have never been spoken! Two of the things I tell my partner all the time are: 1) I wish I had worked harder in school and not just coasted by [being a lazy kid at the time], and 2) I wish I had made a lot more effort to have serious relationships and get laid much more often instead of just being a nerdy geek -- and that was in an age long before computers and video games.

I think my sentiments go back to George Bernard Shaw's sad observation about "youth being wasted on the young." Ain't that the goddamned truth.

About the only thing that saved me in terms of learning was that I read like a fiend, and typically read about 2-3 books a week (and often still do today). I faked my way through a lot of high school and college, mostly through a lot of last-minute cramming, and I wish now I had buckled down and made the effort to actually study and learn more. I bet it would've made me a more well-rounded person.

On the plus side, I didn't turn out too badly, all things considered. And by god, I did learn grammar and spelling. Isn't it incredible, the amount of misspellings that go on today? You know it's the end of Western civilization when you see misspellings in movie credits and published hardbound books, which happen all the time now. (See Lynne Truss' book Eats, Shoots and Leaves for somebody else who's annoyed by these modern trends.)

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Des, while you took my words in a way not intended, your observations are correct. All education, whether through formal schooling or the school of hard knocks, is merely a building block on which to improve ourselves. If a teacher can teach a student to try to think and reason his way through problems, the teacher was successful even though that student may have done poorly in the specific subject being taught by said teacher. Your observation that exceptions to rules helps in that respect is right on target.

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If a teacher can teach a student to try to think and reason his way through problems, the teacher was successful even though that student may have done poorly in the specific subject being taught by said teacher.

Wonderful thought, Fritz. I have long held, and said, that the major thing of importance to me that I got from college was a way to approach problems and solve them. I used it thorougout life. Still do.

I'm not real sure what else of value I learned there. I guess I should be ashamed of that.

C

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What are the USEFUL things you learned in school? I struggle to think of anything I was taught at school that's been any use to me at all. I learned useful stuff, sure I did, but I did that on my own. I acquired encyclopedic knowledge about cameras, and the single most useful thing I learned while at school was touch-typing - and I taught myself that during the holidays.

They tell me that at school you're taught how to learn. Maybe that's so, in which case my teachers did a lousy job - I have very poor study habits to this day.

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Cole wrote,

I have long held, and said, that the major thing of importance to me that I got from college was a way to approach problems and solve them. I used it thorougout life. Still do.

I would say that you got your money's worth because of that one thing. We are always going to encounter situations where we don't know the answer at first glance, but having a system to approach and solve problems is what enables a person to be successful. I would further argue that the better a person is able to do that, the more successful he can be. All education is merely a set of tools and in your case your college taught you how to make use of those tools when confronted with a problem.

My second year algebra teacher taught me an important lesson on problem solving. When confronted with a complex problem which seems beyond your abilities to solve, break it into sections and solve as many of the sections as you can. Then look the whole problem over again. Frequently some of the solved parts will point to ways to solve other parts and and after a few rounds of that you have worked out a solution to the whole problem. I have found his method to be very useful not only in mathematics, but in solving many of life's problems.

Bruin wrote,

They tell me that at school you're taught how to learn. Maybe that's so, in which case my teachers did a lousy job - I have very poor study habits to this day.

The unfortunate fact is that all too often your experience is the norm. Instead of trying to teach students to think and reason, the schools are more interested in getting them to pass tests on a fixed set of questions. For example, I remember one of my geography classes was studying Africa. Among other things we had to memorize the capitals of all African countries. I'm not saying that there is no reason for learning such, but I have never encountered a situation where I needed to know the capital of an African country and that was so time critical that I could not have looked the answer up. That class would have been of far more benefit if, instead to trying to get me to memorize capitals, they had focused on teaching me to research information.

I would argue that too many in the academic field have lost sight of what should be the goal of education. They equate success with academic achievement, but education should be a vehicle to prepare the student to be successful in life. Up to a certain point academic achievement is mostly a matter of having a good memory and many students can skate by without ever learning to think or reason for themselves by simply remembering the text or lecture. I got a good grade in that geography class because I studied enough to remember those cities and was able to score highly on the test, but that academic achievement was of very little use in life.

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