My blog retrospectives from May 2011 revisited — 2

I really had forgotten I did this series, having just rediscovered it when I looked at my May 2011 archive, this being the first post for May 2021! I think it is well worth replaying more of the series now.

Remember when I was on Blogspot?

Posted on  by Neil

Well the blog – or its last incarnation – is still there. I must get in to clean up the comments. Obviously the system there is not as efficient as WordPress’s Akismet.

Still. not a bad looking blog – if I do say so myself. 


All the content there except the last three entries is now also on my Photoblog and older Blogspot content from around 2005 is on Floating Life 2005 to 2009 (no new entries after 31/12/09).

Even so I thought I’d lift a couple of pics for reposting.


17 December 2009


5 December 2009

2405 007a[5]

24 May 2010


Been over to Blogger. About six spams had got through, so not too bad in a couple of years I suppose. The interface there has improved too.

Still in retro mode

Posted on  by Neil


My English/ESL blog began in 2001 as which is still there as a redirect I posted in 2002 – but it sends you to Tripod and blog oblivion.  At first it was just a class site for a Year 10 I had at the time. When that immediate function passed I adapted it to be a school-wide ESL and English site. I also moved to Tripod – the capture above comes courtesy of the Wayback Machine. Its name now was Sydney Boys High Communities and ESL, and then Sydney Boys High School English and ESL. In that guise it moved to WordPress on 2 December 2006, the name having changed towards the end of 2005 to Neil Whitfield’s English and ESL. Today it’s just English, ESL — and more!

The top posts since coming to WordPress follow:

  1. Home page 84,019 views
  2. How should I write up a Science experiment? 56,530
  3. Physical journeys and Peter Skrzynecki’s poems 25,377
  4. Essay writing: Module C “Conflicting Perspectives” – the introduction 24,978
  5. Studying the Gothic, or Emily Bronte? 23,870…

2021 note: Observing the name change in 2005, the SBHS Principal said it was one of the more interesting ways he had been told of someone’s intention to retire.

And now one more from May 2011

Latest news from “The Illawarra Mercury”

Posted on  by Neil

Here is today’s lead story.

Planking may be getting the headlines but several crews of young people in the Illawarra are getting their kicks from a less dangerous – and perhaps more hilarious – pastime.

Morphing, as it is known, involves donning a purpose-made lycra suit, often brightly coloured and covering the face, and busting out in public to pull poses, jump around and bemuse passers-by.

Then comes the element seemingly essential to all current trends – pictures of the ‘‘morph’’ are posted on social media websites, particularly Facebook.

Dylan Page, 17, one of the four-person Oak Flats Morph Crew – he’s the one in the skin-tight tuxedo – invested in the suit earlier this year for his Year 12 muck-up photos…

There’s also a good feature article on fads and crazes over the years….

This does seem a touch passe now — but cute!

Being bi- or multilingual — not one of my accomplishments, sadly!

Given the last 30 years, personally and professionally — living with a Chinese person for some years, being around many Chinese people, teaching ESL — I find this fascinating, and embarrassing, because I am really monolingual, even though I did French and Latin at school.

In the video which follows, the young man’s trilingualism is amazing!

Mind you, Michael Xu is also trilingual (at least) with Shanghainese as a first language and Mandarin as his language of education and his national language. Oh, and English now, of course.

Quite a few of the boys I taught at SBHS were similarly blessed, and not all of them Chinese — speakers of Tamil, for example. Multilingualism is a really good thing — and in general we don’t value it enough in Australia.Insisting all Australians should speak only English is really stupid and short-sighted.

The vlogger is touting a language app, Babbel, which may well be good, or maybe not — thought I would mention it as he does do a commercial for it…

No major political axes to grind that I could see. And he is in New York.It is just interesting!

I am not surprised to see that I have posted on this topic during my ESL days:

Being bilingual – language and thought

08 December 2006

Sunetra Gupta – Language and thinking (full transcript from a Radio National Saturday Breakfast broadcast 16 July 2005). Sadly not available in 2020!

I hope teachers and parents find these reflections on being multilingual informative, and her extrapolation from her experience to the workings of language and thought is certainly interesting.

The talk could double as a text for Year 12 on Journeys. “The complex times we live in need a language that will help us understand them. Language affects how we think, how we experience life and how we understand our experiences. Sunetra Gupta spoke on this at the 12th International Conference on Thinking — she is a reader in the epidemiology of infectious disease — and she publishes complex, interesting novels, which draw on her rich cultural background.”

My exposure to a second language occurred at a very early age – almost as I was learning to speak — for I was just over a year old when my parents moved to Ethiopia from Calcutta — which is where I was born, and still, in most senses, belong to. The Ethiopians were, and I am sure still are, a very proud people, and foreigners had no option but to learn their language Amharic (which has the same roots as Hebrew) if they were to survive there. This my parents did most willingly, as it was their interest in other cultures and languages that had brought them there in the first place. I, of course, acquired it naturally and spoke it alongside my mother tongue with ease — as most bilingual children clearly do. Thus, language was never a monolithic construct for me, and I was sensitized to the distance between a word and its referrent almost as I became conscious.

I am not aware that being exposed this early to two languages had any particular consequences for my personal development, and Amharic is now completely lost to me, or if not lurks so deep in the recesses of my mind that it may as well not be there. In some ways, I was not even conscious of navigating between two languages, and so did not learn one of the most valuable lessons from the process of unglueing word from object — which to my mind is tolerance.

Indeed, when we moved to Zambia when I was four, and I was suddenly surrounded by English speaking children, I reacted with anger rather than bewilderment – how dare they speak in a language I do not understand! — I remember thinking. Soon of course I was speaking English fluently myself, and it has occupied a prominent position in my life ever since, although I still refuse to grant it — quite irrationally of course — the same seat in my heart as my mother tongue.

So, just to summarise where I have got to so far in terms of the relationship between language and thought by indulging in my own early experiences — the demolition of a one to one correspondence between word and object is the simplest useful byproduct of learning more than one language — and in my view this is a critical step towards truly internalising the concept of tolerance, the acceptance of different styles and faiths. And although an early exposure to more than one language may have benefits with regard to fluency in both tongues, I think that too early an exposure actually detracts from the perception of the relationship between word and object as not being fixed and absolute…

2020: I have not examined this in detail but Macquarie University has a Multilingualism Research Centre.

Multilingualism is key to Australia’s multicultural future. Located in Australia’s most multilingual city, with one of Australia’s largest concentrations of language and education researchers, Macquarie University is ideally placed to take the lead in multilingualism research. The Multilingualism Research Centre aims to:

  • foster interdisciplinary research on multilingualism across Macquarie University,
  • build research collaborations with multilingualism researchers in Australia and overseas,
  • build partnerships with community organizations in New South Wales to provide research-based support on multilingual policies and practices.

Interdisciplinary collaboration and community engagement lie at the heart of our approach to research that aims to enhance the quality of life in a multilingual world.

The Centre is hosted by the Faculty of Medicine, Health and Human Sciences (FMHHS), and sponsored by the Linguistics Department in FMHHS and the School of Education in the Faculty of Arts.

The year that was — 6 — June: 1

Dear me, a dilemma! So many posts, the 2010s retro series finished on 24 June, and my home WiFi enabled more posting! So I will select two now, and two more next time. Do visit the June 2020 archive. There is lots of music!

Bruce Pascoe — refreshing

Posted on  by Neil

I posted just now on Facebook, and augment that post with some relevant videos.


You may recall Wollongong Library posted me a copy of Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu not long ago. It happens to be a large print edition, but even more significant is that it is the 2nd Edition (2018) which does include some new material.

I am not going to write a lengthy review, simply because I am not qualified to do so. There are so many out there already, many favourable, some sceptical, and the book has generated more than its fair share of hostility, most of it from the usual suspects from Bolt to “Quadrant”.

I am definitely not on the side of the usual suspects. I find it a refreshing, exciting addition to our knowledge of Australian history, even if perhaps at some points over-excited. I do strongly recommend it.

I should also add that debate about Bruce Pascoe’s ancestry or ethnicity is totally irrelevant.

As he says at the end of Chapter 2: “You can read other theories of Aboriginal culture, spirituality and economy in New Age texts, or the books of over-enthusiastic researchers, but often they make guesses to bridge the gaps in knowledge. Too often, they ascribe all sorts of mystical wisdom to their subjects, but their earnest romanticism is unnecessary, as the observations of the first explorers and settlers provides an enormous body of material. In this book, I am drawing on only a small sample of what is available to any Australian with a computer mouse or a library card. The reason I have provided so many examples, however, is to emphasise the depth of the available material and the desperate need for a revision of our history.”

See also Taking sides over ‘Dark Emu’ — How the history wars avoid debate and reason.

But all this attacking and leaping and defending doesn’t do much to resolve the issues. And there are issues. Dark Emu rests on a foundational truth: that the European explorers saw things (and, from within their own worldview, wrote them down) that the first settlers (and the institutions that supported them) didn’t want known (because they were busy expanding the colonial frontier, which necessarily meant acting illegally), and that subsequent settlers couldn’t see (because those things were no longer in evidence). Had Dark Emu merely made this point by quoting explorers’ journals, the right’s attack would have no force.

But throughout Dark Emu, Pascoe regularly exaggerates and embellishes. One example: he quotes Thomas Mitchell’s description of large, circular, chimneyed huts Mitchell observed near Mount Arapiles, in western Victoria, on July 26, 1836, but leaves out the words “which were of a very different construction from those of the aborigines in general”. Pascoe adds his own commentary: Mitchell “recorded his astonishment at the size of the villages”; he “counts the houses, and estimates a population of over one thousand”; and “the evidence is everywhere that they have used the place for a very long time”. But in his own journal, Mitchell doesn’t express astonishment, he doesn’t count and he doesn’t estimate a population size. Nor does he present any evidence that would support a conclusion about longevity of residence. Granville Stapylton, Mitchell’s second-in-command, recorded seeing one hut “capable of containing at least 40 persons and of very superior construction” on July 26. Pascoe includes this, but not the rest of Stapylton’s sentence: “and appearantly the work of A White Man it is A known fact that A runaway Convict has been for years amongst these tribes.” That could be a reference to the well-known escapee William Buckley (who was found by John Batman the previous July), or it could be a racist myth. The point is that Pascoe simply left it out.

By themselves, examples like these split hairs. But they’re all the way through Dark Emu….My observations here will no doubt be seized upon with glee by Bolt, O’Brien and co as further proof of their accusations against Pascoe. It may even be seized upon by those instinctively defending Pascoe’s reputation as evidence that I’ve gone to the dark side. None of these reactions would be helpful, though they would reflect the way we conduct public debate now…. Social media generates and supports echo chambers, and so has dramatically accelerated the process of value-based identity formation attempted in earlier times by various groups and collectives on all sides of politics. Instead of persuasion and deliberation – core democratic values – the pursuit of righteous ideological rigidity favours shamings, takedowns and outright abuse….

Do read that whole essay.  It too discounts the attacks on Pascoe’s ethnicity and goes on: “For all its problems, Dark Emu is not merely weathering the attacks. It charged back up the nonfiction bestsellers’ list and has occupied the number 3 spot for the past fortnight.”

I am glad of that. And here is the man himself.

I add this one because it lightens the mood, but ends on a serious point about the study of Australian history today.

Recalled from the turn of the century: chuffed!

Posted on  by Neil

On Facebook recently I posted some items from my English and ESL blog archives.

Neil Whitfield’s English and ESL site

“A great resource for all students and teachers…” — Frances M., English Teachers Association Bulletin Board, Mar 25, 2005. (NOTE: corrected link, but if you go there you will find the site referred to by its pre-retirement name and on its old address! The particular page that so impressed Frances M is now here.)

Of the first one I posted I said: “I just reread this for the first time in years, and aside from fond memories of Sydney High and Bob Li — he is second from the right in this photo from 20 years ago — it cheers me up to recall that I may after all have done some good through my teaching career!”


Here is that post:

Multiculturalism — Bob’s story

In senior years students used to come voluntarily to the ESL staff if they felt their English may be costing them marks. Let one of 2000’s Year 12 students speak for himself on this, but it should be added that all his teachers assisted him achieve his goal–to study Medicine at the University of New South Wales:

Wish you all the best for Christmas and the New Year (and later the Chinese New Year). Hope you have a great holiday!

Thank you tons for teaching me 2 years of English, which enabled me to achieve the top 10% of the state: something I thought unrealistic before.

I still have all these 12/20 and 13/20 poetry essays from early year 11 in my folder… and also the 15/20 ‘The Scarlet Letter’ and ‘Richard III’ essays from the yr11 yearly exam. I still keep the 16/20, 17/20 ‘Empire of the Sun’, ‘Robert Gray’ essays from yr12 assessments, and also the 19/20 ‘Satire’ essay from the trial HSC. And of course, the ESL practice essays which scored 18/20 and 19/20 marked by you over the internet. And now, the record of achievement which says 91-100% percentile band in English.

It was indeed a solid progress, and I thank you again for teaching me, Sir!

The ex-student whose letter of thanks I just quoted is Bob Li (2000). In his email giving permission to quote him he said:

Of course you can quote me in the High Notes! I hope more and more students come to ESL and benefit from it just as I did. English is a headache for so many students from non-English speaking backgrounds. Continuous practice from year 7 is a great way to minimise (or even eliminate) the tremendous difficulty they are likely to experience in the HSC.

It is worth quoting the autobiographical piece Bob wrote as part of an ESL test at the beginning of Year 11 1999:

I’ve only been to Australia for six years, but my personal opinion about Australia has changed quite dramatically.

I still remember how I wanted to go back to China when I first came. I felt that everything had changed. Life here in Australia is so different. The streets are so quiet I could hardly see anybody. I’ve always liked to live in a crowded city like Shanghai, where I could see people everywhere doing all sorts of activities. Language is probably the biggest problem that I have faced. I couldn’t understand anything in English. School was disastrous, as I was always sitting in the corner waiting for the bell. I remember I always got scared when people talked to me. I felt very lonely in this totally unknown world.

My thought of going back to China started to calm as years went by. I started getting fluent in English, made a lot of friends here. I started to like Australia. Today I love Australia. I want to stay in Australia forever. I’m very used
to the life here and I love it.

My first goal for the future is to get an excellent result in the HSC. Hopefully I could get into Dentistry or Medicine and have success in my future. I think I will have my future life in Australia, and I wouldn’t get used to life in China.

In another email Bob had this to say:

Just to share something with you. I’ve been practicing Wing Chun Kung Fu in Melbourne in the last month, and I founded it very very beneficial. It not only helps my self-defence and fitness, but also increases my physical and mental awareness, reflexes and confidence. Kung Fu is really a beautiful art, practicing it transcends to a higher mental and physical level.

Just in case if you haven’t heard of Wing Chun, it’s a style of Kung Fu derived from the Southern Shaolin Temple. Usually it takes 15 to 20 years to develop an efficient martial artist in Shaolin, which was a rather long time. So some 250 years ago, the 5 grandmasters discussed their techniques, by choosing the most efficient techniques from each style, they formulated the new training program which takes only 5 to 7 years to develop a Kung Fu master. It was named “Wing Chun” and represented “hope for the future”.

Here’s the Philosophy of Wing Chun that I’d like to share with you.

  • One who excels as a warrior does not appear formidable;
  • One who excels in fighting is never aroused in anger;
  • One who excels in defeating his enemy does not join issues;
  • One who excels in employing others humbles himself before them.
  • This is the virtue of non-contention and matching the sublimity of heaven. “The practitioner should meditate on these principles and make peace through the study of Kung Fu – a way of life.”

I found it very rewarding, so I think I’ll continue to train… hope uni work doesn’t prevent me from doing it.

Asian Pride

I have seen such a slogan from time to time. Bob is a good example of healthy pride. As the last letter shows, he is finding much to learn from his Chinese background. At the same time, he is as comfortable as can be with other aspects of Australian society. In him the problem of identity seems to have been solved.

There are some for whom things may not be so harmonious. For them, perhaps, Asian Pride may be in opposition to people or aspects of cultures other than their own, rather than a healthy balance. At extremes it may even become exclusive and racist. I have to say that, even so, Asian Pride is better than Asian Shame!

The rest of us must make sure that no-one is ashamed of who he is. That is the core problem of racism–we build ourselves up at the expense of others, making others feel ashamed or inferior–or angry. This is bad for the community as a whole, as we all have to get along.

That was published in the SBHS newsletter and led to a rather amazing dialogue, too long to paste here: see A debate on race.

Next on Facebook:

Multiculturalism — Student lives

Experiencing cultural change through the eyes of young Australians who have been students of Sydney Boys High. The texts are not corrected, but may be slightly edited. These stories were gathered between 1998 and 2000 as part of my testing of student writing, but parallel stories occur still, over and over again.

Boy aged 12: in Australia 7 years

What happened to me when I was little would take pages to write, so I will just tell you one of the main point when I was little. Our family immigrated to Australia except for my father because he had to work in Hong Kong so we would have money but my father would visit us every 3-4 months and would stay for about a month in Australia. Every time when he leaves Australia I would cry for a very long time.

Now I’m 12 and whenever my father is going back to Hong Kong there isn’t a tear but I feel a bit sad. Also, now I’m 12 I have made it into Sydney Boys High and it is a very good school but I have to wake up very early.

In the future I would like to have a good HSC mark so I can get in to a good university and make alot of money after university. In this piece of paper is all about my life.

Boy aged 12: In Australia 2.5 years

Five years ago, I was a dull boy in China. Everything was just fine. I went to School in the morning and Slept in the evening. When I found out that I was going to Australia I had mixed reactions. My first thought was Yes I finally had my Childhood dream come true to travel in an aeroplane. Also I got to see dad for the first time in my life. When I was only a year old he came to Australia but I thought wait a minute I’m going to have to leave my friend.The thought hit me. I was confused.

Now here I am in Australia. I just got into Sydney Boys High. Our family is now prospering along very well. My study is improving gradually. I really think my future would be fantastic.

Growing up to be an adult is a time of tense learning and important decision-making. In the portion of life that I’ve got left I wish I could receive a worthwhile job and a reasonable pay. I wish to through my work benifit both to community and the country. If I have achieved these things then when I die I will look back and think that was a job well done.

Boy aged 12: in Australia 4 years.

It wasn’t a great year, but that is common in most school years. I think it was then that my parents had the strange notion to emigrate from Israel. I do indeed remember them discussing the move, I remember not being too happy about it at first. I did not want to leave in the least bit because I didn’t want to leave my friends behind, but eventually I realised that it was a wise decision. Approximately then I started watching the news and learnt that a war was raging between Israel and Iraq. And when my father went to serve in the army, as all Israely men have to, I realised that I would nothing more than to leave.

My life now is much better than before, I can state that quite clearly. I have become quite accustomed to the english language and the Australian way of life. It did seem strange to me at first but now I do not mind it. Over the last few years I have made a lot of friends and I consider my life now very good.

In the future my life should improve and I plan on gaining more friends in this new school. I expect succeed in my academics as well as my physical education and sport.

X*** aged 12: In Australia 6 years.

Hello! My name is X*** and I will write in this paragraph about an incident that happened nine years ago. When I was still in Shanghai, something almost fatal happened. It was a hot and stuffy night and some of my grandparent’s friends came. While they were talking, I climbed onto the window sill of a bay window. It was much cooler sitting on the window sill.

What I didn’t know was that the window was opened. So when I rocked a bit too hard, my upper body was dangling out of a 12 storey high apartment! Luckily, my grandmother saw me and grabbed me just before I fell out of the window and made a mess on the road. So, as you can see, I had a very frightening past…


Shanghai 1995

Boy–aged 15–in Australia 3.5 years.

5 years ago I was in Shanghai, China. I went to my local comprehensive primary school which was a alright school. In school learn mainly Math, Chinese and Biology. But we also used to do secoundary subjects like Art & crafts and music. The school was fairly small compared to the Public schools in Australia, but we had fun. In school every subject was very compatative and stressful. In school sport was not one of main componants. Every once in a while we play table tennis or soccer.

… In the next five years I want to go to America and Major in Music and Computer Engineering in “Julian University”. Julian University* I heard was a good school for musicans. might even get a Doctorate in Music. When I’m a bit older, I wish to join the Venia Philharmonic Orchestra. That is my vision of the future. I might even say I might marry a very good looking
super model, but I don’t think that will happen.

He means The Juilliard School.

The Art of War

In a Facebook exchange yesterday on Trump, the West and China, Michael Xu mentioned The Art of War.


Many a leader across many a culture has studied the Chinese classic.

The Art of War is used as instructional material at the US Military Academy at West Point, in the course Military Strategy (470), and it is also recommended reading for Royal Officer cadets at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. Some notable military leaders have stated the following about Sun Tzu and the Art of War:

“I always kept a copy of The Art of War on my Desk,”  General Douglas MacArthur, 5 Star General & Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in WW2.

“I have read The Art of War by Sun Tzu. He continues to influence both soldiers & politicians.” General Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State.

Then I recalled that at SBHS way back in 2000 I was given the task of addressing parents of our students from language backgrounds other than English, especially those of East Asian background. Here is what I said. The issues of coaching and parental pressure were front of my mind. Note: there were other speakers/interpreters at the meeting, including a representative of the Korean community, and Ms Ursula Ng from the Advisory Centre for Australian Education. Her son, Yin Shum, was a student at SBHS in the 90s.

ESL and the Art of War — from my archives

A Talk to Bilingual Parents

I gave this talk at the first NESB Parent Night at Sydney Boys High in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.


Note: while some of the strategies suggested here may help, my English and ESL site does not address dyslexia, as I do not have the requisite specialist knowledge for that.

This provocative and obviously faked bit of nonsense on my nephew’s Facebook prompted me to revisit the scene of the crime….


I have enhanced it so you can clearly see the impressions on the other side  of the paper which appear unlikely to have come from the “boy” who allegedly did that “test”.  (Is that the boy’s name under the heading?) Further, the “teacher” looks suspiciously like the “boy” when it comes to handwriting. So maybe just a spoof, but the person who originally (maybe– God knows where it is from!) posted it in South Africa seems to have taken it as “evidence” of the appalling state of teaching in 2020 –well, 2019 maybe. But teaching — where? South Africa? Lousiana — where the folk have lately been parading their good spelling and lack of common sense, let alone education, for all to see?


At least she can spell “fraudulent”! Put the lady in the State Spelling Bee! Just goes to show that good spelling (and grammar) while commendable isn’t everything! (Scott Fitzgerald was a lousy speller, you know. Didn’t stop him writing The Great Gatsby though which tells you more about America than Donald Trump’s little pinkie could.)

So the scene of the crime, or rather of my own teaching. Yes, I have evidence from late in my career in the site/blog originally called the Sydney Boys High School English and ESL Page but since my retirement travelling across to WordPress as English, ESL and more!

I should repeat the caution from the side bar there: “WARNING! Links are no longer checked regularly so some may no longer work. Content stands as at the last revisions in 2007-9. Comments are still monitored regularly.”  Yes it does occasionally get comments still.

And now spelling, from that site. Still useful, but I have left out a long series of links only half of which now work. (Universities and government agencies are the worst — constantly moving stuff around. I guess the IT people have to do something with their time!)  Any remaining links do work.

I’m a poor speller. Can you help?


The short answer is YES, but it may require patience and hard work.

Why is there a problem?

  • English has up to 45 distinct sounds (phonemes) but only 26 letters, so there is a problem to start with. (If you are interested in this, look at The International Phonetic Alphabet. Since many of the best dictionaries now use this in their pronunciation guides, it is worth studying. On this site you get to hear each sound in British and American.)
  • We use the letters wastefully and illogically. The most famous examples are bough, cough, sought, thorough, though, tough, through where ough is sounded in seven different ways! Or there is that old riddle: What could ghoti spell? The answer is fish. (Rough, women, nation: GH+O+TI = FISH.)
  • The reasons for English spelling being the way it is are interesting. Simply put, it is 1) because English is made up from many different languages and has inherited spellings from all of them and 2) there was no set spelling, and no dictionaries, in English until about 300 years ago. See also Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling.

 Ms Finnie of Sydney Boys High School Social Science Department sent this by email (March 2005):

Reasons why the English language is so hard to learn:

1. The bandage was wound around the wound.
2. The farm was used to produce produce.
3. The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.
4. We must polish the Polish furniture.
5. He could lead if he would get the lead out.
6. The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.
7. Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to
present the present.
8. A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.
9. When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes. [Must be American!- NW]
10. I did not object to the object.
11. The insurance was invalid for the invalid.
12. There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.
13. They were too close to the door to close it.
14. The buck does funny things when the does are present.
15. A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.
16. To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.
17. The wind was too strong to wind the sail.
18. After a number of injections my jaw got number.
19. Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.
20. I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.
21. How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

There is no egg in eggplant nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. Quicksand works slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig. And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend. If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it? Is it an odd, or an end? If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Park on the driveway, drive on the parkway? Have noses that run and feet that smell? How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on. English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

P.S. – Why doesn’t “Buick” rhyme with “quick”? On the other hand, why is there no word to rhyme with orange?

That goes way beyond spelling into idiom and other matters, of course….

So what can you do?


  • Be curious about words and really look at them.
  • Sound the word you want to spell very slowly, seeing how many sounds go into it and how those sounds are represented.
  • Learn how to break long words up into syllables.
  • Check you are pronouncing it correctly. Some people spell mischievous incorrectly because they are pronouncing it incorrectly as X mischievIous.
  • Write the word down three times. Check it, then write it down another three times.
  • When you look up a word in a dictionary, look at the related words: for example, if you look up separate, note separatenessseparately, and so on.
  • Make lists of the words you frequently misspell and learn to spell them correctly.
  • Do crossword puzzles and such things frequently.
  • Pay special attention to homophones like principal and principle.
  • Study the spelling rules that do exist in English.


Here are some sites to help you.

First, we do have a problem: most of the good sites on the Internet are American or Canadian, so we need to observe the differences between Australian spelling and other varieties of English. Australian is generally (but not exactly) like British English.

 This site explains the differences. I guess it is true to say you would be better off spelling well, if a bit like an American, rather than spelling really badly. 😉….

 List of Commonly Misspelled Words. “Here is compiled a list of frequently misspelled words in English. Select a reference source from a dropdown list and click on any word in a list. Depending on your selection of reference source, it will open a new window with definition/pronunciation or translation of this word.” The dropdown list includes the Cambridge Dictionary so you can get British/Australian spellings!

Do you have a good enough dictionary?

Online, it is hard to go past…..