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 Dictionary.com…..


Body language, cross-cultural communication, Trump etc…

I see Tony Abbott has gone into bat for The Donald. That figures…

Mr Abbott defended Mr Trump’s policies, which include building a wall between Mexico and the United States to repel migrants, as reasonable.

“Many of the Trump positions are reasonable enough,” he said.

Mind you, I don’t entirely disagree with what Tony Abbott says there about T’s supporters. It is worth reading David A Hill Jr, I Listened to a Trump Supporter.

She was a family friend, a good person. In rural Ohio, everything was tight. Money, jobs. If you really needed quick cash, she’d put you to work doing landscaping. She’d pay fairly and reliably for the area.

She’s voting for Donald Trump. I disagree with her choice, but I understand why she rejects Clinton so fiercely, and why she’s been swept up in Donald Trump’s particular brand of right-wing populism. I feel that on the left, it’s increasingly easy to ignore these people, to disregard them, to write them off as racists, bigots, or uneducated. I think that’s a loss for everyone involved, and that sometimes listening can help you to at least understand why a person is making the choices they make, so you can work on the root causes.

Hat tip to Alex Au in Singapore for that article.

Meanwhile The Donald himself lately does seem to be verging on the barking mad:

Florida: Donald Trump has denied a slew of new allegations of sexually predatory behaviour in an angry diatribe of speech in Florida, accusing the women who made them of fabrication and the media outlets that published them as being party to a conspiracy against him…

Mr Trump claimed a variety of forces including the Clintons and the media were seeking to rig the US election.

“Their agenda is to elect crooked Hillary Clinton at any cost, at any price, no matter how many lives they destroy. For them, it’s a war. And for them, nothing at all is out of bounds,” he said.

“This is a struggle for the survival of our nation. Believe me. And this will be our last chance to save it on November 8. Remember that.”

Sorry. Did I really say “verging on” then?

OK, back to that second debate. I found myself riveted all through – yes I watched the whole show – by the body language, especially The Donald’s. What a study in proxemics!



Pure monstering. The stills barely capture the effect that the pacing and scowling communicated. Not a nice man.

All that had me thinking again of what I learned from the 1990s on in my ESL studies and practice about cross-cultural communication, and the topic in fact came up earlier this week in conversation at Diggers with someone who spent considerable time in PNG and S-E Asia. A summary directed at business people is Different Cultural Communication Styles.

Factoring in personal space expectations between cultures enhances communication in any social or business setting. While Northern Europeans and European Americans feel most comfortable at an arm’s length away in a social interaction, Hispanics would consider that distance unfriendly. Knowing what is expected is helpful. Eye contact and touch etiquette also vary dramatically in different cultures. Asian cultures do not believe in touching in public settings, and they don’t favor direct eye contact. Like the Asian culture, Hispanics also view direct eye contact as a lack of respect. One significant difference between these two cultures is the way touching in public is perceived. Hispanics are a “high touch” society. Before meeting with a different culture, it is best to learn about these etiquette considerations.

That’s just one aspect. Oriented to schools is Communicating Across Cultures from the Victorian Education Department.

Interpretations of verbal communication can be culturally based. Misunderstandings can easily arise. For example in some cultures:

  • It is impolite to speak without being specifically asked by a superior, thus some students will not say hello, will not volunteer answers and will not answer generally directed questions.
  • It is not appropriate to refuse a request, thus saying ‘yes’ may mean ‘I am listening’, or ‘maybe’, or ‘no’. Avoidance behaviour rather than contradiction is used i.e. not doing what is requested is the polite response, as opposed to saying directly ‘no’.
  • Direct confrontation is to be avoided. It is more important to maintain the relationship, then to find an answer to an immediate disputed issue or problem. This contrasts with the anglo-Australian approach of trying to resolve issues by frank and open discussion of the disputed issue, clearly stating personal needs and preferences and direct bargaining tactics focusing on an immediate solution.
  • Asking questions when you already know the answer, which is a common teaching technique in Australia, can indicate a lack of intelligence in some cultures.

Then at the levels prom personal to international relations see the course Dealing Constructively with Intractable Conflicts, particularly Michelle Le Baron, Cross-Cultural Communication.

The challenge is that even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists. We make — whether it is clear to us or not — quite different meaning of the world, our places in it, and our relationships with others. In this module, cross-cultural communication will be outlined and demonstrated by examples of ideas, attitudes, and behaviors involving four variables:

  • Time and Space
  • Fate and Personal Responsibility
  • Face and Face-Saving
  • Nonverbal Communication

As our familiarity with these different starting points increases, we are cultivating cultural fluency — awareness of the ways cultures operate in communication and conflict, and the ability to respond effectively to these differences.

In a multicultural society in an even more multicultural world these are areas we all need familiarity with. Back to proxemics:

The difficulty with space preferences is not that they exist, but the judgments that get attached to them. If someone is accustomed to standing or sitting very close when they are talking with another, they may see the other’s attempt to create more space as evidence of coldness, condescension, or a lack of interest. Those who are accustomed to more personal space may view attempts to get closer as pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive. Neither is correct — they are simply different.

Mind you, Trump was being “pushy, disrespectful, or aggressive”!

Related: My 1998 UTS Grad Cert TESOL assignment A Japanese Backpacker’s year in Australia may even amuse you.