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English is easy to learn - isn't it?

An article from Linvo.org the webpage of EEU (esperantists for an esperantic european union).

They say English is an easy language to learn - but is it!

English proves hard for children LITERACY DIFFICULTIES CREATED BY COMPLEX STRUCTURE AND INCONSISTENT SPELLING: Financial Times; Sep 5, 2001 By CLIVE COOKSON

Children take much longer to establish basic reading and writing skills in English than in any other European language, the science festival heard yesterday.

An international study of 700 primary school children in 15 European countries showed that most have "mastered the basic foundation elements of literacy" within a year or less of starting school. But the English-speaking sample - from Dundee - took 2 1/2 years.

Philip Seymour, psychology professor at Dundee University, said: "It seems likely that the main cause of the slow rate of progress in English is linguistic and derives from difficulties created by the complex syllable structure and inconsistent spelling system.

Prof Seymour, the study director, said groups were matched for general educational ability and social background. The results were unlikely to be influenced significantly by different teaching methods across Europe or by the fact that children start school at the age of five in Britain but at six or seven in most Continental countries.

The second most difficult language for native speakers to become literate was Danish, followed by French and Portuguese. The remaining languages - Greek, Italian, Spanish, German, Dutch, Norwegian, Icelandic and Finnish - were all mastered easily within a year.

The survey, which was partly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, showed that on average the Scottish children had mastered only 30 per cent of the basic elements of literacy within a year and 70 per cent within two years of starting school.

English presents two linguistic challenges, Prof Seymour said. It has a complex "syllabic structure", with several consonants often grouped together. Also, most importantly, it has inconsistent mapping between letters and sounds, as for example in "eight" and "ate".

Asked whether he would favour a new move to simplify and regularise English spelling, now that it is emerging as a world language, Prof Seymour replied: "I am in two minds about that. It might make English easier to learn but a lot of the richness of the language would be lost."

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