“Worth the wait!”

“Endlessly fascinating.”

“Another excellent lesson!”

“What you are doing is great!”

“My brain is buzzing with ideas . . .”

“This evening’s seminar was spectacular!”

“I so appreciate learning more depth about our words.”

“So many years I have struggled with language and this is really helping!”

“The whole lesson was wonderfully designed it seemed to me from start to finish.”

Since their introduction in June 2014, the LEXinars have been a source of revelation and joy for participants, and LEX is pleased to announce a new page just for LEXinars. We’ve reorganized our site a bit with new tabs at the top in order to give the online language study a room of its own.

LEXinar dates will be listed and updated regularly. Click on the page’s links to learn more about existing LEXinars, to register online, or to suggest a topic of your own! In addition to the LEXinars on Old English for Orthographers, and The Spell of Spelling and the Glamour of Grammar, we’re ready to try our hand at a couple of new subjects.

Continuing Education Units are available from the Academic Language Therapy Association.

Now, back to our regular programming.

One of the reasons I don’t post here as often as I’d like — certainly not as often as I think about it — is because I spend a lot of time answering questions for people. This morning, I received and answered an email from a wonderful tutor I trained last year in Pennsylvania, a deep thinker whose approaches her language scholarship with integrity. I liked her questions — and my answers — enough to massage it into a post. One of the biggest problems in phonics and in literacy research is a flawed understanding of phonemes. This tutor’s email betrays a sophisticated understanding not only of what phonemes are, but also of the difference between phonology and phonetics, something that phonics is hard-pressed to explain.

She began her email with a question about diphthongs:

“Vowel phonemes that are comprised of 2 phones are called diphthongs, like the /aɪ/ in wide or the /ɔɪ/ in boy.”


She continued: “Do most long vowels slide?”

Indeed, I responded. English has 6 ‘long vowels':
/eɪ/ /iː/ /aɪ/ /oʊ/ /ju/ and /uː/, as in bait, beet, bite, boat, beaut, boot .

Only /iː/ and /uː/ do not glide. The rest of them do. You may note that there are kind of two “spots” in a long vowel phoneme. When we write /iː/ it’s like we were writing /ii/ — where the phone [i] is taking both the “spots” in the long vowel phoneme. The gliding vowels have different phones in each of their “spots.”

But “I don’t hear it [the glide] in long <o> or <oo> or <e>, ” she confessed.

She’s aboslutely correct that there’s no glide in ‘long oo’ or ‘long e’ — that’s /uː/ and /iː/ in the International Phonetic Alphabet. I explained that the glide in /oʊ/ ['long o'] is slight, but it is there. It’s not that we don’t hear it; it’s that we don’t perceive it. British English glides even more noticeably in this phoneme — I’d represent British ‘long o’ as /əʊ/, American as /oʊ/. If you try to pronounce “go” the way you normally would, and compare it to someone saying “go” with a French accent, you may be able to then perceive the glide in the English version.

She went on. “Would you teach students for spelling the concept of sliding vowels?”

So, I did not say this in my email but I want to highlight here that this is a question I frequently get: “Would you teach students X?” All I can really say is that I would share with students any understanding I have about language, bar none. At no point does it make sense to me to deliberately withhold facts about the writing system from anyone. Now, the question is a charitable one, and I understand the time constraints and lesson planning decisions that drive it. But no one will ever hear me say, “No. That is a piece of understanding language I don’t recommend sharing with children.”

Okay, back to the question.  I would absolutely teach children about diphthongs. Goodness knows they’re already mistaught plenty about diphthongs. Children frequently misspell words precisely because they’re perceiving a diphthong, such as when they write cycle as <saycl> or white as <wait>.

The tutor switched gears. “Consonant phonemes that are comprised of 2 phones are called clusters, like the /ʧ/ in chip or the /ks/ in box.”

Right again. And, while I didn’t say it in the email, I’d like to add that this is something that phonics gets dead wrong, pretty much every time. They’ll tell you that <x> spells two phonemes — /k/ and /s/. It’s because they don’t understand the crucial difference between phones and phonemes: <x> spells a single phoneme that is comprised of two phones, a consonant cluster phoneme. Many languages have consonant cluster phonemes, like /ʦ/ or /ps/: the /ps/ phoneme in Greek is spelled with a single character, <ψ> (psi), just like our <x>. If something is spelled with a single grapheme in an alphabetic writing system, it’s a single phoneme.

But “how does /ʧ/ have 2 phones?” she asked. This is why I love her question: because she’s not just trusting the definition I give her, or accepting that the /ʧ/ is two phones because I said so. She’s looking for an understanding she can call her own, so she can do just what she asked if she should do: share this understanding with her students.

Here’s what I told her: [ʧ] starts like a [t] and ends like a [ʃ]. Think of it this way — say the word “hatchet” and feel the /ʧ/ in the middle. Then, say the word “batshit” — as in “she’s batshit crazy” — and feel the /tʃ/ in there. You don’t have a hard time perceiving both the [t] and the [ʃ] in “batshit” because it’s a compound and you’re aware of the morphemic boundary between the two phones. But because you perceive (as a native speaker) the /ʧ/ in “hatchet” as a phoneme — as a unit — it’s harder for you to be aware of the two phones. The [t] is unreleased — if you pronounce “bat” without the “shit” — you probably release the /t/ at the end, so it is aspirated as [tʰ]. But when you pronounce the /ʃ/ right next to it, it’s not released, so it sounds like a /ʧ/. This should help you be able to better perceive the two phones in /ʧ/.

Now, I’m not suggesting that hatchet and batshit are phonetically identical. It’s a difference between /ʧ/ and /tʃ/. It may be tacky, but this batshit/hatchet pair provides an excellent example of how /ʧ/ has two phones, because they rhyme. A kid-friendly example might be ouch and outshine, or studying the /tʃ/ in hotshot, courtship, or nightshirt. Understanding the structure of the /ʧ/ also helps us understand why some kids write words like tree and trap as *<chree> and *<chrap>: the /t/ in trap is phonetically closer to the [ʧ] in chap than it is to the [tʰ] in tap. It’s the same phenomenon when they write *<jress> instead of <dress>.

More importantly, studying this pair also peels back the ways that orthographic understanding runs hand in hand with true phonemic understanding. Being aware of phonemes is all well and good, but awareness without understanding is a little crazy.

I’ve been known to say that silent letters are stories waiting to be told, but this is a story about silent letters. This past March, I received a message in my personal Facebook inbox asking me this:

rui 1





I am, and I was, so I read on.

rui 2













Needless to say, I was interested. Not only did I respond to my inquirer, Rui; I responded in rusty Portuguese:

rui 3







Of course, it should’ve said entre duas línguas. I said it was rusty.

Rui was delighted, and we agreed that I would be able to read and approve the subtitles. He gave me a brief(ish) history of orthographic reform in Portugal and Brazil, and explained that having this video  about a “silent” letter  subtitled into continental Portuguese, was particularly important to the ILC — Iniciativa Legislativa de Cidadãos, an informal group of citizens without any kind of political or religious affiliation, currently trying to gather 35,000 signatures to take political action to halt the movement of orthographic reform within Portugal. Rui has a lot of passion for orthography, including the places where it is deep. He deserves all the credit for untangling TED’s red tape and getting all the permissions through. He faced an uphill battle because the Brazilian subtitles had already been published, but he kept at it even while working in Africa with limited Internet access.

I am pleased to announce that after three months of hard work, interhemispheric communication, fine-tuning translated idioms, and Rui’s relentless follow-up, the Portuguese-from-Portugal subtitles are now available in the captioning options of the TED-Ed video. And he did it all with good cheer:

rui 4






Of course, I don’t expect all of my readers will hie to the video to watch it with Portuguese and/or Brazilian subtitles, but that’s exactly what I did. Here’s a snippet of each, with an important difference:

TED Portuguese actual










TED Brazilian atual









Congratulations to Rui and the team of translators who achieved a happy ending for this story.

Update: Due to an overwhelming response, inquiries for this training opportunity have been closed.

I’m inviting a small group of people into a unique online study starting this summer. Here’s why, and below that is how. Space is limited, and costs are to be determined based on the number of participants.

My entry into language education was Orton-Gillingham, a teaching approach developed specifically for individuals with dyslexia. The approach was named for Dr. Samuel T. Orton, a neurospychyatrist, and Anna Gillingham, a psychologist and teacher. While a few other colleagues contributed significantly to the approach, it bears Sam and Anna’s names, and, I like to think, it also bears their legacy of refusing to accept the status quo for bright children struggling with literacy.

My training began nearly 15 years ago, just before the field began its journey toward accreditation, certification, and standardization of its practices. The Initial training program was structured and rigorous, requiring 45 graduate-level seminar hours and a 100-hour supervised practicum over the course of a year. The program later became accredited by the International Multisensory Structured Language Education Council, or IMSLEC, and I still maintain my continuing education records for recertification under IMSLEC’s banner. My trainer, Dave Winters, was patient and thorough, and he remains a friend and mentor today. As the field continued to professionalize in the early 2000s, Dave became a Fellow in the Academy of Orton-Gillingham Practitioners and Educators (AOGPE).

Within a few years I had become a supervisor and was observing others’ lessons. I began the Advanced Training, and in 2002 started working with my first training, group, still under Dave’s expert guidance. A few years later I had the privilege of interning as an Advanced Trainer under Marcia Henry, also a Fellow in the AOGPE, and a legend in the field. Marcia herself had trained under Paula D. Rome, a teacher whose physician uncle was a student and colleague of Sam Orton. Dave too had been trained in the same tradition, with Paula’s partner, Jean Osman. By my calculations, this puts me just three handshakes from Orton and Gillingham themselves. It’s a professional genealogy I am proud of, though I have no right to be, as I didn’t earn it.

Over the course of my career, I have trained hundreds of teachers in fifteen states in Orton-Gillingham, in the same rigorous IMSLEC-accredited program I am certified in, at both the Initial and Advanced levels. I have traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada, where I have attended and presented at countless conferences, and have both taught and observed thousands of lessons with children. But none none of these is my proudest achievement in this field.

While these numbers are indeed earned, they do not give my work integrity; I am not McDonald’s. Rather, what makes and keeps me credible in my work is that I keep learning. My own continuing studies have been a bit of a challenge to the field, to its traditions, and to some of its personalities. My public writing, including this website, documents that. I have loved this field and love it still, but my orthographic work has both widened and narrowed my scholarship community, and I’ve been saying a long goodbye to Orton-Gillingham training.

Or so I thought. It turns out, this field has been affected by this spelling work, and more and more, people within the OG field are seeking a coherent understanding of the writing system. Not everyone, just small pockets here and there. But these pockets are seeking me out. They want OG training, but they also want to engage with the understanding of our writing system that Real Spelling, Pete Bowers, and I might offer.

LEX is not an accredited training facility. As an individual, I am a certified instructor in an accredited training program, but that certification is confined to my training in that (or in another) accredited program. I can train and certify people in OG as LEX, but that certificate is not part of any accredited or recognized OG program.

Yet still people ask me to do the training.

Here’s the invitation to study: The most recent request is for a training that will take place online, in real time, over Zoom, a video conferencing platform. This will be a full, year-long training consisting of 45-50 Zoom seminar hours, plus a private, supervised practicum. Participants will not only learn to deliver the Orton-Gillingham approach, but will study OG as a field — its history, its structure, where’s it’s been, and where it’s going.

Dates are already set for summer.  Space is limited, and sessions will not be recorded.

The Old English digraph <eo> is often rendered in present-day English as a double <e>:


And many, many more.

If you dig this kind of stuff, you may want to sign up for the Old English for Orthographers LEXinar, five Mondays from 6:30-8:00pm Central Daylight time, June 23rd ~ July 21st.

Note: This inaugural Old English LEXinar is now full. Other schedules will be offered; or, gather your own group of three and propose a schedule to me!

Update: Please contact us for currently scheduled LEXinars!

LEX is pleased to announce the first offerings of LEXinars, offerings for language study via online conferencing.

The first LEXinar will be offered this summer; two schedules are being offered. Our topic is The Spell of Spelling and the Glamour of Grammar, which will investigate the intersections of English orthography with English syntax. We’ll take a look at how both spelling and grammar have been historically and culturally characterized as magical or tricky, and we’ll peel back those perspectives to understand how both spelling and grammar make sense.

Session I: Fridays, June 6, 13, 20, 27, and Monday June 30: 2:00pm – 3:30pm Central Daylight Time

Session II: Mondays, June 16, 23, 30, and July 7 and 14: 9:30am – 11:00 am Central Daylight Time

Each registration is good for one person at one computer or tablet. Schedules may not be mixed. You may inquire or register via email or by filling out our contact form here, and online payment can be made at this link. Space is limited and is allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.

Later this summer, we’ll offer Old English for Orthographers. Once we get these underway, we’ll consider additional topics.

A tip of the hat to Real Spelling, who’s launched the wonderfully enlightening Spellinars!

We hope you can join us!

Although I spent my college years and a summer in New England, I never made it to Maine. I’m pleased to announce the imminent remedy to that oversight!

To register, go here, or send in the registration form below.

Hope you can join us!

140920 Bangor Seeing the Sense Flyer 1


140920 Bangor Seeing the Sense Flyer 2


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