Unless you’re a word-nerd, like me, you probably haven’t heard of this gentleman. But he’s done us all a great service.
I first stumbled upon Flesch’s writing when I was working for an English law firm in Hong Kong. It was post-handover, and my firm was trying to modernise itself by training all its lawyers to use Plain English when drafting legal agreements.
I was reluctant: I’d spent a good ten years training myself up on all the “hereinafters”, and “withnesseths”, and “inter alias” and other legal mumbo jumbo, and didn’t want to let them go (they made me feel smart). I was convinced Plain English and the precise use of language were incompatible – that the Plain English movement was a passing fad.
Then I read Flesch’s How to Write Plain English: A Book for Lawyers and Consumers, which changed my mind. I moved on to “How to write, speak and think more effectively”, which changed the way I speak and write. Then I read Flesch’s most famous book: Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do about It (1955).
By reading Johnny, I became aware of the debate between educators known as “the reading wars”. The trend in some parts of the USA in the 1950s was for children to memorise words by sight, sometimes called the “look-say” method. (Vestiges of this approach are still used by some teachers and literacy tutors when they drill children with pages of low frequency “sight words” or instruct kids to “look, cover, write”.)
Flesch argued that memorising words individually is inefficient and ineffective and advocated a return to the traditional teaching practice of using the phonics (sounds) method – that is, teaching kids to read by sounding out words. This is one of the core features of the Spalding Method, and an approach endorsed by National Reading Panel in their 2000 report. It’s the approach we take at Banter Speech & Language to help kids with reading difficulties.
Mr Flesch’s other contributions include developing a number of readability tests, still used today to assess the complexity of a piece of writing. I use the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease test to make sure my blog entries are easy to read and that I haven’t slipped back into old bad (lawyer) habits…
- 25 rules of effective writing from a plain English legend
- The Spalding Method: a comprehensive program for learning to read, write and to spell
- Alan Siegal – plain English – striving for simplicity
- Want your writing to sound smarter? Get rid of pointless, long words
Images: http://tinyurl.com/qbsq94z and http://tinyurl.com/oxwveto
Banter Speech & Language is owned and managed by David Kinnane, a Hanen- and LSVT LOUD-certified speech-language pathologist with post-graduate training in the Spalding Method for literacy, the Lidcombe and Camperdown Programs for stuttering, and Voicecraft for voice disorders. David is also a Certified PESL Instructor for accent modification.
David holds a Master of Speech Language Pathology from the University of Sydney, where he was a Dean’s Scholar. David is a Practising Member of Speech Pathology Australia and a Certified Practising Speech Pathologist (CPSP).