I have spent a large part of my working life helping people of all ages to learn to spell. This went on mostly in individual lessons or small groups and that means that I have had unusually good opportunities to understand how they feel about themselves, about their difficulties and about the task of learning to spell. I have often been lucky enough to get to know their families and friends and to know something of how they felt too and of the influence they had on my students.

Almost always the work has involved much more than just sound teaching of the spelling system and advice on how to learn it. Most people have arrived with very negative attitudes towards themselves as learners and towards English Spelling. They feel they are particularly stupid (some have said they suspect they are "mad"). They no longer expect that they will be able to learn.

They also often think that the spelling system is so chaotic that they can't see any system about it at all.

Often they have got through life so far without being much bothered by their poor spelling. It is astonishing how many children get through school without ever having to write very much or without having their writing checked. Some are unaware that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways of writing words. If your mistakes are treated in the same way as what you have written correctly, how can you know that they are mistakes?

Many think that spelling is a kind of school ritual - like uniform or the playground rules - and that once they have left they won't need to bother with it again. So they do as little as possible and look forward to the days of freedom that will come when they are sixteen.

For many it is only then or when they are even older that they find out that writing when you can't spell is a terrible chore, often impossible, and that the opportunities for work and other activities are seriously limited.

When they do come to learn at last, they will have to work hard at it and be very determined. Except for the toughest people, it will be very hard for them to do that unless most people around them believe that the effort is worthwhile and that they will be able to succeed. They will also need attention, sympathetic help and encouragement to persevere.

In the end I am pretty sure that it is these attitudes and expectations in the learners themselves and in those around them that make the difference to their success.