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Friday, April 23, 2010



I think you can make a pretty strong argument for spelling as a time saver. While I'm not sure learning to spell those massive collections of letters that you might find in a 7th grade spelling bee helps all that much, knowing how to spell a good portion of the English language saves a lot of time. Now that most written communication goes through word-processing, knowing how many t's are in mattress may not be vital but how much time can you waste fixing it every time you type it (which is more than you think, going off my experience)- especially if you are having to go through drop down menus. Knowing the basis of spelling is about as useful as knowing your basic math facts. While your life may not hinge on knowing how many times 6 goes into 30, there are times (perhaps when you have 30 skittles and 6 screaming 4 year olds) that a quick bit of mental math is still more efficient than fishing out your iphone and pulling up an app. Plus, even with word processing, it's important to be able to get at least within spitting distance of how to spell a word. From the readers perspective, having something spelled reasonably correctly is a big time saver as well. Try having your son read a paragraph with a good percentage of the words having common misspellings or spelled phonetically.

Karen Paul-Stern

I love playing Scrabble with my husband the writer and journalist, who, to this day, gets his double consonants mixed up -- hee hee. But seriously, I believe that spelling is one of those life skills that you learn just because, although I have many people in my life who have tried to convince me otherwise. I have a theory, which is that spelling talent is innate - you either know how to spell (as I do) or you have to work at it (as my husband does.) Spell check certainly helps those in my husband's camp, but it doesn't serve you well, as you point out, when you are writing something away from the computer (which, admittedly, happens less and less in our society.) I definitely think poorly of anything I see that is misspelled or has a grammatical inaccuracy, but I think I am dying breed.

Elizabeth Kuizenga

The "annoying-but-necessary presentation issue" is a good way to keep your son motivated to learn the illogical spellings of the English language. But I would agree with him when he questions the usefulness of learning English spelling beyond that. There are plenty of reasons why we have all agreed on so many time-consuming ways to spell various sounds in English, but none of them are very good reasons, and it is definitely time to clean up the mess. Perhaps when he is grown he can join the hundreds of others who are fed up with English spelling and find some ways to crack this seemingly sacred cow.

valerie yule

Your son will find all the wonders of modern science and wonder why we cannot crack this tiny nut of unnecessary difficulties in English spelling. Only 20% of 'misspelled words' that make all the rest unpredictable. Dictionaries are slowly removing them - but they could be faster. Let's pester them, and try to get an International English spelling commission.
A hundred words make up half of everyday English text. Only 35 are irregular. Keep them. This is counter-intuitive – generally people imagine the most common tricky words should be the first to go - these are: all almost always among come some could should would half know of off one only once other pull push put they their two as was what want who why, and international word endings -ion/-tion/-sion/zion.
Then remove surplus silent letters in words, and we are halfway to cutting out the 149 spelling patterns and exceptions that bother us. Surplus letters are those that do not help with meaning or pronunciation - See and We have now for example demon, omelet, economy, error, ether, exotic, horror, medieval, music, program, develop, salad and satin insted of daemon, omelette, oeconomy, errour, aether, exotick, horrour, mediaeval, musick, programme, develope, sallad and sattin.


I am one of the last believers in correct spelling. Probably just because I like to spell. And I'm good at it. So, I have to hold my correcting self back when my kindergartener uses her extremely inventive spelling to spin out stories and poems although I have to admit that a lot of her spelling makes phonological sense. And sometimes it fits the word, e.g., "crassy" for "crazy." Still, I'm looking forward to the day she starts to spell conventionally. And I think she will learn to do so because she, like me, loves to read, which is the key, I think, to becoming a good speller.

Masha Bell

Your son is absolutely right to question the value of having to learn the irregular spellings in 3695 common English words (listed at from ‘leave, sleeve, believe’ to ‘blue, shoe, flew, through, to, you, too’. They have no redeeming value whatsoever. They waste learning time which could be put to much more profitable use.
For a year or so, children learn the basic rules of the English spelling system. For the rest of their school days, they have to learn how to break them: bed, fed, led – said, head, Wednesday...
I did not meet English spelling until the age of 14, after Lithuanian and Russian, and found it hard to understand how any people could subject their children to such cruelty. I realise now that this is not deliberate dumbing down of children’s education potential, although there may have been in the past.
It’s just mindless passing on of traditional habits from generation to generation, without stopping to think what harm it does.
It harms plenty. And at a heavy price too, as I have been trying to explain at and on
Here and now, teachers and parents have to help children cope with English spelling as best they can. But they should keep drawing attention to its imperfections too, so that at long last it gets improved. It’s been extracting pointless sweat and tears from too many children for far too long.

Craig Douglas

I think you hit it right on the head...great job "spinning spelling," and the proof is his spelling grades have already improved. It is a presentation issue - and right, or wrong - I still automatically discount anything presented to me that is full of spelling errors.

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