Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Is Spelling a Thing of the Past?

In class this week we did a spelling exercise. It was interesting to realise how few words I can actually spell correctly when put on the spot. In a computer era of Spell-check, online dictionaries, and word processors, is correct spelling becoming a thing of the past? As much as I, myself, depend on Spell-check, I still feel that spelling is an integral part of education. This is not to say spelling skills are absolutely necessary to be intelligent, but that spelling should continue to be an important part of the education process. Many students remember spelling tests and lists of words they needed to know by the next week as the bane of their existence, but those tedious tests may be the reason they are so successful in classes today.

Not only do spelling tests help young students develop a basic spelling skill but they also help introduce the English language. At an Elementary School level many children are not using very advanced language, but, as they grow up, students may have need of words that once seemed useless. While not true in Canada, in the U.S.A. high school graduates who wish to apply to college must write the S.A.T. or Scholastic Aptitude Test. This test is a range of questions on many subjects, and there is a large list of terms that may or may not be on the test at any time. You can see a list of 5000 S.A.T. vocabulary words here. Unfortunately, Spell-check is no help out in a situation like that.

There is also the issue of reliability. Spell-checkers on word processors are only so smart, and often cannot distinguish between verb tenses and other grammar mistakes. Another problem is if a word is correctly spelt but in the wrong context, spell-check is unlikely to pick up on it. Canadians have even more of a problem with spell-check. Because our spelling tends to differ from both the American spelling and the UK spelling in some situations, spell-check doesn't always recognise a word or auto-corrects it to something incorrect. Without a basic knowledge of spelling no one could successfully use spell-check in the first place. The Internet, when looking up spelling, is not always dependable either. As quoted by Brent Stempfle on his blog post about Erin McKean, “The Internet shows words, not context.” You may find the spelling for a word online but if you have the wrong context, you’re still wrong. So, despite spelling becoming less of a recognisable skill in today's society there is no doubt that learning it in the first place is necessary.


  1. I agree about the spelling tests! No matter how much some students may hate it at the time (even though I actually liked spelling tests) that spelling will probably stay with them for the rest of their lives. I'm pretty sure that the only reason I can spell "because" correctly is because I can remember my grade three teacher making us repeat it over and over. Furthermore, like you insinuate, if the spelling doesn't stay with the student, it is an introduction to and practise with the English language.

  2. Good point about reliability.

  3. I have noticed in my own writing how reliant I have become on spell-check and the auto-correct feature. After learning more about words and grammar in class, I have made it my personal mission to not just right-click to correct my words, but to try to do it myself, without the help of the computer.

  4. I think spell-check is useful and I will continue to use it.

    Memorizing lists of words, when I was in school, did not help me become a better speller. As a child, I hated having to get up in front of the class and spell out words.

  5. I had problems with our spelling exercise in class as well. Our spelling has become a thing of the past with spell-check. As this tool is so accessible, we tend to turn to it first. You are correct in stating that spell-check is not reliable. It is not able to handle the complex rules of the English language. I agree that spelling tests should be administered to students and you supported your opinion well in this post.