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Spellings are supreme

December 09, 2017

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Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

I have never come across a person who can say that spellings come naturally to them. We have all messed up and goofed up with spellings, worked hard to get the words in common usage right and left all the other tricky spellings to the mercy of guesswork.

Then came spell check and we all hailed it as the ultimate writing saviour and embraced it with both hands — literary! Now getting the spellings right of homophones and words with tricky silent letters or daunting double letters, is as simple as pressing the F7 key on a computer keyboard. Ta-da! The whole document is checked and all the telltale red underlines gone in seconds!

But life, even in the age of technology, is not so easy. While the spell check may know the right spelling of words, it does not know which is the right word you are trying to write. So you need to know that the right spelling of write, as in writing something, is not right, so if you mix up the correct places of these words when typing on a computer/gadget, the spell check won’t help and set it right. And the autocorrect feature is more of a pain when it inserts an inappropriate word and we overlook it in our hurry to fire off the text message. Haven’t we all been embarrassed when some totally inappropriate word was inserted by the autocorrect function in our text messages?

underlines gone in seconds!

But life, even in the age of technology, is not so easy. While the spell check may know the right spelling of words, it does not know which is the right word you are trying to write. So you need to know that the right spelling of write, as in writing something, is not right, so if you mix up the correct places of these words when typing on a computer/gadget, the spell check won’t help and set it right. And the autocorrect feature is more of a pain when it inserts an inappropriate word and we overlook it in our hurry to fire off the text message. Haven’t we all been embarrassed when some totally inappropriate word was inserted by the autocorrect function in our text messages?

According to a Harvard study, “37 subjects working on a task with spell check versus 28 subjects working without — were found essentially reliant on the technology to do the spelling for them. Laziness and the fact that they didn’t need to, contributed to this rather than their lack of knowledge of the spellings.”

The importance of learning spellings in the age of technology

Overall, we have all become lazy and somewhat unconcerned about learning spellings, mainly because what we don’t know can easily be checked through technology. Even the good old dictionary is losing its essential place in the bookshelf of every house. Picking up this rather voluminous book and turning the pages needs more time and energy than checking a word on a computer or online dictionary.

In addition to all this, texting and social media, where the need to convey more in fewer words, have led to everyone coming up with their own aberrations and misspellings that are considered a whole new language in itself.

Undoubtedly, modern technology offers endless opportunities to students, autocorrect and spell check functions being examples of the useful tools available on our fingertips. However, as with everything, there are negatives associated with modern technology too and there are many instances when both these digital dictionaries are unavailable and we are stuck — and we get stuck really badly in school and exams. Then we pay dearly for our poor spellings with poor marks and a poorer impression.    

The ability to spell words correctly is a lifelong skill and the foundation of education and written communication. It affects people’s progress both at school and their jobs, and the effectiveness of their communication on a personal level. Poor spellings can spoil things both personally and professionally too.

Through written communication, we are not just transmitting information but also an impression of ourselves to others. If a person can’t be bothered to spell correctly, then it signifies that the person has a careless attitude and can’t be trusted to convey other things, such as facts and figures, with precision.

Poor spellings also cause confusion and can be misleading. Even a simple mistake of an apostrophe, such as the error many of us make when using “its” in place of “it’s”, can make us appear uneducated.

Thus there is no denying that we are judged on our ability of write and spell correctly, in any language that we are using. Though spelling skills have declined overall, poor spellings are still as unacceptable as they have always been.

Various activities, both at home and school, can easily and very creatively help students learn the rules of English grammar and spellings. In fact, technology can be a great help in this as there are countless websites offering activities that help build spelling skill and vocabulary. Along with these, there are useful mobile apps and programmes that being fun learning lessons right to our palms. 

With the relevance of spellings in the digital age well established, let us see how taking part in a spelling competition, such as the spelling bee, can be useful in so many ways.

Vocabulary enhancement

Spelling bee participants not only learn the spellings of words, but also the roots and origins, the history, meaning and grammatical functions of words. Imagine the thousands of words they learn this way! And because their learning of the words is deeper than mere rote-learning of spellings, they will remember the words long after the competition is over and use it more appropriately than most people who increase their vocabulary by simple reading.

Armed with so many more words than their peers, they are bound to excel at speaking, reading and writing. Their literacy level enhances automatically and this gets reflected in their improved grades.

Illustration by Ahmed Amin
Illustration by Ahmed Amin

Improved learning skills

To learn spellings, students use different learning methods, tools and tricks — in fact, anything that works for them. This in turn teaches them the use of different learning methods which can easily, and as effectively, be applied to other subjects too.

Thus they end up being better and more efficient learners, who have gone through the grind and can go through it again.

Better planners and executors

As a good strategy is needed to prepare for a spelling bee competition, or any competition for that matter, participants learn how to make a plan to learn the spellings along with their regular school work, work on the plan, make changes if required and reach their desired goal.

These are essential life skills that are needed for success in all spheres and stages of life.

Self-discovery

The intense process of learning also makes students more self-aware. They get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their potential, capabilities and limitations. Smart students then make the effort to work around their weaknesses and make the most of their strengths, thus utilising their full potential.

Handling pressure

All students who take part in spelling bee competitions know their spellings, but only those who can keep their wits and think clearly under intense pressure are the ones who get to win.

A single alphabet at the wrong place or missed, can mean elimination and the sudden end of a journey that took years and months to prepare. So part of the preparation for spelling bee comprises learning how to think clearly as the seconds pass and ask all the right questions to reach the right answer, while being in the spotlight in front of an anxious audience watching with bated breath. If the participants can handle this pressure, they can handle any pressure.

Competitive spirit

Spelling bees nurture a competitive spirit both on an individual level and as a team. First participants compete as a team and eventually they progress to competing on an individual level for the title of the champion.

So they have to first help teammates keep their wits and be better than the other teams and then they push themselves to give their best when they are spelling the words all alone. A friendly rivalry is also created in this way as their teammates, who they were helping in the initial rounds, can become their toughest competitors later on, so they learn to keep a balance between friendship and rivalry.

Builds confidence

A spelling bee helps students gain the confidence to speak in public and face both triumphs and failures with grace.

Every child who takes part in a spelling bee competition is a winner in his or her own right. The process of the preparation and the competition turns them into a more skilled and learned student, irrespective of how they fared in the event.

So a big round of applause to all those who have been part of Dawn’s Spelling Bee, this year and in the past, for you all are champions!

Published in Dawn, Young World, December 9th, 2017