TO SPELL OR NOT TO SPELL

I can’t spell. I never could. I think my first school was what was called ‘progressive’ and we were pretty much left to our own devices. As a result, spelling wasn’t high on my agenda. By the time I got to primary school number 2, which was much more traditional in outlook, the damage was done and I’ve been rubbish at it ever since.

But does it really matter? In this age of abbreviations and text speak who will notice whether a word is correctly spelt or not? This is an argument that I heard recently and I have discussed it with those of my children who are similarly lexicographically challenged. ( I know but please indulge me. It’s such a cool word even if it’s not entirely appropriate in that sentence!) Language is evolving, they say. There have always been variant spellings of words. Everyone knows what I mean even if the spelling is dodgy. I’ve heard it all.

There are two questions lurking here. 1) Does it matter if I can’t spell? and  2) Does it matter if I can’t spell because there are so many things out there to help me do it?

For a while spelling does not seem to have been a high priority for schools. Children have been encouraged to simply get down what they want to say and worry about the formalities later. Far be it from me to staunch the creative juices by insisting on correct letter order. People in glass houses and all that. But….the difference is that I am ashamed that I can’t spell. I know that I should be able to and it is a failing on my part that I struggle with it sometimes. By contrast we seem to have been actively encouraging our children to spell badly.

For me, being able to spell is a bit like table manners. Having them should go unnoticed. Not having them marks you out. I’m sure that that is wrong but in my experience that’s the way of the world. So if you can’t spell it suggests that there is something wrong with the standard of your education. Obviously I’m not talking about people who struggle to spell for learning reasons. Just people like me that can’t do it.

I get away with not being a great speller because most of what I write is corrected as I go by whatever device I’m working with. This is really helpful and I’m sure my spelling has improved by being constantly corrected before my very eyes. There are a couple of downsides. Quite often my first stab at a word is so far off the mark that the spell check fails to recognise it. This is really frustrating and I have to play around with the letters until I get it closer to something that can be corrected. I should make a note of some of my first attempts. They’d make your hair curl!

Secondly, my devices correct my English into American. I know that because despite my failings I do know enough about the rules to know one from the other. But if we don’t teach our children how to spell then the distinctions will be blurred and before long ‘u’ will become redundant and ‘s’ and ‘z’ will be entirely interchangeable.

I gather that the emphasis in schools is changing back so that spelling and punctuation will once again become important at every level. (How anyone could ever think that punctuation was an optional extra is beyond me.) In the meantime, I shall continue to try and improve my own spelling and correct my children’s texts. After all, if a job’s worth doing and all that……

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