How much does spelling matter, anyway?

Taken from Happy Spelling!
Taken from…
Happy Spelling!

Right from the outset I need to make a confession. I am a spelling snob. I could always count on the Spelling Test, that was worth as many marks as the Maths or English Tests, to help pull my marks up. Years of therapy have cured me of impulsively correcting every spelling mistake that I encounter, but it still involves great restraint. I value the ability to be able to spell well, but I am not sure whether this is the result of my upbringing and the times in which I have been educated.

A few weeks ago the NSW Premier’s Spelling Bee Finals were held. The spelling geniuses from Years 3 to 6 spelt their way in the final rounds, through words that most people, and especially most children, would never use or read in their daily lives.

There was a tweet about the Junior Champion that caused me to wonder how relevant this type of competition is in this day and age.

The Junior Finalist
The Junior Finalist

Having accompanied students from @MPEPS to this competition at the regional level several times and once to the state level I know how difficult the words are and how nerve racking it is for both the contestants and spectators. The tension builds as the letters are deliberately spelt out and released as the contestants survive each round, or not. The emotions seesaw and the faces show the pressure. It’s not comfortable viewing. It is a feather in the cap of these students to reach these Finals and to win means that you must be very clever.

I do not want to take away from the success or the skill of these students but I do wonder about the importance of the ability to spell in relation to employability; especially in this age of technology.

Back in Jane Austen’s day, if her original manuscripts are anything to go by, it seemed that there was far more acceptable variation in how things were spelt. Apparently our present uniformity was the result of the invention of printing. Which is all explained much better than I could ever do here at Does Spelling Matter? by Simon Horobin

Does spelling matter? | OxfordWords blog:

Standardized spelling is a development closely linked with the introduction of printing; it is the role of copy editors and proofreaders to ensure that an author’s spelling conforms to the standard. The recent publication of the manuscripts of Jane Austen and Charles Dickens provoked outrage in the media at their poor spelling. But their relaxed attitude to spelling is entirely unremarkable, given that correct spelling was imposed during the printing process. While printing has led to the establishment of a standard spelling system, the private spelling practices of diaries, letters and journals have continued to show considerable diversity up to the present day.

So, why do we labour for so many hours trying to teach a spelling system that has more exceptions to the rules than followers?

Does being able to spell well make you more employable?

If you can spell are you able to be a better communicator?

Is an able speller necessarily a better reader and writer?

Does spelling correctly help you to think more deeply or creatively?

Do you need to be able to spell in order to check that spellcheck is correct?

Can the inability to spell limit our students writing and willingness to take risks with more unusual words? Or is it our reaction as teachers and parents to their misspellings that causes them to be paralysed with their writing?

What do you think? How much does spelling really matter?


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