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Spell It Right!

Leah Mandel

With spell- and auto-text options, has knowing how to spell become pass?? Not if you want to appear intelligent. Why English is a tough language for the spelling-challenged, which English words have Hebrew roots, and how to raise good spellers.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

lettersThe Lawst Art Uv Speling

Learning to spell seems almost superfluous these days. After all, computers come with spell-check, and some gadgets have that handy auto-text button that finishes common words (even tough ones like colloquial). Buy the right program, and you don’t have to bother spelling at all — simply speak into a microphone and your message will appear on the screen.

Even among educators, spelling appears to be out of fashion. Many school districts acrossAmericahave done away with spelling programs, assuming children will either learn the skill independently or survive without it. As a result, many young (and even older) people today rely heavily on their computer’s spell-check program, ignoring the fact that misspelled words will often go undetected if they’re found in the English dictionary. For example, aid and aide are both legitimate words; aid is a verb meaning to assist, while aide is a noun that means assistant. Either of these words would pass the checker’s test — but using the incorrect one will leave a reader scrambling for meaning.

Some argue that learning to spell is a waste of time because English is so unpredictable. Admittedly, it can sometimes be tricky. For instance, there’s peek, peak, and also pique. But the fact is, only 4 percent of English words have truly irregular spellings. The seemingly illogical spellings of many words are actually governed by established conventions. For example, the letter v wasn’t completely accepted until the 1800s. At that point, scribes had already decided that words couldn’t end with v because it looks similar to the letter u. So they added a letter, giving us the -ve at the end of words like have and give.

Devorah, a born speller, was alarmed when she found out that her new chassan didn’t spell well. “I was concerned,” she admits. “But he’s a genius and an avid reader, so spell check works for him because he can pick out the right words from the list. He wouldn’t mix up words like weight and wait because he has a good vocabulary, and understands nuances. That said, he might double letters unnecessarily or not at all.”

How does having a good vocabulary help Devorah’s husband? As study after study has shown, reading, spelling, and vocabulary go hand in hand. Students begin acquiring the skills necessary to break words into prefixes, suffixes, and root words in the middle elementary grades. This allows them to spell word parts separately — which leads to more fluent reading, as well as improved reading comprehension and an expanded vocabulary.

The good speller is also an articulate writer. He doesn’t need to pause and consult a dictionary in order to spell correctly, which would interrupt his train of thought and make a pleasurable task tedious. His spelling skills enhance his work’s readability and help him create a quality piece of writing. This is especially important because our society expects that literate adults will spell reasonably well. The proof? The National Commission on Writing forAmerica’s Families, Schools, and Colleges reported that poorly written or spelled employment applications are immediately disregarded.

That seems like reason enough to go back and learn some spelling basics. For instance, if you know that, generally speaking, the letter c comes before a, o, and e, the letter k comes before i, u, or y, and the combination of ck comes at the end of one-syllable words, you won’t make the colossal mistake of writing ckollosal on a job application.


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