Spelling and spell checkers

A survey by Oxford University Press found that children in primary and secondary schools were increasingly encouraged to look up complex words using dictionaries and electronic spellcheckers.

No surprise there. Being mildly dyslexic myself I often write a word in the Word program to see if it comes up with a red line underneath.

The analysis of more than 33 million words written by pupils aged seven to 13 found that they regularly found the correct spelling for terms such as “pterodactyl” and “archaeologist” by using a spell checker. And yes, I admit it, I do the same.

But the publisher claimed that too many pupils were falling down when presented with more common words.

But as a result of this pupils are failing to pick out silent letters or the difference between a single or double letter in words such as “disappeared” or “tomorrow”.

Now as a person fully employed, working in an office, I wonder why this matters. If I write “tomoro” the spell checker sorts the matter out for me. And since 99.99999% of my writing is on a program with a spell checker within it, there’s no problem.

Indeed I have even got to know my various programs’ little foibles. One program kindly gives me an acute accent for debacle, another always gets liaison wrong. So in the end I only have to learn a few dozen spellings.

OUP say that the top spelling error was “accidentally”, followed by “practising”, “frantically” “definitely” and “believe”. After that we get the expected favourites such as “surprise”, “excitement”, “weird”, “doesn’t” and “minute”.

OUP suggest that children are confused by more unusual spellings in common words.

Vineeta Gupta, head of children’s dictionaries at the OUP, said: “Spellcheckers can be useful but may not provide all the support a child needs to distinguish confusables such as their/there and cloths/clothes.

“These findings are fascinating and give us an opportunity to target the areas children need more support in.”

This of course is a problem – but also a great step forward. If there are only a small number of words that one needs to learn, surely that makes life easier.

I will admit that I am still, years and years after ending my education and after many years of teaching, confused by homophones. But I keep a little list on my desk and refer to it when needed. And I can do this because I don’t have to worry about the surprise of weird excitement.


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