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Spelling skills aren’t as important as they used to be

by Jimmy Janszen, Staff Columnist

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Sorry National Spelling Bee winners, but your skill of spelling is useless.

In contemporary society, technology is ubiquitous. Our commonly shared short attention span has been cut even shorter due to the autocorrect feature.

The days of people using a common dictionary to look up a word are gone. They just Google it on their phones now.

A spelling error has the potential to make the writer look uninformed or uneducated. Writers obviously want their work to look as professional as possible, and spelling is the first step to that.

But spelling is a retro, useless skill.

Plenty of smart individuals have problems with spelling, but it doesn’t affect their intelligence.

Simon Horbin, English Professor at Magdalen College, Oxford, has argued knowledge of standard spelling should not be confused with intelligence.

Spelling is also irrelevant to comprehension. A research team at Cambridge University studied the phenomena of typoglycemia. It states words with their letters mixed up can be comprehended, as long as the first and last letter are the same.

Here’s an example:

I cdn’uolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg: the phaonmneel pweor of the hmuan mnid.

Confusing, yes. Not understandable, no. Even if someone were to write words jumbled like this, autocorrect would immediately fix it to its proper spelling.

Plenty of students stress over making the careless mistakes of misspelling on an assignment where spelling accuracy is crucial. Here at San Diego State, students in the School of Journalism and Media Studies are required to pass the Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation test with a score of 80 or higher in order to graduate.

Students pay $25 to take this outdated test that looks like it was written on a typewriter with mushy, barely-readable ink. Spelling is the category with the most questions and all the answer choices look acutely similar.

Why should students stress over a test that decides their fate of graduating?

“I’m skeptical about its usefulness,” said Jeffrey Kaplan, SDSU linguistics professor. “I can think of better things for students to do with their time and energy than cramming to pass a test on this.”

Kaplan doesn’t count spelling as a criterion for grading, but he does correct spelling errors on students’ work because “bad spelling can hurt one’s reputation.”

Although he is forgiving when it comes to careless spelling errors, Kaplan does believe that spelling matters — even in a time when autocorrect is ubiquitous within text-based technology.

When asked in an email about the importance of spelling in today’s autocorrect society, Kaplan responded with:

“Autocorrecting doesnt catch evry misteak, and if your speling is particulerly nonstanderd, people may thik you’re uneducated or simply to dum.” 

Professor Kaplan’s satirical response may be correct in the sense that autocorrect doesn’t catch every mistake — but it catches nearly 100 percent of them. If it doesn’t catch one or two, so be it.

Humans are intelligent individuals, and can easily decipher the meaning of the misspelled word because humans are very comprehensive.

It’s not an argument whether second graders should be taught the understanding of spelling in the sense of how letters relate to each other, but rather at the secondary level.

Students shouldn’t be held accountable for knowing how to properly spell words like “ambidextrous” or “bourgeoisie.”

Thank you, autocorrect. I couldn’t have spelled those two words correctly if it weren’t for you.

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “Spelling skills aren’t as important as they used to be”

  1. Allan Campbell on November 10th, 2015 1:32 pm

    This may well be true. But what about learning literacy?

    Spelling, at least logical, sensible spelling (unlike English spelling!), is meant to help learners. If it is regular and predictable (as in, say, Estonian or Finnish) it does this well. Young learners can read in their first school year.

    In English this does not regularly happen. Our spelling is desperatly (sic) in need of an upgrade!

    [Reply]

  2. Karen Anderson on November 11th, 2015 9:54 am

    The dumbing down of America is everywhere. Auto-correct is NOT the be-all and end-all in writing. Sure it can correct some words but it is not infallible. It will often offer words that aren’t even close to what you want. It also “plays” with punctuation that is obviously not correct.
    I read blogs all day and often yell at my screen cursing the education system in this country. At night i read books and wonder if there are any editors in today’s world.
    A few of my favorites are:
    Using Take instead of Bring. (Please take that book to your desk and bring me another is correct.)
    Misusing their, they’re, and there, to and too, its and it’s, you’re and your, seen and scene, pin and pen,and on,and on, and on. If you don’t know how to spell, and auto-correct is questionable, how will you know you’re using the right word? And you better believe people will notice your mistakes; including potential employers.
    What are you going to do if, sometime in the future, you have to actually write like a grownup using a pen? Like when you get married and have to write thank you cards?
    I may just be an old lady, a dinosaur actually, but give me a good dictionary, a cup of tea, and an exciting book that has been edited by someone who knows their job.

    [Reply]

  3. Philip on November 20th, 2015 7:53 pm

    Spellcheck doesn’t catch everything. You also have to have some idea close to the spelling, or a common misspelling.

    [Reply]

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