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

by Jimmy Janszen, Staff Columnist

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Students pay $25 to take this outdated test that looks like it was written on a typewriter with mushy, barely-readable ink.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.