Grand Haven Tribune: PAINTER: Spelling may be a lost art, but there is help

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PAINTER: Spelling may be a lost art, but there is help

• Mar 11, 2019 at 7:00 PM

I sometimes have trouble spelling such words as “seperating.”

I know, I spelled “separating” incorrectly. Fortunately, my spell-check program caught my mistake and I made the change.

I’m not alone in making spelling errors. According to an article published by the BBC (British Broadcasting Corp.), Britons also struggle with spelling of some words. In a survey of 2,000 Britons, one-third of the participants were unable to correctly spell “definitely” and “separate.” Two-thirds of those surveyed misspelled “necessary.” Most substituted an “e” for the first “a” in separate.

The article went on to say that teenagers and those in their early 20s were the worst spellers.

While 96 percent of the Britons surveyed said that spelling is important, two-thirds said they rely on auto-correct software to fix their mistakes.

Mark Goldring, who oversaw the study, told the BBC that, “Spell checkers and other technology have created an auto-correct generation unable to spell many common words.”

There is some truth to what Goldring said. We old-timers can remember how much spelling was emphasized in grade school. By the time we graduated from high school, we were expected to be proficient in spelling. We didn’t have auto-correct and spell-check programs to rely on back then.

I was a decent speller by the time I entered college. While I was never a spelling bee champion, I had a pretty good grasp of those words that are troublesome to spell.

When I graduated from Central Michigan University in 1973 with a degree in journalism, spelling was an important tool of the trade. During my job interviews, I was given spelling tests. Newspaper editors not only were looking for good writers, they wanted reporters who were competent spellers, as well. I studied for those tests and did well.

But as we have become more technology advanced, I have found my spelling skills have eroded somewhat. Like those Britons who were surveyed, I have become dependent on auto-correct and spell-check programs. So, I don’t worry as much as I used to about misspelling a word, because I know it will be automatically corrected. Even some of my grammar mistakes are highlighted, and I’m asked to rewrite a word or sentence. I’m also prone to typos, which, for the most part, are caught by my spell-check and auto-correct programs.

I’ve found that my writing flows much better without having to stop to look up how to spell a word in the dictionary. I can be more creative, as well.

I began my newspaper career working with manual typewriters and dictionaries. I often had to stop my train of thought to look up the spelling or usage of a word in a dictionary. Computer word processing programs, with auto correct and spell check, have made writing much easier.

Not everyone feels spell-check and auto-correct programs are detrimental to good writing. In another story by the BBC, Financial Times columnist Lucy Kellaway said, “We should not be overly concerned with making spelling mistakes or typos, because they are not what makes our writing good or bad.” Kellaway said she would print her columns and then read them out loud.

John Thiesmeyer, an English professor for 33 years, also doesn’t believe that auto-correct and spell-checkers are ruining English grammar. “For poor spellers, spelling checkers are a blessing,” he said. But he believes auto-correct programs do a poor job of correcting grammar. I agree. My auto-correct program will sometimes suggest changes that I know are not correct.

There are several theories why some people have difficulty spelling, including how the brain interprets words and genetics. The bottom line is that being a poor speller doesn’t mean that you are not intelligent.

You shouldn’t be afraid to write because you are worried about spelling and grammatical errors. As technology keeps advancing, I’m sure we will see spell-check and auto-correct programs improve. For now, though, I’ll continue to do my best to spell words correctly. I do know that auto-correct and spell-check programs have my back. Happy writing, everyone.

— By Len Painter, Tribune community columnist

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