Why Spelling Still Matters
“I don’t need to learn how to spell. That’s what spellcheck is for!”
“Hey Google, how do you spell ‘success’?”
I regularly hear these things said by students who find themselves in my office for help with reading and writing skills. These students and their parents often don’t realize that spelling skills are essential to their success with reading and written formulation. Unaddressed difficulties in spelling in the lower grades can have a snowball effect leading to difficulties in the higher grades with reading fluency, reading comprehension, vocabulary development, and verbal and written formulation.
Spelling Improves Reading Abilities
Learning to spell and learning to read involve the same underlying skill – understanding the relationships between letters and sounds. Just as your child needs to understand which letters or combination of letters correspond to which sounds in order to correctly spell a word, they must also understand this relationship in order to decode new words they encounter while reading. Knowing how to spell a word also strengthens its mental “picture” in your child’s mind, making it more easily accessed for fluent reading. I often see students who struggle with spelling who are unable to read a word in print that they actually know and use in their spoken vocabulary. Seeing this comes as quite a shock to the student and their parents, but is a good demonstration of why spelling skills are essential for reading.
Being able to decode words in text is not only important for understanding the meaning of that particular word, but is also important to overall comprehension of the text. If your child is spending a lot of mental energy in attempting to decode words they don’t recognize, this is taking away mental energy that should be focusing on what the story or text means. Constant pausing to decode words also interrupts the natural flow of the text which reduces comprehension. Students who have more developed spelling abilities are able to read and comprehend more complex texts that are required in higher grades.
A focus on spelling should not just be left to the elementary years. In the higher grades, continued learning about word origins, root words, and prefixes and suffixes helps students look at new words from multiple angles and makes them more likely to be able to figure out the new word’s meaning as well as how to spell it and use it accurately. Often a student will tell me they don’t know how to spell a word (for example ‘knowledge’) and when I ask how they would spell the root of that word (for example, ‘know’), they are quickly and easily able to spell it – they are approaching each word individually and simply didn’t realize the words were related.
Spelling Improves Writing Skills
Spelling is also important if we want our children to become confident and able writers. Just as we talked about with reading, if a child is constantly stopping to think about how to spell words while they write, it interrupts the flow of their thoughts. This takes mental energy away from focusing on generating and linking ideas, organizing ideas, choosing the best words, and how to put those words together into more complex and sophisticated sentences.
Students with good spelling skills are also more likely to be bolder with their vocabulary choices and more likely to select precise words to communicate their message. Students who are poor spellers are more likely to “play it safe” using a word they already know how to spell, leading to a loss of verbal power or clarity in their writing.
Spell Check Isn’t Perfect
Although Spell Check is a useful tool, it will never fully eliminate the need to learn how to spell. Spell Check tends to perform best to identify small errors in those who have reasonably developed spelling skills. Students with poor spelling skills often do not come up with a close enough approximation to the word they are trying to write for the Spell Check to recognize it and suggest the correct word. A student with difficulties in this area may also select a similar looking, but incorrect word from the drop-down choices and not realize their error.
Spell Check also isn’t guaranteed to be up to date on slang terms or topic specific vocabulary (e.g. scientific or technological terms). Spell Check will mark these words as incorrect when they are actually spelled correctly.
Finally, Spell Check does not understand what you meant to say. This means that it won’t catch errors if the misspelling is real word – such as typos or homophones (i.e. words that sound the same, but have different meanings such as meet/meat). Because Spell Check doesn’t recognize errors caused by homophones and is even known to autocorrect some small spelling errors, students don’t learn from these mistakes and will continue to make the same errors in the future.
Spell Check Isn’t Always an Option in the Real World
There are many instances where students are unable to access Spell Check while completing written work – such as handwritten notes, tests or exams, and in-class essays. Even outside of school, there are many moments where we use spelling skills in our everyday lives while disconnected from technology – such as searching for a book or file in an alphabetized list, writing a quick note in the workplace or on a greeting card, or even while playing parlor games.
Spelling skills have always been and will continue to be a fundamental, irreplaceable skill, even in this age of technology, for the successful development of reading and writing abilities.
If you think you or your child could use some help in developing spelling skills to boost reading and writing performance, one of our clinicians would be happy to help!
Melissa Kiley is a registered Speech-Language Pathologist with a special interest in concussion/acquired brain injury as well as literacy skills development. She has been working with clients for over 10 years and is highly skilled in developing functional and innovative treatments.