In the ‘olden days’ when I was at school, being a good speller was a big deal. It must have been terrible for people with dyslexia, because I don’t remember ever hearing the term until I was about sixteen. Every week, our teacher would give us a list of words to learn and at the end of the week we would have a spelling test. Luckily for me, I never found spelling difficult, but some of my classmates spent a long time trying to learn them and still got most of them wrong. Of course, being a perfect speller is not so important these days because of spellcheck and Grammarly. After all, when was the last time you sat down to write something more than a note with a pen and paper?
Keeping the spellings of thousands and thousands of words may seem like magic, but it has been known for some time that spelling is connected with memory. Even today, learning to spell is just a question of learning correct letter orders. One study that looked at the way strokes affected spelling ability discovered that two different and supposedly unconnected parts of the brain are responsible for proper spelling. They are both in the left hemisphere of the brain although one is responsible for short term and the other is responsible for long-term memory.
The researchers found that in the case of even people without serious brain disorders, if you are never able to remember how to spell things, this is an issue with your long-term memory, while just jumbling things up now and again is a short-term memory problem. There is also a genetic reason why you may be a rotten spelling, but this is also related to memory.
Although we now have the magic of word processing programmes to correct our spelling and grammar, it is still very frustrating not to be able to spell. So how can you improve your skills in this basic area of knowledge?
- Read as much as you can. You can’t learn to spell English words from speaking and listening to them (unlike Spanish, which is much easier). It’s all about seeing the words on the page and learning how they are written.
- Do as your teacher did and write down difficult-to-spell and tricky words… and repeat.
- Write a lot and get someone to read your work and comment on it.
You can also play word games. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been playing ‘Words with Friends’ on my telephone and I am getting well and truly thrashed by some of my friends. Well, you can’t make many high-scoring words with three letter ‘I’, four ‘o’ and a ‘u’!
As Rocky Graziano said, “I quit school in the sixth grade because of pneumonia. Not because I had it, but because I couldn’t spell it”.