By Lisa Paglierani and Julie Keysor
With all the electronic gadgets constantly in use around us, one of many concerns that have come up is whether we’re producing a country where people know (or care) about basic spelling and grammar. Fortunately, the moms look at their kids’ schools and are fairly optimistic that this isn’t the case.
I am a stickler for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. This is not to say I am flawless in these areas, but I do strive for accuracy. I can’t help being a tiny bit judgmental when I see the errors of others, too. (Pet peeve: it isn’t always “Susie and I.” Sometimes “Susie and me” is actually correct!) I believe that attention to these details shows respect for our language, and also that we care how we present ourselves. Spelling might not come naturally to everyone, and typos are ubiquitous, but almost everyone has the ability to check a document or e-mail for errors before sending it forth. I think it’s worth taking the time to do this.
Sure, spell check and autocorrect are valuable tools, ones I rely on daily. It’s handy to have a dictionary literally at my fingertips. And when I type with two thumbs on a keyboard the size of a watch face, autocorrect is my trusty, disturbingly accurate, interpreter. He’s overeager, though, racing to suggest every possible permutation of each word I type, whereas Microsoft Word politely points out the error with a red zigzag, and leaves the rest to me. (Interesting, Word just taught me that zigzag is a real word, no hyphen.)
Too much reliance on these tools, though, can be counterproductive, particularly for those just learning to spell. I cringe every time I hear someone say (and I have heard it more than once), “They’re not going to need to know spelling. Everything is going to be done on computers.” Perhaps true, but spell check will give a green light to sentences like, “Their having fun at the park” and “He’s taller then his sister,” which doesn’t do a grade school student any favors. I want my kids to learn not only correct spelling, but proper word use as well, without the safety net of the electronic realm.
Thus far I have been pleased to see a high priority placed on spelling in my children’s classrooms. The repetitive nature of the spelling exercises has often been tedious, particularly for the daughter who seems to have been born with an English dictionary built into her brain. However, I have been pleased to see her teachers striving to find words to challenge her ability. Tedious or no, there is value in children learning to spell correctly.
Effective communication skills are an asset for so many careers, not to mention day-to-day interpersonal interactions. Being able to write, and spell, well is an essential component of that. We don’t allow kids to use calculators when they are learning their addition and multiplication facts, because we recognize the importance of a built-in knowledge base. Our basic math facts speed up more complex calculations and serve us in a variety of everyday situations. A strong language foundation, gained through similar rote memorization, is just as important. Once acquired, kids can make optimum use of time saving electronic aids.
All of this electronic communication will inexorably change our language over time, much as vernacular speech caused French and Italian to evolve from Latin many centuries ago. I see that “LOL” has made its way into the dictionary (online, at least), and words like “google” are becoming verbs. Our children are already communicating in ways we couldn’t envision twenty years ago, and the language they will speak as adults could sound very different from that spoken by their grandparents. Yes, it’s an exciting new world my children are entering. But here in the early days of their technologically enhanced education, I want them to appreciate the difference between to, too, and two.
My spelling is atrocious. (Had to check that one with spell check!) I sometimes wonder if English is my second language. I wish I my spelling and grammar were better. Writing does not come easy to me, which is difficult given my career as a researcher, so spelling and grammar technology is helpful to me. My professional writings would be horrible without the crutch, but I don’t think the technology brought my skill down. My spelling and grammar have been bad for as long as I can remember. The technology has allowed me to be successful at a job that requires good spelling and grammar skills.
Having admitted one of my major flaws, I do think spelling and grammar are important and fundamental skills for communication. I am pleased to see the emphasis on spelling and grammar in grade school, and I like the approach of high frequency words and pattern words. The approach seems to be working very well with our kids, and they are close in age so they have fun working with each other to study and learn the words (great reinforcement for the older child; new challenges for the younger child). Their learning preference is paper and pencil writing and games. Our kids don’t type or “spell” on a computer or ipad so they haven’t been exposed much to the technology crutches. They want to learn for the sake of doing well (thank goodness they are motivated to please their teachers!) and so far we have kept them naïve to the technology that can make all of this easier for them.
Nonetheless, one of my favorite things is to see the kids “misspell” words they don’t know how to spell—those more difficult words they are using that they haven’t learned yet. Some of the spellings are SO cute and the sentences my kids write with their spelling words are interesting snapshots into their “worlds” and what is on their mind. I love to look at their homework and see everything they have written—whether it is spelled correctly or not! I know my days of loving their “misspellings” are numbered, and I hope they develop good grammar and spelling skills like their father. But for now I like the innocence in their mistakes, and I won’t let technology ruin my pleasure in their errors!