Have you forgotten how to spell?

Spell check. Auto correct. Good or bad? I clearly don’t think they are terrible, or I would disable them on my computer. However . . . and this is big however . . . are they the crutch I didn’t need and now can’t live without?

Do kids still learn to spell?

I remember the weekly spelling quiz. Fortunately, I was an early reader and often knew the words on the list. However, there was a spotlight on spelling correctly, not simply recognizing the word on the page. It was a serious topic and I studied for this Friday hurdle. Admittedly, I had the added fun of helping my father with his spelling quizzes. When I was in third grade, he was a third year medical student. Exactly the same, right? He very kindly pretended he had a spelling quiz. We pitted thirsty and daytime (more likely house and cats) against endocrinology and pneumothorax. I suspect this taught me more about spelling that I realized at the time.

Looking back, I don’t remember memorizing many rules. We relied on rote and repetition . . . and lots of reading. To this day, niece looks incorrect to me. The C rule is the one rule I remember, and repeat to check myself. (I have three nieces so it’s in use a lot.) It occurs to me that if I didn’t know the rule, I might simply remember the correct spelling.

The worst part

Auto correct doesn’t care about incorrect usage. Manuel and manual. Spell check loves them both. Farther and further. Same.

Auto correct likes to switch things up when you aren’t watching. Discreet and discrete. Complement and compliment. Immigrate and emigrate. Auto correct just changed emigrate to immigrate as I typed it. If you’re not careful (or type with your eyes closed, deep into creating a scene) you might not notice that the computer overrode your intentions. Said and sand are clearly typos. One I do enough that if my computer really cared, it would auto correct for me.

On the bright side

Search and replace. Not exactly spelling, but close enough that I’ll chalk this convenience up in the computer assistance plus column. Can be used to make sure no “sand” exists in place of “said.” Of course, this means I can never intentionally use sand in a manuscript. Search and replace is also helpful if you discover too many character names are similar. A few clicks and Sandy, Sandra, Sara, and Sallie become Nancy, Beth, Alison, and Marg. (This is throw the baby out with the bathwater time, too.)

I wonder how school kids learn to spell today? Hopefully they learn enough so that when they turn to writing class papers entirely on a computer they have some internal checks to balance against the automated corrections.

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Tracee de Hahn

AuthorTracee de Hahn is the author of the novels Swiss Vendetta and A Well-Timed Murder published by Minotaur Books. 

When not writing, she reads voraciously and bakes things too rich to eat at her home in southwest Virginia. 
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