Who's Ascared of a Spelling Mistake?

You could go far, said my 10th grade English teacher. "But you won't go anywhere if you don't learn to spell."

Howduya like me now, miziz smith!


Thankfully, it never occurred to me that spelling had anything to do with writing, much less going places. What puzzles me is, why not?

It has only gradually dawned on me that many of those learners who said they wanted to work on their spelling may have meant "I want to work on my writing."

A learner from another program recently wrote in an essay of "the decision to go through the door and admit to someone that I could not spell, that I needed help."

That really struck me - someone talking about poor spelling as if it were drug abuse or a gambling addiction. Thinking about it, I realized I could understand the priority of spelling. How can you write out your thoughts without spelling, without laying down, letter by letter, the pieces of words?

Yet, that's just what I have done my whole life.

Never in my life can I think of a time when I felt unable or unwilling to write because of my inability to spell.

Oh, sure. The world around me was always taking madcap fits over my spelling, as though each inverted "ei" or "ie" were a personal insult. Did they all have some kind of deep-seated spelling anxiety? Were they just mean spirited? (Ms. Smith was no ray of sunlight!)

I don't know. I only know that, for me, spelling is not writing.

And here's another thing: I don't worry overmuch about poor comma use, improper verb tense, or badly constructed paragraphs. Mind you, I edit and rewrite and throw away and do over. But I don't worry.

So is that the difference? Are those learners saying "I want to spell better so I'm less afraid to write?"

That learner went on in his essay to say of the program, "This has allowed me to focus more on all learning and not getting hung up on one part of learning (my spelling)."

Good for you, man. Welcome to the free world.

Spare a thought for the ones left behind... all those poor people with them Smith types still in their lives.


Jez said...

I often wish I could learn to care less about spelling and grammar on the first draft. I'm generally very picky about both, and when I'm writing I fight a constant battle to polish as I go, rather than concentrating on getting the ideas down on paper.

Spelling and grammar are important skills to learn, they shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of writing.

Great post :)

Wendell said...


Yeah, that's the balance isn't it. Worrying about spelling is okay when it's polishing - which can also mean reflecting or re-wording - but WORRYING about spelling can make everything grind to a halt.

Sometimes I write first in Notepad just to be complete free of spell- and grammar-check.... You can write jam fast in Notepad if you promise yourself you'll paste into Word later for editing.

Chris Jackson said...

I'm sure a lot of adults will admit to poor spelling rather than admit to having difficulties with writing. There are certainly others in the UK, however, who really are afraid of spelling - maybe because they are unrecognised dyslexics, maybe because they have been told by peers, or parents, or even teachers that they are "thick" because they cannot spell well.

Wendell said...

Good point, Chris.

Being labeled "thick" for making mistakes puts an end to any desire to take a risk. :(