Thursday, August 7, 2008

Should we give up on spelling correctly?

Time to give up on spelling, says academic For those who have always struggled to remember the exceptions to the “i” before “e” spelling rule: don’t bother. One university lecturer has become so fed up with correcting his students’ atrocious spelling that he has launched a crusade for the most common “variant spellings” - otherwise known as spelling mistakes - to be fully accepted into common usage. Instead of complaining about the state of education as he corrects the same spelling mistakes in undergraduate essays year after year, Ken Smith, a criminologist at Bucks New University, has a much simpler solution. “Either we go on beating ourselves and our students up over this problem, or we simply give everyone a break and accept these variant spellings as such,” he suggests today in an article in The Times Higher Education Supplement. (link via I think it's a dreadful idea! If we start accepting "variant spellings" on some words, where would we stop? The article also makes reference to the chairman of the Spelling Society: Dr Smith’s suggestion was warmly welcomed yesterday by Jack Bovill, chairman of the Spelling Society, which has advocated a simplified, more phonetic, approach to spelling since 1908. I have to say that I never knew there was a Spelling Society but I'm certainly not impressed with the society if this is their view! What do you think of the idea?


  1. Like you I think that it's a dreadful idea. It's yet another case of so called dumbing down!
    I've never been a good speller and always have one of my several dictionaries, paper or on-line, to hand. xx

  2. Hi flighty - yes indeed, it's a perfect example of dumbing down. What is happening to our society?

    I'm a pretty good speller but I always consult a dictionary to double-check any words I'm not sure of.

  3. I am always surpised by the poor spelling of my coworkers. Yesterday, a coworker could not log onto her computer because she was instructed by our supervisor to log on using the word "Survey" and she kept typing "Servay". I had to tell her what she was doing wrong. And she works in a job that requires written communication. Crazy! Nice blog. I'm in love with all things British and saw that you had listed 84 Charing Cross Road as one of your favorite movies. It's one of my favorite movies, too.

  4. Sorry, Flighty, it aint a dumming down.
    It's an admission that our spelling 'system' is not up to scratch. That it doesn't fulfil its alfabetical function of making the transmission of spoken language to the page relativly simple and strateforward.
    Children lerning to reed and rite cannot rely on it. It is unpredictable (and not only for them!). It discourages menny of them to the extent they giv up at worst, or fall behind at best. Either way, literacy and the openings and joys it brings ar not for them. And all over the English-speeking world we hav a 20%-plus illitracy rate. Is that what u want?

  5. Hello Michelle, That's a great example of how important spelling is! If an employee can't even spell a simple word like "survey" (and she works in a job that requires written communication!) to log onto her computer, then just imagine how much worse things would get if we didn't have any rules about spelling.

    Thanks for your kind words about my blog.

    Oh yes - 84 Charing Cross Road is one of my favourite movies. The (true) story is just delightful - although sad - and the stars are perfectly cast.

  6. Hello Allan, you have very cleverly made your point about how spelling English words is made more difficult because so many of the words are not spelled as they sound. You are right - English is difficult - however that doesn't mean we should just give up and throw out all the spelling rules! I think reading (and writing) properly spelled English should still be taught.

  7. Maureen, I am told by peeple who hav lerned English as a second language that the language is not as difficult to lern as some others. It's the spelling, not the language, that throws them.
    U suggest we shouldn't 'just give up and throw out all the spelling rules'. I wasn't suggesting we should. In fact i suggest the opposit: That we should get English words to follow the spelling rules! At present they don't.
    If they did, spelling would be regular, children could rely on it, predict how to spell new words when riting, eesily decode new words when reeding, and not get discouraged and giv up. We would hav less illiteracy.
    Isn't that a goal worth aming for? Upgrading our spelling wil help us acheeve it!
    Teeching reeding and riting in 'properly spelled English' would be so much eesier for teechers, too!

  8. Allan, I think the diiferent ways that English words are spelled helps written English to make sense and even though learning to spell English correctly is difficult, it's worth mastering.

  9. Maureen: The point is menny peeple CAN'T master it! It requires a good memory, insted of the use of logic.
    And for menny, the significance of sum of the quirky traditional spellings (TS) ar lost. So there's little point there.
    We need an efficient, lerner frendly alfabetical spelling tool to increese our literacy rate.
    That's the important point.

  10. Allan, I have had to adjust and learn British spelling in place of American spelling so I understand your reasoning however I still think it would be a shame to change English spelling as drastically as you (and some others) are proposing.

  11. Maureen: A shame or a nuisance?
    I'l leev it at that.