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Are You Smarter Than Your Spell Checker?

I hope so. I really, really hope so. The first spell checkers appeared on personal computers in the early 1980s. At first they seemed like a godsend. Now a generation has passed and the research results are showing that we have become dependent upon spell checkers.

That is not a good thing. Spell checkers do not catch all errors, and neither do grammar checkers. Neither of these tools will ever be better than a well- educated human. For example, some spell/grammar checking software will not alert the author to the error in this sentence: Mayoral candidate Anderson has proven himself in similar rolls. (‘rolls’ should be ‘roles.’)

A recent study reports that with spell checker turned off, students with high verbal SAT scores made an average of five errors when proofreading, a one-page business letter. Students with lower SAT scores made an average of twelve errors with the same letter.

So what happened to these students’ performance with spell checker turned on? That gap in scores disappeared. High-scoring SAT students made an average of sixteen errors, and low-scoring students made it seventeen errors.

The report’s conclusion is that students are more careful with spell checker turned off.

So should we turn our backs on spell checkers and grammar checkers? Certainly not. Many common misspellings are caught. But these programs are not perfect, and nothing beats an educated human editor.

Here, take a little quiz. Turn off your spell checker. Look at the following four sentences. Can you identify which one sentence is correct?

Whose that knocking at my door?
Their coats are hanging in the hall.
Those apple’s are too old.
Your a dollar short and a day late, my friend.

If you answered that the second sentence is correct, congratulations are in order. You are smarter than a spell checker. My spell checker offered this correction for the third sentence: ‘Those apples’s are too old.’ Oh dear.

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  1. There is some value to following standard conventions of spelling in English. Especially the common illogical and irregular spellings like “one” and “trough” to name a few. These have been specifically kept in this form in order to honour their foreign linguistic origins. This is primarily a cultural aspect of English.

    While the English language has its roots in countless antiquated sources, these spellings have been somewhat standardized by dictionaries. The language itself has continued to evolve and adopt foreign influences, however. Nobody may claim to have the standard authority over English. A native speaker from Scotland may have trouble communicating with a Jamaican, yet neither has a rightful claim over the language. In todays world, fewer and fewer English speakers can claim “English” ancestry. So why hold the cultural aspects of this language dear? why even call it English for that matter?

    In my experience teaching ESL to a wide range of students, I have found the inconsistencies of spelling tiresome. Most of my students are not interested in making a cultural connection with the language. And if they are, it is even less likely to be an interest in English culture. Most are simply interested in having access to global communication opportunities. They have cultures of their own already.

    I do not identify myself as English, yet I am bound to cultural linguistic traditions that are not even my own. We have reached a critical mass of English speakers that I feel may freely take ownership of their language and adopt a more logical and efficient spelling protocol.

    For more on this notion please check out this link:

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