I have always been an a-t-r-o-c-i-o-u-s speller.
That made the half-hour drive to elementary school, when my father would hold in one hand the despised, coffee-stained piece of paper containing the 10 words I had to memorize for that week, one of my most miserable childhood rituals. “Embarrassment,” he would prompt. “I felt embarrassment when our dog barked at the neighbors.”
A sigh. “We’ll put that on the ‘keep working’ list.”
Unlike most students, I dreaded Fridays, because we’d have our weekly quizzes. I often got scolded by my teacher for missing three or more words on the list by the time the ordeal was all over. “‘I’ before ‘E,’ except after ‘C,'” I was patiently instructed over and over again. “If a vowel says its name, there is a silent ‘E’ at the end.”
And then it would all begin again the following Monday.
The irony was, as dismal as I was at spelling, my two favorite subjects were reading and writing. In preschool, my teacher told my parents to encourage me to write for “the joy of it,” and to refrain from correcting how I spelled the words. “Let her make it all up,” Mrs. Ralph urged, leading to abundant construction-paper tomes filled with complicated universes of sounded-out words, all of which were completely unintelligible to anyone trying to read them but me.
Mrs. Ralph, as it turned out, was ahead of her time. These days, many students aren’t burdened with flashcards, vocabulary lists, and dreaded Friday afternoon spelling quizzes. “Spelling as a standalone subject has basically disappeared,” The Philadelphia Tribune writes. “Some teachers spend time teaching spelling while others do not. Where spelling is emphasized, it is a component of reading programs or other language arts subjects. Many school districts believe that students learn to spell through daily reading and writing.”
Still, spelling is as important as it’s ever been. While the invention of computers and autocorrect might make it seem less necessary to know the proper sequences of letters, linguists caution that isn’t true.
“People don’t learn to spell from autocorrect and it doesn’t help you when you have two spellings, a homophone, like need and knead, or grammatical issues like its and it’s with an apostrophe,” Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the school of information at UC Berkeley, told USA Today.