Michelle's independent resources for ESL Students at Vancouver Community College

This is a Canadian ESL blog for Intermediate and Advanced Students who want to learn and improve their English. Each PAGE above contains thousands of free English lessons, tutorials and practice exercises to help you learn and improve your English grammar, reading, listening, pronunciation, speaking, writing and editing. Some of the resources are Canadian. Others are from around the world.

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Is Spelling Important?

 I'll  never forget the night my son's seventh grade teacher told  30 parents sitting in her classroom that she did not consider spelling to be important. She had already proved that by misspelling three out of the five words she had written on the blackboard.  

As soon as s soon as she uttered those words, all 30  of us drew in a collective breath of shock. Surely we had not heard this woman say that it did not matter whether or not our children spelled words correctly.  Was she crazy? . How could this woman be a certified teacher . No teacher was going to actively allow our children to b reak rules.  Meeting over, off we marched to the Principal's  office filled with outrage. Luckily, the principal was an expert at dealing with irate parents who cared about their children's education. "Don't worry. I'll have a talk with the teacher," she soothed us. " She's new here. She doesn't quite understand how much we value every aspect of a good education here." 

Needless to say, for the rest of the year our sons and daughters turned in correctly spelled assignments. Today, the majority of them are out there in the world knowing how to communicate exceptionally well, with nary a spelling error.

Spelling in the ESL World 
Here Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey and other cities in the Lower Mainland where thousands of immigrants re learning English as a Second Language, things are a little different. Many students from dozens of countries have major problems with spelling English words, even some of the most basic. A large part of their spelling problems are due to lack of phonics, inability to distinguish between English vowel sounds and syllables in longer words. 

Listening Pronunciation Problem
For many students poor spelling is actually a listening and pronunciation problem. If your language only has five vowel sounds, and English has more than 20, it is quite easy to have problems distinguishing between than  and then.  If you come from the Middle East, where not only do you not have an English alphabet, but you barely have any vowel sounds at all. How then, are you going to spell words that require at least some understanding of phonics.

Spelling Affects Your Reputation
Unfortunately, correct spelling is important for everyone: native speakers, and second language speakers.  Spelling affects your reputation. People judge you by your spelling; your misspelled words will give others reason to doubt that you know what you’re talking about.  No matter what you say, if the spelling is poor, the reader will notice this before anything else. Punctuation errors often go unnoticed, but everyone notices spelling errors. 

Spelling affects your communication – misspelling a word may change the meaning of the entire sentence, depending on which word you’ve misspelled.The importance you put on your spelling depends on how seriously you want to be taken.  

Bad Spelling Can Affect Your Future  
Spell-check doesn’t work all the time, because some misspellings are words themselves, but your readers will notice. If you’re in school, spelling mistakes will lower your grade. Being unable to spell properly can prevent you from getting an important job. If you’re in a business, spelling mistakes may lower your revenue. In either case, spelling mistakes will lower other people’s opinions of your intelligence and abilities.

You cannot place your entire future on the line by not being able to spell. Not only is the ability to spell necessary in most occupations, but a person also needs to be able to spell well in order to be able to communicate and take notes and directions. You could be trying to write someone a note that could possibly save his life, but if the person only sees a note filled with misspelled words, then that person may not be able to comprehend what you’re saying. It’s a stretch, but the message is clear. Spelling is so very important.

 So....what should you do if you are an ESL student with spelling problems?
  • Decide that you are going to do something about it rather than complain about it.
  • Develop a spelling plan. You can do this on your own, or with your teacher. 
  • If you are in an English class, go over everything paragraph or essay you have written  
  • Make a list of every single word you have spelled wrong. If you have misspelled it often, add it to your list each time.  
  • Check to see if there is a pattern. 
    • Do many of your mistakes involve reversing letters? 
    • Do other errors involve final endings?
    • Do you have a problem with double consonants? 
    • Are you skipping a syllable, or a letter in the middle of words? 
    • Are you getting the vowels wrong, even in short words? 
Only You Can Do Something About it.
Knowledge is power.Once you and your instructor know what kind of spelling errors you make, you can actively begin to work on them. Learn the basic rules for some of your problems. Learn phonics for others.  Actively memorize entire lists of words every week and have your teacher give you regular spelling tests.

There is no magic. The only way you can improve your spelling, and even become a good speller, or at least a careful one is by  working at it, developing a plan and sticking to it. 
It's up to you.

Let me know what you think.  I appreciate all comments!

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