Traditionally, people learned to spell by learning the rules, researching the origin of words, and studying prefixes and suffixes. Reading often and out loud is also something that helps us learn both spelling and grammar. Even just twenty years ago, most writing was done by hand using pen and paper. People had dictionaries and thesauruses at hand in case they got stuck or had any doubts. Today, things are very different.
Most of the writing we do in 2020 is digital. We predominantly type on our laptops and phones. Even in school, major assignments such as essays are less often handwritten. This means that most of what we “write” on our devices is correct because of automatic spell and grammar checks. The familiar blue and red underlined text is ubiquitous across all programs, without the need to install extra software. Although these are great tools that many of us use daily, the problem is that we rely on them too much.
“In a survey of more than 2,000 British people, one third of the participants could not spell ‘definitely’ and two-thirds could not spell ‘separate.’” – The Atlantic
Even when we need to write even a short note by hand, many of us struggle to get the spelling and sometimes the grammar right. While it is an unlikely scenario for anyone to be in a situation where their life depends on knowing how to spell without technology, there are many reasons why skills such as spelling are useful in the modern world. Any signs of illiteracy can make one seem careless or even uneducated. Bad spelling can result in the loss of a job opportunity or being misunderstood by one’s peers.
Spell-check and Auto-correct
“With over two-thirds of Britons now having to rely on spell-check, we are heading towards an auto-correct generation. Many Britons have a false impression about their spelling ability,” Mencap CEO Mark Goldring told the BBC.
It makes sense that it is tough for people who struggle with spelling and grammar to recognize the quality of other people’s writing. This can snowball into an entire society that has trouble understanding each other through written communication. However, it turns out that even those of us who rely on auto-correct are put off when we experience typos. A study was done by Globo Lingo to see the impact of grammatical and spelling errors in an advertisement.
“Globo Lingo’s researchers found that 59 percent of its participants would be less likely to use a service or product if there were obvious grammatical or spelling mistakes on its website or marketing materials.” – Foster Web Marketing
Literacy is Changing, not Declining
Not everyone believes that technology has a negative impact on our writing skills. The study by The Atlantic doesn’t indicate whether spelling proficiency is rising or falling in the United Kingdom. There have always been bad spellers, and today’s technology gives these people opportunities to improve. Especially when it comes to individuals with dyslexia or other learning differences, services such as Grammarly can make all the difference.
Other than relying on technology, writing has changed with new forms of communication such as texting and Tweeting. Shorter attention spans and limits to the number of characters allowed have led to people using an electronic short-hand. Shortening words such as “you” to “u”, “I don’t know” to “idk” and “why” to a simple “y” has become a source of stress for school teachers. While more and more teachers are seeing students use these written “shortcuts” at school, not all of them are worried about degrading literacy.
Some of the most popular short words used in texts include:
- LMK: Let me know.
- ILY: I love you.
- YOLO: You only live once.
- SMH: Shaking my head.
- LMFAO: Laughing my freaking *a* off.
- NVM: Never mind.
- IKR: I know, right.
- OFC: Of course.
Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at the UAB School of Education, Ph.D. Tonya Perry, considers texting as just another genre of writing. According to Tonya, it is up to parents and teachers to remind young people when it is appropriate to use and when it is not. According to a 2009 study at Stanford, it was proven that while the spelling is getting worse, there are many other linguistic benefits tied to modern technology and new text lingo. The biggest one is that we are able to write more and faster, which creates new words at a faster pace and makes people more literate in general.
Writing for Pleasure
In the past, most writing was done at school, at work, and on the occasional hand-written letter. Today we are writing for pleasure and to communicate online more than ever. The Stanford study showed that 38% of all writing done by students on campus takes place outside of the classroom. Andrea Lunsford, the study’s originator, refers to this form of writing as “life writing”. Andrea does not think that our use of emoticons or writing shorthand is a problem.
“We’re in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven’t seen since Greek civilization.”
We are entering a new age when technology helps us with just about every daily task. Our reliance on technology means that we can do more with limited natural ability. It also means that we have trouble functioning on the same level without the technology that aids us. Some believe that the decline in our abilities to do simple tasks such as spell words correctly will impact our society negatively. The inability to produce quality writing can be seen as evidence of a lack of intelligence and can harm us in the increasingly competitive job market.
On the other hand, writing has changed a lot over the years. Right now, it is changing faster than ever, and this may not be a bad thing. People are writing more than ever before. Instead of writing for the purpose of learning and working, we are writing to communicate and for our own personal pleasure. Also, the use of modern emoticons is arguably no different from the hieroglyphics used by ancient Egyptians. Language itself is constantly changing and evolving based on need and use. Written communication is no different. While modern humans might get low scores on spelling tests, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t literate.
Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney
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