Help! My child can’t spell!

09 Aug Help! My child can’t spell!

spell it right


It is fair to say that the spelling skills of our young people has hit an all-time low. According to Graeme Paton, we now have a generation of university students that cannot spell, despite spending 13 years in the education system.

“Standards have deteriorated to such an extent that one leading academic has been forced to ignore common errors altogether,” says Paton.

I deal with the writing of 14-15 year olds on an almost daily basis, and well-structured, error free writing is an exception. The most common mistakes are the incorrect usage of punctuation (or no punctuation at all), the omission of capital letters and the inability to spell simple words that should have been learned at a young age.

So how did it get to this?

Schools don’t teach spelling anymore

When my children were in primary school, I asked their teachers why they weren’t correcting my children’s spelling errors. I was told, “It is bad for their self-esteem to see too many red markings in their essays” and I was assured that “it would come right”. It never did of course.

The English language has rules and concepts that can be learned, but schools don’t teach them anymore. Instead, they have adopted a “whole language” approach and the result is a generation of young people entering university without having mastered the basics of grammar and spelling. Students don’t know the difference between “their” and “there”, “know” and “no”, “too” and “to”. Some words are spelled so atrociously incorrect that it is impossible to determine what the word is supposed to mean.

For example, any idea what “exdabidition” is supposed to mean? (By the way, I did not make this up)

No idea?


Standards have deteriorated to such an extent that leading academics are being forced to ignore common errors altogether.

It is common belief that reading will lead to better spelling. Right or wrong?

Benefits of reading

Reading has many benefits. It expands your vocabulary, increases your knowledge, improves your focus and concentration, and it offers entertainment. But unless the basics of spelling and grammar have been grasped, reading won’t turn a bad speller into a good one.

I think it is actually the other way around – good spelling skills help children to read because it enables them to recognise the structure of a word. Confident spellers become confident readers, and writers. Berrett explains it well in her article, “Reading Strategies: Phonics and Spelling Ability”. She explains that spelling is a higher level process than reading, so even if a student can read a word, that doesn’t necessarily mean they can spell it. But if a student can spell a word, it is almost guaranteed that they can read it.

Spell-checkers and text language

Spell-checkers may detect spelling errors but they are no replacement for the human behind the keyboard. They often suggest changes that can result in embarrassing outcomes, much worse than the spelling error in the first place. It pays to know your spelling rules and question your PC’s spell-checker!

Researchers say that the use of text language is having a detrimental effect on the standards of grammar and spelling in teenagers.

Text language

Text language is characterised by the use of shortcuts, such as homophones, acronyms, and omissions of non-essential letters. Tests carried out by researchers are indicating that there is a direct link between the number of text messages teenagers send or receive, and the level of decline in their grammatical skills. In other words, the more students text, the more it may impact their grammar and spelling ability.

So why is spelling that important anyway?

First impressions are important. If you get it wrong, you never get a second chance. Many websites are riddled with spelling errors, putting consumers off who could have concerns about a website’s credibility.

Despite the decline in the standard of spelling, our society still values spelling says Louise Moats. “If you misspell a word on your résumé, you might get rejected by a potential employer.”

Spelling errors in CV

In many professions, clear communication is vital, and correct spelling just leaves a much better impression.

No easy solution

The problem is clearly multi-faceted and there is no quick fix for the steep decline in spelling and grammatical skills. But something has to be done. Spell-checkers and text language are here to stay, therefore a good start would be to change the way English is taught in our schools. I hope that education experts will soon realise that the “whole language” approach has failed our children and that a return to the old-school approach might not be such a bad idea.