Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spelling: Not for the Feint... I mean Faint of Heart.

  As a child, in grade school, I struggled constantly with the overwhelming task of mastering the arrangement of twenty-six letters into the correct sequence of properly spelled words.  My family and teachers were constantly amazed that as much as I read, I could not master this seemingly simple and basic task.  My main problem with spelling was that every time I felt I had the rules for spelling down, the rules would change. 

The first thing every child learns when being taught to spell is to sound out the word.  No problem; cat c-a-t, bat; b-a-t. Okay, I've got this. What do you mean sometimes the letters are silent?  "Okay Kate, sound out the word "friend."  F-r-e-n-d, "frend", uh no there is an "i' in it. " What?  The rules of spelling confused me, and caused no end of anxiety to my child heart and mind.  I before E except after C, but no this is only true in the majority of cases.   Vowels in particular became my arch nemesis in the second grade, with there similar sounds, and the fact that many words have a silent "e" at the end.  I tried for awhile just putting an "e" at the end of all my words, figuring that since so many words had the silent "e" I would get the majority of them right.  Oh how wrong I was.  There was also the confusion of words that sounded similar: accept and except, than and then.  Don't even get me started on words that mean different things depending on how they are spelled. Red and read for example.  And my number one enemy the three T's: there, their, and they're.  Are you kidding me!  How, I asked, was I suppose to remember all these rules!

My mother tried everything she could to help me learn spelling.  I remember endless hours of grilling every week night after dinner, in order to prepare me for the weekly spelling test.  Generally these hours started and ended in tears. The end result would still be that I generally passed the spelling test with a C grade, which seemed doomed to follow me through out life, ruining my chances of going to college or functioning in society.

Then in third grade I was given the "Speak-n-Spell."  Oh miracles of miracles, the solution to my problem, make spelling into a game! I loved my speak-n-spell it's soothing monotone computer voice, "you-are-correct" was given with the same inflection of speech as "that-is-not-correct."  I was quickly able to master all 50 words that it had to offer in it's tiny database.   My grandmother had the idea that perhaps we could buy little computer chips in which we could download my weekly spelling lists each week.  It seemed like a reasonable idea, given the fact that I seemed to be able to learn using my toy.  However, try as she might my grandmother was never able to find the computer chips capable of doing this.  I'm sure today they would be available and maybe if they had been at that time my spelling headaches would have ended at the age of eight, instead of following me through the rest of my life.

It seemed like I was doomed to go through life being unable to spell, but then a second miracle occurred.
Sometime around junior high school spell check was invented.  A solution to my problem,  I could write papers hit a button and presto, my spelling was all corrected for me.  I went from a C student to an A student seemingly overnight, thanks to spell check.  However, it was not without it's issues.  As anyone who has ever used this handy modern gadget knows, the spell check isn't completely idiot proof.  It will often lead you to insert words that are in fact spelled correct, but are also quite the wrong word than the one intended. 

I recall a memorable assignment for a high school English class in which we were to write a paper on our goals in life.  At the time I really wanted to be a marine biologist.  Spell check in it's infinite wisdom decided that what I really wanted to be was a marine botanist.  I received my paper back with a witty remark from the student teacher we had that semester "Help, Mable the plants are drowning!"  It is only now some fifteen years later that I can see the humor in this comment without inwardly cringing.  This was not the first or the last time that spell check would betray my trust.  I soon learn to precede with caution while using spellcheck, checking and double checking all my work. Despite my best efforts misspelled words continued to plague me well into college.

Even vigilance and spell check could not help me in all cases.  While working on my dual degrees of history and theatre in college, I was constantly tested with the dreaded essay question exams.  I generally received high marks on these tests, having the ability to regurgitate facts quite well.  However, when writing fast in order to answer the questions and beat the clock, there was not much time for me to check my work.  I would occasionally lose points for bad spelling from the hardest professors ,or my spelling mistakes would be pointed out by the kinder ones.  In my English 401 class on Shakespeare, my professor and role model kindly wrote on one test,
     "Katherine, you are one of my most brilliant students, however, if you are able to fit it into your schedule next semester I think it would benefit you to retake English 101 with me for no credit in order to prepare for grad school." 

And so my misfortune of being a bad speller has followed me through life. I now work as a nurse. The wonderful thing about this is that everything in medicine is abbreviated and if you can't abbreviate it just write illegibly. People generally think that the misspelled word is actually just bad penmanship. 

I am happy to report that bad spelling did not keep me out of college or keep me from functioning in everyday society.  The irony of my life now seems to be that people feel I must be a good speller and are constantly asking me how to spell words.  I handle this situation by putting on my thinking face, writing down the word the way I think it should be spelled, and then gracefully bowing out of the situation by apologizing that I am not the best speller "you should probably ask someone else."  Hey at least I give it a try!

Even as I write this blog, the spell check is driving me crazy highlighting every word that I either mistype or misspell.  I am also aware that there are probably multiple mistakes in the spelling and grammar of this little essay.  I ask you dear readers to please not point these out in your comments and just put it down to bad penmanship.

1 comment:

  1. I love your writing! Who cares if you're not the world's best speller? I am so happy that I get to read your blog; I feel privileged.

    I've never had problems with spelling, but I have struggled with punctuation and grammar. Writing is one of the few things I could do well. I've always been a D and F student in math and the sciences.

    Anything involving (as you so aptly put it) "regurgitating facts" is horribly painful and trying to me. Similarly, anything involving measuring or following instruction is feared and avoided by me still. I have the math and logic skills of a 1st grader on a good day. I was humiliated that I failed a job interview because I couldn't pass their very basic math quiz.

    So as you can see...everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. I'm so glad you pressed forward with your goals. To hell with the rest!