The ability to communicate is essential for human life. We know how to communicate as soon as we're born—crying because we're hungry, crying because we're tired, smiling when our needs are met. It's primitive communication, to be sure, but effective. As we get older, we learn to speak, listen, read, and write, all skills requiring an understanding of the rules that govern them.
Without rules, the elements of communication become meaningless. Rules are the guidelines that help us know when we say something to another person, they'll understand what we're saying. Even then, interpretation is almost always necessary, and no matter how careful we are in our speech and writing there's always someone who will misunderstand our message.
As a result, paying attention to the rules is something we neglect at the risk of being unable to communicate. In an age when spell-checkers underline our mistakes, however, we often have the (usually subconscious) attitude that spelling rules can be ignored. This partly stems from laziness, but more importantly it stems from a lack of knowledge: sure, spelling mastery takes some work initially, but the work it saves once accomplished is far greater.
Many of us weren't taught the fundamentals of English spelling when we were in school. Either we got straight phonics, or we learned to read using the "look-say" method of sight recognition. Neither of these methods take into account the magnificent and often frustrating complexity and adaptability of our language, and therefore neither taught us how to decode words, instead teaching us a formula that would work only most of the time.
Language changes, but it changes slowly, and never so quickly that we can't keep up with new forms and uses. The rules of grammar and spelling don't shift unless there's a need or a cataclysmic event (like the Tower of Babel or the Norman invasion of Britain in 1066), and even then the change isn't usually immediate. We can keep up with the rules, and we should because knowing them helps us communicate easier and more clearly.
But why spelling in particular? Why not just rely on spell-check? Anyone with experience in word processing will know the answer to the second question immediately: spell-check doesn't catch every mistake. Even if it did, we wouldn't find all the red underlines, and our emails, resumes, and papers would still be full of mistakes.
There's an even more fundamental reason, though. Learning to do something right the first time is crucial for just about any discipline. Take home construction, for instance; a builder doesn't slap together a few walls and a roof as quickly as possible just to get it done, then look for mistakes and problems later. A builder studies the plans, chooses the best materials, and puts the house together right the first time.
The same is true of musicians: an orchestra or band doesn't wait till they're on stage to go over their material, and fix mistakes after they've been made (if at all). Instead, they rehearse their songs as often and as thoroughly as possible before the performance so the audience will be able to enjoy good music properly performed.
Why do we make an exception for spelling? Not everything is written on a computer (even in this Technological Age), and even those items that are deserve to be written carefully and clearly the first time. Misspelling words (at the least) makes reading difficult and (at the worst) obscures or even changes meaning completely. If we know the rules well enough to spell words correctly the first time, we'll save ourselves and our readers a lot of headache and a lot of time.
It's important that kids learn these skills early on as their school careers will require plenty of writing, even if they stop after high school. Learning to spell also teaches them discipline, giving them the ability to write effectively rather than just quickly (though they'll be surprised how much faster they can write when they know how to spell the words!), and to pay attention to their work.
We carry many spelling curriculum lines, as well as plenty of resources and supplemental guides and worktexts. Spelling really requires nothing so much as practice and consistency, and mostly these books are collections of the spelling rules with lists of words to practice spelling. This doesn't necessarily need to be its own subject, but it does need to be learned and mastered, whether your kids want to become professors of literature or auto mechanics.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur.Read more of his reviews here.
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