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No big deal? Think again; spelling counts!

Make no such mistakes!
Make no such mistakes! #23828831

We’re not talking typos here; no, instead it’s all about carelessness and an unfortunate lack of know-how and knowing better. Plus, misspellings invite being found less educated, detail-oriented, even hirable. Texting aside, in the real world, spelling counts and attention or to it, or lack thereof, speaks well or ill of us.

Meanwhile, don’t be surprises if the state of spelling slips even further. In this age of Common Core Standards and standardized testing, it’s now being dropped from many elementary classrooms across the country. Indeed, says J. Richard Gentry, author of Spel is a Four-Letter Word, “Principals tell teachers you don’t have to teach spelling because it’s not on the state test. But kids not taught spelling are not likely to do a well on the state reading and writing tests.” So take note; it matters a lot.

Not that correct spelling is easy for most of us. Just think cough vs. dough and hiccough vs. laugh. Then there are all those sound-alikes, such as there, their, and they’re, allowed and aloud. Mind boggling, no? Plus there are some 90 English spelling rules to follow! These three top the list:

  1. Use i before e—except after c or when sounded as long “a,” as in receive and deceive, neighbor and weigh. Exceptions to the rule include weird, ancient, and foreign.
  2. Drop the final e before a suffix (word ending) that starts with a vowel (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y) but not a consonant, as in riding, hoping, guidance, entirely, and likeness. Exceptions to the rule include truly and noticeable.
  3. Change a final y to i before a suffix unless it ends in i, as in parties, tries, trying, and copying. Exceptions to the rule include journeying and memorize.

Moreover, while reading and spelling are directly linked, spelling is the harder to grasp. As Yale University researcher Sally Shaywitz explains: “Reading is transforming letters into sound. Spelling is just the reverse, but you don’t start with something you can see on a page.”

And all that makes Kevin Cui even more remarkable. Not only is he the 2014 Times Herald Spelling Bee champ, he’s only a 5th grader. This unprecedented feat has, indeed, made him the pride of Methacton’s Skyview Upper Elementary School. Last year, the award went to Spring-Ford Intermediate School’s Ashraya Ananthanarayanan, an 8th grader.

Interestingly, the two went head-to-head in the final round of the 2014 contest. Kevin sailed through such words as contraband, panglossia, and glockenspiel, while Ashraya successfully took on misogynist, embarcadero, and conquistador. But then along came Eocene, and she missed it; he didn’t and went on to correctly spell détente, winning it all.

The secret of his success? He explains: “I study every day and try to look up pronunciations of words.”

Good but hard-to-follow advice for many kids, so instead try putting these spelling tips to work for your child:

  1. To eliminate careless mistakes, remind him to double-check by re-reading the piece backward--yes, starting from the very last word and reading back to the first.
  2. For easily misspelled words, employ spelling mnemonics (memory aids) to lock in the correct way to go, such as “There’s a rat in separate;” “Strawberry shortcake is my favorite dessert.”
  3. “Hearing” how a difficult work is written, not spoken, ensures correct spelling, as in choc-o-late, la-sag-na, and en-vi-ron-ment.
  4. When unsure of a word’s spelling, she should circle it and continue writing, looking it up later.
  5. How to Spell It, by Harriet Wittels and Joan Greisman, allows him to look up a word the way he thinks it’s spelled, as in numonia, and find the correct spelling, pneumonia, right beside it.
  6. A personal dictionary is a must-have, with one letter atop each page and stored in her binder. This way, missed words can be recorded right away for easy reference later.
  7. For repeatedly misspelled words, try VAKT (Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic, Tactile). Across a sheet of paper, slowly write the word correctly in cursive, saying it at the same time. He then traces it with a finger while slowly saying the word, too. When confident, just turn the paper over and let him try it. If incorrect, repeat the steps.
  8. While the computer’s spell check can reinforce good spelling, it has limitations, so warn against over-reliance. For instance, it can’t distinguish between there, their, and they’re, then or than.
  9. Talk up the importance of spelling and play such games as Scrabble, Hangman, and Boggle.

Oh, yes, be sure to also gather the family around and watch the 2014 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The Semifinals will be televised Thursday, May 29 on ESPN2 from 10:00 a.m. to approximately 1:00 p.m.; the Championship Finals will then be on from 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. (Maybe DVR it?)

And to get ready for that contest, be sure to watch the 2002 documentary Spellbound, a one-of-a-kind, nail-biter.

It matters.

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