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How well can you spell?

To help students test and improve their spelling skills and cultivate a healthy competitive spirit, the Navhind Times in partnership with the Event Management department of S S Dempo College of Commerce and Economics is organizing Spell-Bee 2018 for school students. NT KURIOCITY caught up with some teachers, parents and students to find out their views on spellings

Maria Fernandes | NT Kuriocity

When we discuss the standard of English in schools and colleges, we do so with reference to the written form of the language. One aspect of the written language is spelling. English spellings however can be tricky. Not just children but adults as well are sometimes stumped when they get a spelling incorrect. Simple words sometimes have difficult spellings! ‘Does accommodate have a single ‘m’ or a double ‘m’? What comes first in weird, the E or the I? What about the rule I before E except after C? Why does it not apply here? These and an exhaustive list of questions confound even language pundits.

English has been described by many, as a funny language. It is forever evolving and the rules are complicated and do not follow logic. There are also numerous paradoxes and inconsistencies that are a real test of anyone’s linguistic ability. Unlike Indian languages, which are written as they are spoken, English follows the complex phonetics system and often, words end up sounding similar but meaning completely the opposite!  For example -Sanction (via French, from Latin sanctio(n-), from sancire ‘ratify,’) can mean “give official permission or approval for (an action)” or conversely, “impose a penalty on”. Seed can also go either way. If you seed the lawn you add seeds, but if you seed a tomato you remove them.

There have been many Indian movies that have often taken a dig at the English language. Namak Halal, the best of them, had a hilarious monologue sequence where Amitabh Bachchan as Arjun Singh talks about how he can “talk English, walk English.”

“For those learning English especially for whom it is a second language, different categories of sounds and words could be difficult and confusing. Learning to spell is a matter of visual memory. A word is taken as a single, complete unit for purposes of spelling. Spelling is a sequence of letters representing a sequence of sounds. One should not think of the pronunciation of the word while spelling it. Those who do not understand the relation (or the lack of relation) between English speech and spelling will inevitably tend to spell words as they hear them,” says associate professor of English, St Xavier’s College, Mapusa, Sunita Mesquita. Agreeing with her and listing a few more reasons why spellings are difficult, associate professor of English, Dempo College, Augusto Pinto adds, “English is a peculiar language and the script is not phonetically-based like the Devnagiri script. It draws words from a host of languages like Latin, Greek, French, German and even Indian languages like Hindi, Urdu and Tamil. Spellings of these borrowed words draw on the spellings of the native words. Also there are different ways of spelling the same sound for example, shawl and tall. In addition differently spelled words sound the same like hair and hare. Add to these heteronyms, words that have the same spelling but different meanings when pronounced differently like lead, pronounced ‘leed’, means to guide; while lead, pronounced ‘led’, means a metallic element.”

Besides difficulty of the language another reason cited for incorrect spellings is SMS language, prevalent amongst youngsters. “It is not just the younger generation but adults as well who have got into the habit of using this language. Sometimes when we are correcting papers in school we are aghast at what students write with concerns grammar and spellings,” says school teacher, Ankush N (name changed).

HOD of the English department, associate professor Roxanna Singh is of the opinion that lack of reading besides not being corrected at an early age, is a major reason why some find spellings difficult. She adds, “English is a language that needs to be internalised right from class 1. Once the practice has been inculcated, good spelling becomes a life-long habit as the practice of looking up words when in doubt in the dictionary or thesaurus becomes ingrained. Once an English learner moves beyond class IV or V, the window of opportunity to teach this is lost. Also since there is no ready reckoner of rules to be followed the confusion becomes even more pronounced.”

Difficult though it may be, learning the right spellings has many advantages. “While I was in standard II, my spellings were atrocious but then my mum started teaching me a new word every day. I would open the dictionary and look up the meaning. This way, not only was I learning spellings but also improving my vocabulary,” shares Sharlene D’Souza a bank employee who was a regular participant in spelling-bee competitions. “Learning spellings and taking part in spelling competitions proved extremely beneficial to me,” adds Ritika Joshi, presently pursuing her MBA in Delhi. “Due to my spelling skills, my command over the language increased and thus increased participation in debates, elocution and spell bees. This further led to an increase in my confidence level. I strongly recommend that students should learn and take interest in correct spellings from primary school itself.” Roxanna Singh adds, “It is not just learning but learning the right way that is important.”

“When teaching my son spellings I first explain the meaning and illustrate the same in different sentences. Children should know the meanings of the words they spell. If spelling words are simply letters to be learnt by heart with no meaning attached then we are simply teaching our children a task equivalent to learning telephone numbers,” says Vaishnavi Shetye, a parent. Soft skills trainer and parent, Runa Menezes, adds, “Bad spelling is like shabby clothes. It irritates the reader and creates a poor image of the communicator. Examiners too deduct marks for incorrect spellings. Remedial work at the early stage of language learning focusing simultaneously on speech and spelling will help.”

“As children grow older, they will have to write reports and other formal written work. If there are spelling mistakes, it would result in lower grades and this in turn could determine their future success in life. For example a poorly written resume will not get you a job, instead it will get you a “we’ll call you” sendoff,” says Sunita Mesquita. “Nothing can make you lose credibility more quickly and seem uneducated than a spelling mistake and that includes apostrophes,” adds Singh.

Indeed, a lack of a certain level of proficiency may be a barrier to getting a job at all. A lot of employers now ask candidates to take writing tests. Youngsters coming out of college may have all the right interpersonal skills but if they can’t write coherently, employers think twice before employing them.

Spellings are important and learning them correctly is beneficial all around!

(To participate in Spell-Bee 2018, send an email to or call Natasha Pereira on 7218126719 or Netwin Antao on 7798241159. The first round is scheduled for September 20 in South Goa and September 21 in North Goa.)


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