Last week viewers across the nation watched Kokul Venkatachalam and Vanya Shivashankar tie for first place in the 2015 Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. Their winning words? Nunatak and scherenschnitte.
While we all love the hoopla surrounding the Bee, many of us undoubtedly roll our eyes at such words, dismissing spelling as a high pressure sport for geniuses and not a necessary academic skill in the world of spell check and auto correct.
But research suggests that good spelling skills heavily influence several other academic areas, including the following:
From a paper in the American Educator: “The correlation between spelling and reading comprehension is high because both depend on a common denominator: proficiency with language….The more deeply and thoroughly a student knows a word, the more likely he or she is to recognize it, spell it, define it, and use it appropriately in speech and writing.” In other words, spelling aids recognition of words, word recognition promotes textual understanding, and textual understanding promotes interest in the subject matter, thus increasing learning.
Spelling is one of the keys which unlock the mystery of reading. When we train children how to properly use this key, we shouldn’t be surprised when they take off and successfully navigate the world of books and knowledge.
Good spelling skills have also been discovered to improve other writing habits. This is because good spellers are able to maintain a better flow in their thought process while putting pen to paper. Continually pausing to ponder the spelling of words hinders this flow and hampers the length and breadth of a composition. Additionally, good spellers accumulate a large vocabulary, which is invaluable for developing writing skills.
History and Language
As evidenced in the Scripps Spelling Bee, good spelling is based upon knowledge of history and word etymology. Giving serious attention to spelling will lead to greater knowledge of Latin, Greek, French, and German – the main languages upon which English is based – as well as the ancient cultures which spoke and developed these tongues.
Spelling used to be a bastion of the American school system, with average citizens knowing how to spell words such as differentiation, mimosaceous (ha, spell check couldn’t even spell that one!), and xanthophyll like today’s Scripps Howard Spelling Bee champions. Sadly, today’s school system seems to be sidelining spelling for various reasons, one of which is the fact that it’s “not on the state test.”
But consider the facts: only 35% of the nation’s 8th graders are proficient in reading and only 27% of high school seniors are proficient in writing. Could placing more emphasis on spelling possibly boost these statistics?