Danger of spellcheck

Danger of spellcheck

FORGET concerns about abbreviated language in text messaging leading to lowered literacy standards. There’s a far greater force at work in every office across the land, busily ensuring that more people are becoming less literate every day – the spellchecker. So says Mark Farrelly, a senior writer with Australian direct marketing copywriting company e-dm.com.au.

Mr Farrelly recommends all jobseekers make sure they don’t rely on their spellcheckers for job-application letters, resumes, et cetera.

“As your career takes off you want to develop good spelling habits not bad ones. Turning your spellchecker off automatic is one of the best things you can do,” he says.

“As a professional writer, I hate spellcheckers. The very idea that a piece of computer software could ever manage the English language better than a human being was flawed from the very beginning!” he says.

“The problem is that computers lack the very capability that makes language possible in the first place – the ability to judge the meaning of words by their context and relationship to each other. Computers are inherently stupid and will only do whatever they are told, without any ability whatsoever to exercise any judgment over their actions.

“Spell a sentence this way – `They had no hats on there heads’ – and the average computer spellchecker will find nothing wrong with it. It is incapable of judging the difference between their, there and even they’re.

But there’s a far more insidious aspect to the way many people use their spellcheckers. Leaving your spellchecker set to automatically correct spelling mistakes as you type is just asking for trouble.

“By assigning the responsibility for correcting your spelling as you go to the computer, you automatically abandon responsibility for it yourself. In the process, your spelling becomes worse.”

Mr Farrelly says the problem is “you stop paying attention to what you write as you write it and just let the computer decide for you”. Each time you let it correct spelling you are uncertain about, you become less certain about your spelling ability, not more. Thus, a poorer speller is born.

Mr Farrelly says he solves the problem this way. “I make a habit when I write of playing a game with my spellchecker. I never leave it set on automatic. I only run it over what I have written when I get to the end and I’m satisfied with what I have written,” he says.

“I do so with a sense of daring it to find a spelling mistake. (`Go on, try and find one,’ I often think to myself). “The aim of the game is to become so error free in my spelling that I make the spellchecker redundant. In doing so, I improve my spelling not worsen it.

“On the rare occasions it does find something, I take a good look at why I mis-spelt that word. Is there something about it I don’t understand? Often I’ll look it up in a dictionary to find out more about the word or try to remember something about it that will be a clue to remembering how to spell it.”

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