College students how well can you spell?


For those learning English, especially those for whom it is a second language, different categories of sounds and words could be difficult and confusing. “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, SS Dempo College of Commerce & Economics, Bambolim, 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.” He adds that there are different ways of spelling the same sound for example, ‘‘shawl’’ and ‘‘tall’’. “In addition differently spelt 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,” he says.

Besides the difficulty of the language, another reason cited for incorrect spellings is SMS language that is prevalent among youngsters. The more we look at social media forums, and other online destinations where random internet users leave their trace, the more we notice the serious decline of literacy among the digital generation. College teachers have noticed and reported a decline in vocabulary, writing, and grammar standards not only in India but all around the world. “It is not just the younger generation but adults as well who have got into the habit of writing and spelling 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, Prabhakar Rao.

Lack of reading besides not being corrected at an early age is a major reason why some find spellings difficult, opine most teachers and professors. Head of the English department, associate professor Roxanna Singh of Carmel College for Women, Nuvem says: “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 4 or 5, the window of opportunity to teach this is lost.” Also, she says, 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, stresses school teacher, Michelle D’’Souza. “From writing papers to reports and presentations (especially in the higher classes) besides improved vocabulary, knowing the correct spellings has many advantages,” she says.

English has been described by many as a funny language that is not easy to understand. It is forever evolving. The rules are complicated and do not follow logic. You can’t tell the spelling from the pronunciation, and you can’t tell the pronunciation from the spelling. 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 more often than not, words end up sounding similar but meaning completely the opposite! For example – ‘‘Fast’’ can mean “moving rapidly,” as in running fast, or “fixed, unmoving,” as in holding fast. If colours are fast they will not run. The meaning “firm, steadfast” came first; the adverb took on the sense “strongly, vigorously,” which evolved into “quickly,” a meaning that spread to the adjective.

The written form of the language forms the basis of assessment when we discuss the standard of English in schools and colleges. Along with punctuations and grammar, spellings are integral to written communication. 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! Like does accommodate come with one or two Cs? 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.

And Ritika Joshi, who is presently pursuing her MBA in New Zealand, says that learning spellings and taking part in spelling competitions proved extremely beneficial. “Due to my spelling skills, my command over the language increased and this led to 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,” she says.

Singh states that “it is not just learning but learning the right way that is important”. And a number of parents make it a point to be actively involved in this learning. “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 Viviana Pinto, a parent. Soft skills trainer and parent, Runa Menzes, 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.” And nothing can make you lose credibility more quickly and seem uneducated than a spelling mistake and that includes apostrophes, adds Singh.

“As children grow older and progress through different grades, 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 Mesquita.

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!

Spell Bee 2019 promises to be exciting and challenging and with the unique concept of having it for college students, it can only get better!

To participate in Spell-Bee 2019, send an email to or call Chaitra Mesta on 7350072959 or Shonil Gramopadhye on 8605606595. The first round is scheduled for September 28 at SS Dempo College of Commerce and Economics, Cujira. Last date for application is September 24.