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Spell Check: Help or Hindrance?

By Beth Taylor

Are students (and teachers) relying too much on spell check? Is anyone really learning how to spell anymore?

Challenges of the English Language

English is a difficult language to learn. For every rule there seem to be numerous exceptions. Whether the learner is a student of second languages, or a toddler referring to "mouses," English is a challenge.

English is technically a Germanic language, but it bears influence from many other language groups. English root words are derived from Romance languages, such as Latin and French, Celtic languages, and even Greek. The history of English is complex and has created a beautiful language full of various cultural influence. The result is a language with countless shades of meaning, and English speakers have an unappreciated ability to describe and to clarify on an extremely specific basis both the tangible and the abstract.

The Impact of Technology

Time marches on and many students and writers benefit from spell-check software. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this. Spell-check software is a tool, similar to a dictionary or style guide. People use these tools to help themselves produce quality work.

The problem occurs when spell-check software replaces the need to learn in the classroom. Just as teachers don't hand students dictionaries to use during vocabulary tests, teachers should not allow their students to rely on spell-check software before even trying to get it right on their own.

For one, spell-check software does not catch all mistakes. People don't ware pears of shoes, affect results, or bake with flower.

Not every English student is in class due solely to the joy of knowledge. This didn't negate their responsibility to learn before spell-check software software, and it should not now.

Besides a teacher's obligation to teach English, she also has an obligation to teach integrity and a work ethic. One message sent with the allowed overuse of spell-check is "laziness is tolerated."

Appropriate Use

Spell-check software is a tool to help people proof-read their work, not a replacement for proof-reading and learning. Students writing essays should be required to go over their work themselves to catch mistakes, then use tools (such as spell-check) to help themselves, and then go over their work a final time.

Going over their work causes students to learn. When they have to catch a mistake on their own, they are much more likely to remember it. And students who learn how to spell will benefit in two ways. They will have a base for understanding the roots of the English language as is necessary in a well-rounded education. And they will be better equipped to express themselves in writing and earn both understanding and respect from their future employers.

Spell-check is a tool that is a good thing when used appropriately. The old adage is true: "Everything in moderation."