Which Words Do Schoolchildren Misspell Most Often?

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Which words are misspelled most often by schoolchildren? “Accidentally” tops the list, followed by “practicing”, “definitely” and “believe.” “Excitement” is often spelled wrong, as are “weird”, “doesn’t” and “different.” Rachel Carlyle of the London Times reports:

“In a study to be released next week, Oxford University Press analyzed more than 33 million words written by children and discovered that, despite decades of government blitzes and curriculum changes, children still get key rules wrong—and the mistakes are still there when they start secondary school. In fact, the top 12 misspelled words were the same for the 7-10 age group as for children aged 11-14.

‘To be fair, these are the kind of spellings adults often get wrong too,’ says Vineeta Gupta, head of children’s dictionaries for OUP. ‘It’s possibly because they haven’t got an understanding of a particular rule and its exceptions: “i” before “e”, adding “ly” to an adjective and putting an apostrophe in the right place.

Yet our research also showed that children recognized when a word was very difficult and unusual—like brachiosaurus or archaeologist—and got it right because they had looked it up. It was the more common, everyday words and rules that gave them trouble.’

She was surprised to find there was no significant improvement between primary and secondary school. ‘Some words even got worse between primary and secondary, such as ‘definitely’ – which had seven variations of spelling—and ‘excitement’, where the ‘c’ was sometimes missing, or the middle “e.”‘

Experts say computer spellcheckers and the fashion for phonics are at least partly to blame. Parents would also point out that many schools don’t routinely correct spellings.

OUP lexicographer Jane Bradbury believes there’s a case for both schools and parents spending more time on the basics. ‘Primary schools should really be focusing more on spelling and practicing more,’ says Bradbury, who is also a secondary school teacher.

How to teach spelling is a hotly debated subject; the weekly spelling test has fallen out of favor in many schools. ‘Research shows that if children learn spellings for tests and don’t use those words in their own writing, they will forget them within days,’ Bradbury says. “The weekly spelling test is only useful if they get the opportunity to use those words in a piece of writing pretty sharpish.” (Read more here—although complete article is behind a paywall.)

(I think “sharpish” is British for “right away.”)

What do you think? Should spelling be taught and practiced in schools more rigorously than it is now?

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One Response to “Which Words Do Schoolchildren Misspell Most Often?”

  1. Arun Kumar says:

    In my opinion, spellings should not be treated rigorously in schools—at least not for scoring or assessments, though they can be understood as good to practice.

    It is only teachers who are hell-bent on correct spellings.
    If you take a look at the social world, spellings are screwed up all the time in tweets and in chat messages.

    Recently I asked a literature professor about his take on abbreviations and spellings being used badly in social media. He said that they were modified to suit character constraints of 140 or so. He said embrace it don’t resist it—language keeps on evolving, it’s never a static. It’s up to people at large how they want to shape and use the language. Languages have been the world’s first crowdsourcing project.

    To tell you about me, I am and have always have been bad at spelling—every 8 words that I type there would be one word with a spelling mistake, but what is uncanny or amazing about me is that, in spite of not knowing what’s the correct spelling of the word, I always know with 99% accuracy which word is misspelled, that needs a fix. Fortunately we have the best of spellcheckers and auto correction engines to help us with digital content.

    For me what’s embarrassing (which is also my confession) is that when I teach to my students I scribble bad on the blackboard, just to hide my spelling. I find that to be funny. I don’t think of less of myself in terms of my knowledge or teaching because of that. Interestingly, last week when I was typing and teaching to class at the same time, the number of of spelling mistakes I made was increased. Multitasking was totally failing.

    What I found out about myself after introspection is that when it comes to words, I am like an artist who throws or blurts the words (letters like colors) on canvas like an artist. Then I re-touch it or refine it in the second pass to form logic.

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