Spelling

by John Mertus

When people read my posts, the first thing that goes through their mind is, and this is a direct quote, "You have an unique way of spelling," the second is "you should get a spell checker."

I have always been a poor speller through my life. Recently I found all my grade school report cards. Indeed, my memory was not playing tricks on me.

Here is my 6-th grade report card. Notice I was perfect in spelling for four quarters.

Sorry about having such a large image, but otherwise it becomes unreadable. Just FYI, is the front, so show it was really me.

My non-spelling ability was not a fluke, here are part of my report cards for other grades.

Fourth Grade.

Fifth Grade.

Seventh Grade.

I just was not bad, I was really bad. This is a representive paper from that time. How many of you could get a 10 on these words and have spent about 30 minutes a night for 4 nights going over the words! I remember my mother sitting at the dining room table drilling me night after night. I would memorize the random sequence of characters, but the next day forget them.

The question is why can I not spell when I can read. I believe there are two main reasons. The first is that I learned to talk and read at the same time. I could say individual words at the age of 3 but by 5 years old, I only said two word sentences. My mother too me to a doctor who said that there was nothing wrong with me but I was just "slow." The third reason, I'm just plain lazy and dumb, has its merits.

I learned to read at the same time as I spoke. Not phonetically, but rather decompose by sight. Words became colors and shapes. The dominate color is by the first letters and it is pretty obvious where they come from. "ant" is shinny red, but so is apple. "read" is red but with the color of rust. By putting these colors and shapes together, I could distinguish words easily.

There are advantages of this aproach. For example sound alike words, jean and gene, are very different for me. jean is blue, gene is silver white. They activate different areas of my brain so it is almost impossible for me to confuse them.

I finally learned to talk, but I never did learn phonetics, my spelling was by color and shape. I would write down a sequence of letters and try to add and subtract them until they matched my mental image. Now, 40 years later, the colors are much, much muted. A lifetime of talking, writing and listening has made me much more phonetic. But I still do not pronounce some words so I can't even spell them enough for a spell checker.