August 15, 2008

Lecturer Wants ‘Speling Erors’ to Be Accepted


IT'S an opertunity that we truely cannot ignor. At least, if we listen to one university lecturer's ideas for spelling out students' problems with literacy - this could be the future of the written word.

Ken Smith, a senior lecturer in criminology at Bucks New University, has called for common spelling mistakes made by students to be accepted into everyday usage as 'variant spellings' of some particular words.

"Teaching a large first-year course at a British university, I am fed up with correcting my students' atrocious spelling," he said.

"Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, university teachers should simply accept as variant spellings those words our students most commonly misspell."

Mr Smith proposes that wrongly spelt words - including 'Febuary', 'wierd', 'twelth' and 'speach' - be put on the same footing as accepted variant spellings of other words, often originating from Americanisms, such as 'license' and 'judgement'.

But with Northern Ireland's literacy rates already at an all- time low, and those in the rest of the UK not much better, is Mr Smith's 'arguement' really a viable solution?

Statistics released by the Department for Education and Learning reveal that 24% of the working-age population of Northern Ireland (those aged 16 to 64) operate at the lowest levels of literacy.

Increased acceptance of misspelling and less emphasis on written accuracy would be likely to impact heavily on this percentage, pushing it lower still, it is believed.

In February (with an 'r') of this year, Education Minister Caitriona Ruane established a Numeracy and Literacy Taskforce, chaired by Sir Robert Salisbury, to ensure that young adults in Northern Ireland learn and maintain the necessary educational skills to succeed in life.

Implementing Mr Smith's 'variant spellings' would directly contradict the literacy programme of this Taskforce, which focuses on making correct spelling an important part of the revised curriculum in schools and colleges.

Ms Loreto Todd, a Professor of English at the University of Ulster, personally disapproves of Mr Smith's proposal.

"English is an eccentric language, and we all make spelling mistakes," she said.

"Nevertheless, the rules are there for a reason, and there are certain standards which must be maintained."

"Teaching at tertiary level involves understanding that if standards slip in one area, they can slip in another. Accepting misspelt words at this level is an example of this."

Originally published by SARAH RAINEY [email protected]

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