Wednesday, January 31, 2007

To Get Anywhere In Our Society, You MUST Know How to Spell

Last week, I read an article that irritated me enough to schedule it into my blog.

It referenced several parts of an extensive study on family behavior, done by Nickelodeon. You can read the full article here:

When I started reading, I saw a few things I agreed with - technology blurring boundaries between work and home, the vast majority of kids spending a good chunk of time online.

Then I got to the 8th paragraph. And I read this:
"The study showed that, thanks to the Internet, a quarter of parents believe it's no longer necessary to spell well, reference printed dictionaries, or read the newspaper. Kids ages 8 to 14 agreed in slightly lesser percentages (an average of one-fifth) about the usefulness of spelling well, dictionaries and newspapers, except when it came to printed maps."


Few things aggravate me faster than willful ignorance. Yet that's precisely what this amounts to - kids and parents (PARENTS!) actively refusing to learn. One of the most basic communications skills, to boot.

(In case you can't tell, this will be a somewhat-angry post!)

Despite this quarter of parents and fifth of kids, spelling is absolutely necessary to learn in a technological society. Many times more essential than in a non-technological society, I would say.

You might think that obvious. You went to school, they taught you this. You know you have to spell correctly. You're right, but I've actually come across people for whom education is not a suitable reason to value things like spelling. (Gee, doesn't seem so surprising now that I read that article...)

So here. I'm going to list some reasons why spelling is essential in our society. Concrete reasons, proof undeniable. Let those parents argue with these.

You need spelling to:
1. Understand Computers. If you can't spell, you will have trouble reading. It's ironic, but the technology these parents claim invalidates the need to spell is one of the areas where spelling is needed just to understand it! For example, reading instructions, websites, documentation, manuals, game screens...need I go on?

2. Understand Each Other. Since we're talking about parents and children here, let me break this one down to school and work scenarios. In school, children need spelling for understandable reports, speeches, and tests. Write something the teacher doesn't understand? Bad grade. In a work scenario, you have things like sending emails, giving directions on projects, training, etc. Write something your boss doesn't understand? Pink slip.

3. Express Your Intentions. How do you expect anyone else to listen to you when anything you write, any effort you make to communicate what you want or need, is unreadable?

4. Understand the World. Nowhere is language more demonstrably important than in addressing others when you do not share the same culture. Basic needs, different customs, unique social protocols all come into consideration. Wars have been fought over simple cultural misunderstandings in language.

I can't emphasize the importance highly enough. When 80% of corporate employees already have trouble communicating their needs to one another, seeing things like the Nickelodeon study results just burns me.

If you'd told me something like this ten years ago, I wouldn't have believed you. Unfortunately, now I know the grim truth. If we teach one generation to ignore communication, the next won't be able to communicate effectively at all. How do we expect to get anything done? How do we expect our society to survive?



At 6:23 PM , Blogger deus|diabolus said...

One of the college courses I took while working on my Associate's Degree referenced the fact that a frightening number of U.S. college graduates have horrible grammar skills. This article has more statistics on the trend as well. If people who are responsible for running a major company can't even write a simple business letter without needing a template and a spell checker, what can our country do except decline?

At 6:35 PM , Blogger Blue Ferret said...

An excellent point - and an excellent find in the URL there. Exactly what I'm worried about.

At 7:56 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am constantly shocked at the poor spelling displayed by people at all levels of society, but the statistic quoted from the article is ridiculous. The statistic implies that those percentages of people agree on one or more of the 3 items listed (spelling, use of printed dictionaries, newspapers). Proper spelling is really in no way related to the latter two items. Frankly, I'm surprised that such high percentage of people think that printed dictionaries and newspapers are still really that useful.

Why would anyone dig through a printed dictionary when a computer is available and they can, in seconds, read definitions from several dictionaries at once? And finding news online is far easier and more effective than digging through a newspaper (well, and the article wasn't really clear if they differentiated between printed newspapers and their online coutnerparts).

Poor spelling is something to be upset about, and I already am, but this statistic, as it is presented anyway, is nothing to be alarmed about.

At 1:13 PM , Blogger legrady said...

Perhaps it's 'cool' ( am I dating myself?) when teens send each other coded text messages. R U w/ me so 4? That's great for a sentence at a time, when you have the brainpower to decipher the content.

But to get ahead, you need to read and write pages at a time, in which eachparagraph communicates a single idea, flowing one after another to develop deeper understanding. I've seen several incidents recently of people on Digg and Reddit using 'presidents' for 'precedence'. Such mis-communications are jarring, interrupting my flow of comprehension, rather than advancing their cause.


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