Everyday words are easy to remember and spell, right? But when you’re asked to spell a slightly unusual word, a word that you always struggle with or a word that you’ve not had to spell for a while such as definitely, deteriorated or physiotherapist, do you find it easier to write it down? I would expect most of you reading this would say ‘Yes’.
I, Dave, have been meaning to write this Insight for a while now but to be honest, just haven’t got round to it. However, I have recently upgraded my screen reading software, Jaws, to the latest version which has lots of new features including announcing and playing sounds when I’ve spelled words incorrectly. Since this upgrade, I’ve realised that I make more spelling errors than I thought or I’m noticing them more now that Jaws is announcing them as I type!
I used to be a reasonable speller but as my sight has deteriorated I’m definitely finding spelling harder or I’m having to concentrate a lot more on spelling words that I might have quickly written down to visually check the spelling. Do you know what I mean? Writing down a word would just look right or wrong. – I guess this is how we learn as a child? I now picture the word in my head and then spell it character by character as I type it. It is easy though to misspell a word or spell a word phonetically. This subject was also covered on a podcast that I regularly listen to called RNIB Tech Talk. The host, Steven Scott, is vision impaired and he spoke about how his spelling has deteriorated since losing his vision (RNIB Tech Talk link - https://audioboom.com/posts/7020255-amazon-apple-and-accessible-technology).
It is really common for people that have very little or no sight to spell words phonetically. This is usually because they’ve never seen the word and therefore have had to learn to spell that word by memorising it. Like most people, if you don’t use it you lose it.
I usually trip up on people’s names, especially if they’re not spelt in the usual way or have different ways of spelling them. For example, Martin/Martyn, Lee/Leigh, Shaun/Sean, Vikki/Vicky and there is always the names that aren’t spelt the way they are pronounced like Siobhan, Phoebe and Yvonne to name just a few.
It’s not all so bad though as we live in an era where the computer autocorrects mistakes as we type and, as I mentioned earlier, even my screen reader, Jaws, will announce when a word is misspelt! This is all fine when you’re in a word processor like Microsoft Word but isn’t as helpful when you’re in a programme that doesn’t autocorrect like Facebook!
There is also the complication of knowing if you’re using the correct homophone and how you would know without spelling each word character by character. This is particularly the case when using dictation to input text. Dictation has come a long way but it still gets the grammar wrong occasionally so I, as a blind person, have to understand when to use the correct spelling – your/you’re, where/wear, by/buy, wait/weight, etc. Problems with dictation come up lots on social media posts and forums but there is no real solution to the problem other than to dictate clearly and, if it’s really important, to double check your entry.
I did do a quick Google on this subject to see if there had been any study carried out but drew a blank on this. However, I did find another blog called Spelling Inside Out: Developing visual memory. This wasn’t vision impairment related but was interesting nevertheless as it covered how we learn to spell and how children nowadays aren’t using their visual memory as well as they used to probably due to computers and technology. (Link to the blog ‘Spelling Inside Out: Developing Visual Memory’ - https://sis4teachers.org/2018/08/5123/).
Vicky: This is an interesting one, and I think Dave’s quite right in that spelling is quite visual, or at least getting spellings correct is quite visual. By that I mean that not only might we write words down to see if they ‘look right’ when we want to check how to spell them but also we see words regularly when we read them and therefore have a regular reminder of how they are spelt. When we’re working together Dave will quite often ask me how to spell a word. My spelling’s usually ok (apart from sociable – what a weird word that is, I always want to spell it out loud as socialable), so usually I can just answer but on the odd occasion when I need to write it down to double check, he tells me I’m cheating, not entirely fair as he’s asked me how to spell it – 😊 (smiley face)!!
However, it’s not always the case that seeing a word makes it easier to spell. My daughter’s dyslexic and we were told to encourage her to read more as a young child to enhance her spelling, (again the reason being that the more you see different words the more likely you are to have a visual memory of them) but that’s not an easy task if reading is hard in the first place and also if you mistake some letters for others!
So, although she can see the words, she still struggles to recreate them as to her they look different once she’s written them, or else she can’t see where they’re wrong. Having just read the article Dave mentions above, ‘Spelling Inside Out’, I have to confess that I personally think this would have just sent her head spinning as a child and I can’t imagine how it could have done anything other than confuse her but if it helps some kids then obviously that’s great.
And believe me Dave, you’re probably much more conscious about name spelling than most sighted people I know, and trust me with a name like Vicky, I know what I’m talking about (Vicki, Vikki, Vickie, Vickey to list but a few of the variations I’ve received, and that’s after I’ve spelt my name or they’ve seen it written down!).
What Dave has missed from this (unlike you Dave not to point out your positives 😊 (smiley face)) is that Dave is excellent at noticing typos. So, as he says, although he might not pick up on the where and wear type errors, he’ll certainly notice a typo which visually a lot of people will miss. This is because, visually, we will read what we expect to be there, but when listneing to Jaws, it will of course, read out exactly what’s written and therefore typos become more obvious. So he’ll have noticed (and hopefully not corrected when proof reading this!) that listening is spelt incorrectly in the last sentence.
What does all this mean? Well for us, if we’re producing documents, it means we make a pretty good tag team!!
Leave us a comment telling us how you manage. Do you write down words that you find tricky to spell? And if you’re vision impaired, what coping strategies do you have for spelling correctly?
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Our VIDA Insights...
Following our experiences from delivering our Vision Impairment Awareness training days over the past couple of years, we know that there’s loads more that we could talk about and examples we could have shared. Whilst these won’t be a substitute for our training, they will give you an insight (hence the name!) into our thoughts, observations and experiences from each of our perspectives - Dave’s living with sight loss and Vicky’s from being a sighted person and working alongside and supporting people who have sight loss.