Civic Centre comes alive with a spelling competition
by The Linguist Chair
I generally spend my Saturdays mornings at home lazing around. Sometimes I take my Nikon D7000 and drive out to shoot a few photographs of the wild and the surrounding. That is how I unwind from a hectic week. This past Saturday I found myself at the Lowapi Study Centre Word Power Challenge. The Word Power Challenge is an oral English spelling competition which is a not-for-profit activity whose goal is purely educational. The challenge which started in 2011 is an annual event which is open to students from ages 8 to 13 years. This year it was held at the Gaborone Civic Centre with 35 youngsters battling it out. The organizer of the event Miss Bonolo Boitshwarelo pointed out that the main aim of the competition is (1) to encourage flawless spelling and thus broaden student’s vocabulary (2) help students develop the correct use of English and English words (3) encourage accurate pronunciation and word usage (4) develop confidence in the learner and most importantly aid them to do so while having fun.
Developments in spellcheckers which are embedded in word-processors have unfortunately led to laziness in mastery of spelling. Writers therefore write with the full confidence that they will be aided in their lack of skill by spellcheckers. Word spellings are therefore purely grasped as children grown. I am reminded of a poem known as the Spell checker Poem which is common on the internet. The true title of the poem is Candidate for a Pullet Surprise by Jerrold H. Zar in 1992. The poem demonstrates the challenges with spelling, in particular challenges with homophones, that is, words that sound the same. I here reproduce the first three stanzas of that poem to demonstrate the nature of the challenge:
I have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.
Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it’s weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.
A checker is a bless sing,
It freeze yew lodes of thyme.
It helps me right awl stiles two reed,
And aides me when eye rime.
The second complicating factor is that more and more young people spend time watching television or playing computer games and not reading. Their knowledge of words and spellings are therefore not developed at an early age. Many become good in spoken language and poor in its written form. An additional complicating factor is that many young persons spend time texting, or writing smses - a penmanship for the illiterate – where conventional spelling is suspended. In texting a word could be a number e.g. 2, 4, 8, 9; a combination of a number and alphabets e.g. 2niet, 4give, 4get, 9t, b2n, sum1; a single alphabet e.g. b, r, c, u; a string of consonants without vowels e.g. nyt, msg, knwn, smbdy. Vowels are omitted in words as in: Lv (love), nyt (night), nxt (next), tchrs (teachers), assnmnt (assignment), exms (exams), abl (able), cultur (culture), xactly (exactly), xcept (except), xcuse (excuse), xpct (expect). When learners have to compose formal pieces of work in a classroom situation they find themselves incredibly challenged because their spelling leaves much to be desired.
The English language is also not predictable in its spelling. Words such as psychology and pneumonia begin with silent consonants. It is now a fairly well established fact to students of phonetics that you cannot trust English spelling. Take the consonantal combination [ch] in English it is pronounced as the normal [ch] in words such as church and chair. In other words such as champagne [ch] is pronounced as [sh]. [ch] is also pronounced as [k] in words such as character.
Take another letter [c]. It is pronounced as [k] in the word act and as [s] in the word in the word nice. In the word cello the letter [c] is pronounced as [ch]. This demonstrates the problem with spelling, that it cannot be guessed from pronunciation or that pronunciation cannot be predicted from spelling.
So it was heart-warming to see how young primary school children were battling it out in a spelling competition. English has many confusing words which are difficult to spell. Amongst these are the following: committee, accommodation, pronunciation, preferred, government, bizarre, exercise, diarrhoea, harass, stationary, stationery, misspell, discuss, discus, questionnaire, patriarchy, lightning, schizophrenia, breathe and many others. The knowledge of spelling is a skill that parents must still in children at a very early age. Children must be encouraged to play spelling games and be rewarded for good spelling. In the spelling competition the winner got a laptop, a book, a bag, a pen and a key ring. Number two won a video recorder, a book, a bag, a pen and a key ring, Number three won Scrabble, a book, a bag, a pen and a key ring. Since this was the second time the spelling competition was held, it is hoped that the competition will be bigger next year, as children and parents learn the importance of spelling.