Spelling english words

Sometimes my Taiwanese friends ask me about a big english word once in a while, and they are like, how do you spell that?

Sometimes I’m just like, well… I know it’s kinda like this, but I’m not completley sure how to spell it.

This just hits me hard. Complete loss of face, and so much shame!!

But I can’t help but make a lot of mistakes in my spelling!!

Anyone else here a poor speller? What do you do to keep your face?

Spelling has never been a problem for me, but I don’t really consider it a serious mistake for anyone to make. English spelling is completely arbitrary, and an inability to memorize random spellings will not hinder a person’s ability to communicate effectively in English.

Anyone who does a lot of writing where spelling is important will no doubt have access to a spell check, further lessening the importance of spelling. I always tell my students not to worry about spelling mistakes, unless of course the local teacher plans to test them on it.

Spelling has never been a problem for me, but this might be in part due to my habit of always looking words up if I’m not sure how to spell them, and trying to remember the spelling afterwards. Not everyone does that, after all.

Do they say “How to spell XXX?”?

If so then slap them and say “listen to me, you fuckwit, stop butchering my language and start using the stuff you were taught in junior high school. The correct form of the question is ‘How do you spell XXX?’ and until you start appreciating the importance of basic grammar all the big words you learn will be completely useless to you. Use what you know before learning more.”

When they make the effort to ask the question in the proper way you can graduate to giving them a reply like “if you look the spelling up in your English dictionary, instead of relying on me or your translating tool to do your thinking for you, then you will be forced to use the knowledge you already have to find the correct spelling and this will improve your language ability far more than just asking me will.” (What Dragonbones said.)

And if they push then you can also add that you seem to have done OK without knowing how to spell it, so maybe they should stop obsessing about things. They will never get everything right, so perhaps they should learn to use spellcheck instead of relying on you?

It’s astonishing how many Taiwanese people will happily type garbage and send it without checking it, even though they know the correct spelling. I had a mail recently from someone who was looking for a “totur” and when I asked “what’s this?” she immediately corrected it. But she didn’t do it right until she was corrected, so what’s the point of teaching her to do anything right? Students in Taiwan don’t take responsibility for their own failure, hence asking you the correct spelling, and if you pander to it then you’re not helping them.

So don’t pander to it. Tell them to look it up, and slap them every time they make a mistake - but don’t tell them what the mistake is. Let them figure it out. Then charge them for your expertise. If they stop using you as a free source of English advice and remain friends then you will know that they are really your friends.