by Gary Wunder
Back in June of 2016 we discussed problems some blind people have with spelling. A main cause of this problem is that the majority of our reading is done using audio, a wonderful way to get information and entertainment but a poor way to observe spelling, punctuation, and formatting to communicate headings, paragraphs, subordination in an outline, italicizing, bolding, underlining, and other attention-getting information. The question posed was how blind people deal with this deficit and what suggestions they offer to others.
The Monitor received about ten responses, for which we are grateful. Not surprisingly, the advice in many of these can be distilled into the recommendation to read all the Braille one can. Several observed that they have heard Braille used as an excuse for being a poor speller. Certainly there are some words for which Braille allows the use of a sign, a letter, or a letter preceded by prefixed dots. As far as we can determine there are 148 words one must learn for which contracted Braille would give no clue. One would think that in any instruction in Braille and spelling would place such words on a spelling list and test, the rule being that any answer is always written letter for letter. Certainly most words can be deconstructed by looking at the signs used to write them. Congratulations is written as the con sign, the letters g r a t u l a, and the sign for the letter combination tion, and s, but is easily understood to be the letters c o n g r a t u l a t i o n s. Most of us carry around a memory of what words feel like in the same way print readers say they often spell words by visualizing them.
All of this advice for readers of Braille is of no value to the person who doesn't know it, isn't proficient in it, or cannot read it because of physical problems. So, while Braille is a very helpful tool, lacking it does not condemn one to remaining a poor speller. The suggestions that did not rely on Braille were:
Another word of caution about learning words from emails from others: there are some spelling pitfalls that print and Braille readers struggle with together, so they are worth keeping in mind when reading emails or looking up words that your screen reader has told you: words that are spelled similarly regardless of how they are pronounced, and words that sound very similar but are spelled differently. Some common examples are loose and lose, accept and except, recent and resent, there/their/they’re, to/too/two, and your/you’re. When you use an online dictionary to check a spelling, glance at the definition of the word, and make sure that you have the correct word for the meaning you intend. Though these are common mistakes, they can have a dramatic impact in a professional setting.
Remember that learning anything challenging takes time. Becoming a better speller takes time, but that time is rewarded with new-found confidence, one less thing to be defensive about, and feeling good about exercising a part of one's mind that has been shown to forestall the onset of age-related brain problems. The goal is not to become the next champion at the spelling bee nationals but to feel more confident in what you write, to lessen the apprehension when you do, and to better represent the thoughts and experiences your intellect and drive have provided. With patience and perseverance, you can hear or quote Thomas Jefferson's quip: "I have nothing but contempt for anyone who can spell a word only one way" and can smile, remembering the day when you spelled words many different ways.