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Counting the cost of bad spelling and grammar

Your about to by somthing from an online store. The product looks great, the price is good, but somthing is definately wrong…

Before you post a comment to correct my spelling, the mistakes above are intentional. But the BBC reports that Charles Duncombe, a successful British e-commerce entrepreneur, reckons errors like these this could be cutting business’s sales revenue in half.

Admittedly, this was not a large scale study with academically rigorous data but the results are emphatic. Duncombe measured revenue on his tightsplease.co.uk site and found that after a prominent spelling mistake was corrected, it doubled.

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Does spelling matter?

When contemplating the topic of spelling and its importance, I idly wondered how many spelling mistakes appear in journalism. Surely, as examples of high-quality writing composed by the most talented journalists in the country, newspapers, both in their paper and online form, should be free from errors, particularly orthographic errors?

I decided to have a look at the Daily Mail website, and within minutes of browsing articles, I found an error, unless of course I am mistaken and the flashes of light that go hand in hand with thunder are flashes of “lightening”. Some may argue that the spelling mistake does not detract from the information given, and that a reader would still understand what was meant (in this case, that Kate Hudson’s dress has lightning motifs on it). However, surely that does not excuse the error that appeared in a national newspaper? Readers would only understand the word by recognising it as being similar to the correct word “lightning” and realise that this is the intended meaning.

So just how important is spelling? Even though not a single word in the following paragraph is spelt correctly, we can still read it:
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch by the Lngiusiitc Dptanmeret at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a total mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

So if we just need the first and last letters to be correct in order to be able to understand a word, does the order of the letters in the middle matter?

When translating text, spelling is extremely important. Correct spelling is necessary in order to ensure that the translator, who will be translating from a language that is not their own, can understand exactly what the author of the text wants to say. One letter out of place could potentially change the whole meaning of a word and therefore a sentence. In addition, for foreign readers, who are making the effort to learn English, it is important that they learn the correct spelling of words. If there is a word they are unsure of, they would presumably believe the spelling that appears in a newspaper, thus incorrectly learning a piece of English vocabulary.

The question of technology should also be addressed. Are computers partly to blame for spelling mistakes we make? With the ever-increasing use of spellcheckers, not just in Office applications now, but also in various email sites, are we becoming too reliant on them? Do we think that we can get away with not learning how to spell correctly, as we know that the computer will correct any errors we commit? Are spelling mistakes in the press merely typing errors? Should we go back to pen and paper and photocopies? Or is spelling not that important after all? In my humble opinion, it is, it is an inherent part of the English language, that is at risk of being compromised due to laziness and lack of care. I think spelling should be one of the most important parts of any English lesson given to school children, so that our language continues to flourish and be passed from generation to generation correctly.

Apologies, rant over… just don’t get me started on apostrophes…

Are Chinese people forgetting how to write?

When foreigners learn Chinese, they often struggle getting to grips with writing the characters. There are around 50,000 characters in modern written Chinese, but in order to be considered literate, an adult needs to know only 3,000-4,000 (a 1,000-2,000 character vocabulary would allow you to comfortably read a Chinese newspaper).

However, more and more Chinese citizens feel they are losing the ability to write by hand, and many are signing up for exams to try and combat this.

The HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi – literally Mandarin level exam) test was originally aimed at foreigners learning Chinese, but was introduced for Chinese nationals in several cities and provinces in 2007. Because so many people use computers in their work and hardly ever pick up a pen, their written literacy skills are in decline – this is true all over the world, not just in China.

When typing Chinese characters rather than writing them by hand, a person types the sound of the character (a bit like spelling a word out) then the computer suggests possible characters for that sound from which they choose the appropriate one:

It’s a bit like multiple choice, whereas if you were writing the same word by hand, you would have to think of the character yourself.

The Shanghai Language Commission conducted a survey among university students, which found that while many know what the characters should look like, they are unable to handwrite them.

A very similar thing is happening with English usage online – setting aside the international variations in spelling, we are seeing more and more instances of incorrect spelling in all types of published text. People just aren’t sure how words should be written anymore, and the auto-correct spelling functions built in to computers can often send us down the wrong path.
Perhaps the future will see more relaxed rules around spelling – take this example which has been doing the rounds on email and social networking sites over the last couple of years:
Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.
Are grammar and spelling still as important as they once were? What is your first thought when you see a typo or spelling mistake? Is handwriting becoming a dying art?
Let us know what you think.

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