Well, if you understood the title of this blog, you could argue that it probably isn't that important. If the main purpose of language is communication, and I have communicated my ideas effectively, then what does it matter if the spelling is wrong? Well, I think it does matter. Employers, examiners and teachers all rate spelling highly; you are taken more seriously in formal situations if you can demonstrate that you are able to spell; if children (or adults) are worried about spelling, it limits the choice of words they will use when writing. In the days of automatic spell checks on computers, we can argue that the computer will do the work for us. But there are still times when we need to handwrite something, and correct spelling creates a good impression. Indeed, a computer spell check is not infallible. Despite the fact that my computer helpfully highlighted impoortent, abel and spel for me, it didn't pick up too and bee, because they are real words, but I have spelt them incorrectly in this context.
Many children struggle with spelling. I know from experience that the weekly list of spellings from school to cover, write and check can be a real battle to complete. It's not the most exciting activity and children don't always see the relevance of learning spellings. So how can we help them? There's no easy answer to this one because what works for one child may not work for another. Indeed, some children may love the write, cover, check method and achieve top marks every week. For others, games can be a huge help. Hangman, scrabble and anagrams may all grab the interest of some. Shannon's game is similar to hangman, but you give the person guessing the first letter of the word and they have to guess the correct letters in sequence. For example, if the word that they are learning to spell is question, you give them a piece of paper with 'q' and 7 dashes as in hangman. They must try and guess 'u' - if they don't guess it after 10 tries, write in 'u' and they have to try and guess 'e' and so on. When learning how to spell long words, you could write them on pieces of card and cut them up. Ask you child to put the words back together like a jigsaw puzzle. There's also plenty of online spelling games out there, and many interactive children's toys that teach spelling.
Do you remember learning spelling rules and rhymes at school? Try teaching you child some of these to see if they help spellings stick in their mind. "I before E except after C" is one we probably all know. It has plenty of exceptions though, and it's useful to add "Or when it sounds like A" (as in "neighbour" and "weigh"); "Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants" (Because); "Rhythm Has Your Two Hips Moving" (Rhythm); It is neCeSSary to wear one Collar and two Socks; and my personal favourite: "Dash In A Real Rush. Hurry Or Else Accident!" (Diarrhoea)
Finally, don't underestimate the value of reading when learning how to spell. How many times when wondering how to spell a word have you tried it out on a piece of paper, and chosen the one that "looks right"? If a child has seen a word before, in different contexts, they are more likely to be able to spell it correctly. And that can be reading anything; fiction books, factual books, comics and magazines, even cereal packets. Encourage them to look at words around them and make reading and sharing books fun.
The more that children encounter the written word and spend time playing around with words and letters, the more chance they have of remembering both specific spellings, and general spelling rules. It's not the end of the world when we spell something wrong, or when we have to rely on our computer to spell check our work for us, but helping your child to develop good spelling skills now will meen that they will always be able to maik a good impresion in their writing, even wen the compewter spel check lets them down.