Language is the human essence. It operates at two levels, namely: the phonic level (spoken language), and the graphic level (written language). English Language which is used globally, also manifests at these two levels. Therefore, in pursuance of proficiency and international intelligibility, neither the spoken aspect nor the written aspect should be neglected.
Written English is the graphic representation of the English letters, sounds or symbols. In the view of TREGIDO (1962), “Literary or written English is more careful than spoken English. This is because, when anything is written down, it is often a permanent record which everyone can see, check and examine.”
Thus, written English demands correct spelling of the English words. A wrongly-spelt word possesses a difficult problem to the reader and affects the proper understanding of its meaning.
In the past, “dictation,” as an integral part of English Language learning, was an instrument par-excellence for acquainting pupils with the rudiments and rigors of spelling a word. Many primary and secondary English books provided sections for “dictation” or “spelling”.
Unfortunately, at present, the use of “dictation” in learning the spelling of words has gone into oblivion. This is apparently reflected in the inability of many secondary school students, or some undergraduate students to spell simple words such as: “amalgamate”, “innovate”, “amicable”; or to know the difference in spelling between, for instance, “practise” (verb) and “practice” (noun), “pronounce” (verb), and “pronunciation” (noun); “advise” (verb) and “advice” (noun) “deceive” and “believe,” “receive” and “relieve,” “illegible” and “eligible”.
This inability of students to spell the English words correctly is also reflected in their inability to take down notes during the teaching and learning process. Students find it difficult to write when the teacher is teaching. Few of them, who attempt writing, over-labour the teacher for assistance in spelling simple English words. This slows down the teaching process.
Examination malpractice, which is part of the educational maladies, is also attributable to the students’ inability to spell the English words. Many students indulge in examination malpractice because they cannot spell the English words correctly.
The absence of a reading culture amongst students is traceable to the problem of pronunciation caused by spelling difficulty. Thus, there is a dying reading culture amongst students.
The use of the mobile phone with its own language and communication style is replete with graphic inadequacies, because it does not insist on correct and formal spelling of the English words. Literary English or written communication and reading exercise demand a sound knowledge of the orthography of English Language.
Orthography refers to the method and system of spelling in a language. In this respect, the English dictionary comes handy and is incontrovertibly relevant. The English dictionary or lexicon remains the final arbiter on all questions of English grammar and usage. It is a book containing the lexicon of English language – that is, all the words and phrases in the English language.
Succinctly put, it epitomizes the accepted grammatical pattern and usage in English language. Besides, it embodies the alphabetic component of each English word. Therefore, the dictionary should be relevantly seen by every learner of English language as the only effective tool for learning the orthography of English language.
It should be said, that it has been meticulously observed that students’ spelling difficulties are with content or lexical words, perhaps, because of their structural complexity. Content words belong to the open word system. Open words have the innate quality of admitting new members (words) – neologism.
Neologism refers to the introduction of new words into a language, as a result of cultural, technological, or knowledge explosion or expansion which culminates in the expansion of the vocabulary of that language.
As new words gain entrance into a language, speakers of that language should be acquainted with the alphabetic component of these words. This is only possible through conversance with the dictionary as in English language, since the English dictionary undergoes regular lexicographic update.
According to the Spell-Bound Manuel (2013), “The Spell-Bound Africa Exercise is a spelling competition designed to challenge children studying in Africa to learn new words and recognise them by sound, definition and etymology in an informal environment”. Etymology is the study of the origin and history of words and their meaning.
With the promotion of the Spell-Bound Exercise, students will be challenged to pursue and acquire skills for spelling. Learners or students will be propelled to learn the spelling of the new words. This will go a long way to stimulate their interest in the use of the dictionary and other materials that will enhance their knowledge of the orthography of English language.
With a sound knowledge of English orthography, the problem of note taking in class, reading and writing will be minimised. Regular spelling exercise will restore confidence in the pupils and students and check the rate of examination misconduct.
Livinus writes from Egwi, Etche, Rivers State.