Posted in Remember Being a Child?

How The He** Did I Learn How To Spell?

Have you heard of exam season? Exam season is when students are most productive. Really. We will clean our rooms, wash all the dishes, our roommate’s dishes, sort through an entire semester’s worth of laundry and bake cookies for the entire class. Anything but study for exams. So here I am, procrastinating, because I have an exam on Thursday but somehow writing this blog post seemed way more urgent than studying.
I recently saw this post on Facebook, about how potato should be spelled.

There’s so much truth in these kinds of posts which make fun of how crazy the English language is. So it got me wondering, how on earth did I learn how to spell? Because, come to think of it, when it came to those spelling tests in grade school, I either already knew how to spell the words or I spelled them wrong. The quizzes never taught me a thing.
Looking at that teasing text marker on the screen, I found the word because. I learned how to spell that word by an acronym my teacher gave us: Big Elephants Can’t Always Use Small Elevators. It was a funny image so it stuck. When I was struggling to learn how to spell the word “does” (I kept mixing up the s and the e) I tried to make up an acronym for myself (Deers Only Eat Snow?) but was unsuccessful. I kept confusing it with the word dose. I finally started to get it right after I was playing a word game on the computer and realized that it is spelled the same way as does – the plural of doe.
Sure, I probably picked up most of my spelling by reading books. But each tricky word came with a personal experience which taught me how to spell it. I learned how to spell does because it helped me win a computer game. Here are some anecdotes I recall which helped me learn how to spell specific words:

  • Dessert. On a family vacation in Eilat, Israel, while eating breakfast in the hotel dining room, we noticed a sign advertising a tour of the desert. My father pointed out the spelling mistake – and for years since then he would occasionally ask, “When are we going on that dessert tour?” Doesn’t that sound delicious?
  • Egg. These are my grandmother’s initials.
  • Dictionary. One of my favorite books ever is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. One of the kingdoms Milo visits on this magical journey is Dictionopolis, on the way to rescue princesses Rhyme and Reason, two more words I specifically remember learning from that book.
  • Mississippi. Who can’t spell the name of that state? It’s got a perfect rhythm to it – m-i-s-s-iiiiii-s-s-iiiiii-p-p-iiiiiii. But what about the other states? I learned how to spell Northampton and Massachusetts because that was where I lived. But Wyoming I learned from a geography game whose object was to teach me to map of the united states. It had this little airplane and it would send you to a state and you had to fly over the map until you found it. The names of the states were in large, bold letters. I saw them enough times to remember their spelling.
  • Eunuch. Where would I have read that in a book? (Remember that I studied the bibile in its language of origin – Hebrew). My mother was the musical director of an original play about Queen Esther, in which there was a funny dance scene called “Eunuchs in Tunics.” I saw that show a hundred times and knew the soundtrack by heart.

I concluded that a positive, personal experience was really what helped me learn how to spell. So what happens if you have a negative experience? Well…Let’s just say, I still can’t spell the word “bureaucracy.” (I had to Google it.)