Link: “You Autocomplete Me: Could Web-search algorithms make spelling a lost art?” at Slate.com.
That noise you hear is a thousand English teachers screaming — or it’s just me because I’m very loud about these things (emphasis added):
With spelling becoming more and more optional, it’s easy to draw a parallel to the changing nature of arithmetic. Once upon a time, if you wanted to divide 154 by 19.6, you had to get out a pen and paper. Now, an electronic calculator—or the calculator on your computer or your watch or your iPhone—will do it for you. Just as long division has become all but obsolete, could autocomplete make spelling a lost art—something for kids to learn in elementary school, never to use again?
The article discusses whether autocorrect and spell check could combine (as they do in GoogleDocs) to create a new, better spell check that will require even less thought about spelling. It also mentions this:
Far from making spelling obsolete, traditional spell-checkers often serve to reinforce its importance. A widely cited 2005 study found that students actually caught fewer spelling and grammar mistakes when their word processor’s language-checking program was turned on. The explanation: People placed undue confidence in the software, skipping over misspellings that the computer didn’t flag.
This doesn’t surprise me at all. To the extent that any program wants to take over spelling responsibilities, I have mixed feelings. I love and use spell check myself, but it doesn’t take the place of proofreading. You also have to know the right words to use and what they look like and what they mean before you start, something that’s probably stalled a bit by introducing spell checking earlier and earlier in a child’s writing career. Spelling tests seem less necessary, I bet, when the information has to be instantly discarded in order to text your friends after class.
Spell check (and an included electronic thesaurus) can neither expand your vocabulary nor proofread for you, but the more work it does do, the less likely people are to remember that final, vital step.