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edward long

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Why do we bother with spelling?

Unlike chess, in spelling the middle game is irrelevant. All that matters is the right choice at the beginning and the end. The middle letters, which must be the correct set of letters, can be completely jumbled and the reader will not be confused. To wit: "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." How can this little known God-given ability of the human brain be exercised to simplify, and perhaps improve, our lives? Any ttguhohs you cveelr TED fklos?

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Closing Statement from edward long

OK. OK. Spelling is important and we should continue to teach it and all the rules associated with it to those learning how to read, speak, and write our language. From Silverstein to Shakespeare; from subjects like cryptography and dyslexia, this debate was spirited and very much worth while. From the Netherlands to China we TEDsters hashed-out our feelings on this skill we call Language. It makes sense that the subject of written communication would interest TED folks, after all, what is more crucial to TED Conversations than wtitten communication? I asked two questions. Both were answered. We bother with spelling because it permits standardized rules of written communication. And, the only possible beneficial application for the remarkable ability of the human brain to unjumble familiar words almost as fast as reading correctly spelled words is to jumble words as a way to draw attention to them and add emphasis. We learned the idea of jumbling and unjumbling words is known in the academic world as TYPOGLYCEMIA, and THE JUMBLING EFFECT. Taht's all floks!

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  • May 2 2013: Well, Edward, it's certainly a lot easier and faster to type properly than jumbled!
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      May 2 2013: Now that is an ironclad argument Lizanne! The God-given ability to decipher, or un-jumble, written words is amazing to me. As you point-out it is not a better (easier) way to communicate but I think it is still pretty darn interesting. As for a useful application of the skill we have just one suggestion thus far in the debate. . . it could be used as way to control the seped at wihch the rdeaer is reading as a way to emphasize a certain point in the text. Thanks!
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        May 2 2013: Evolution sure has given us a remarkable ability for both auditory and written communication. When a system is ordered, like our system of mathematics, there is less ambiguity. With less ambiguity, the reader can be more sure of what the text is actually presenting.
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          May 2 2013: Agreed that clarity is inversely proportional to ambiguity and that the ability humans have to accomodate what seems like excessive ambiguity in written communication is remarkable. Perhaps we can argue the origin of the ability on some other occasion. Thank you Braden.
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          May 2 2013: I agree Braden, that evolution has given us a remarkable ability for auditory and written communication. Now, the good thing to do is maybe use it for better communications with each other:>)

          I do not perceive spelling as a "bother".....it's fun. And if I get it wrong, I am sure Edward will correct me, as he has done in the past. I don't need spell check......I have Edward:>)

          You are new to TED? Welcome
          You live in Burlington Vt.!!! Right down the road from me.....cool:>)
      • May 3 2013: "S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17."

        It looks like context and the idea of an 'auto-fill' is just about right, according to Marta Kutas, a cognitive neuroscientist and the director of the Center for Research in Language at the University of California, San Diego.
        Our brains can also find appropriate corresponding letters to match digits, like in the above example.

        http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2141-reading-jumbled-words.html

        I agree, Edward, it is fascinating.
        Any thoughts concerning typing-dyslexia? When typing fast and getting message across quickly, we all are prone to it...
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          May 3 2013: Holy Moley! I read that with no difficulty whatsoever! My mind(or what's left of it) is blown! Thanks for sharing this authenticated stuff. Isn't typing dyslexia really just motor error? For example I aimed at the "J" key but hit the "K" key. We are wonderfully made for sure. Thanks again Lizanne!
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          May 3 2013: That is funny and interesting Lizanne!!! I've seen lots of those little tests with jumbled letters.....they are sent by e-mail often. Never saw numbers added to the mix....can read it perfectly fine.....amazing what our brain can do!
      • May 3 2013: Isn't that neat? Only drawback is, you have to use caps, otherwise the digits don't work as well. Personally, I find reading caps is like someone is yelling at me...!

        What I meant with the typing dyslexia thing, was not so much a typo, like you described, but literally switching letters in mid-type: teh instead of the, yuo instead of you, etc. I do it all the time, and I often wonder why I do (and am grateful for an 'edit' button when I do).
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          May 3 2013: Really, I do that too (who doesn't?) and I figure it is a random motor malfunction or sloppiness caused by excessive rushing, not a predictable, habitual effect.
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    May 5 2013: As others have said, we can only recognise these words because we can already spell. Language is a living thing, evolving all the time. Spellings have often changed over the centuries. The US and UK have different spellings for certain words. We do not need to make an effort to change spellings. Time does that for us.

    Spelling is important because in most languages a missed letter can change the meaning of the word altogether. In English too. I remember when we were children I used to give my brother spelling tests and one of the words was "shirt". He forgot one of the letters and that was something we laughed over for a long time. 7 years olds can find a laugh in anything.
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      May 5 2013: Time keeps drifting into the future. The most often recurring opinion here is that WORD RECOGNITION is the key to "Typoglycemia,a.k.a. The Scrambler Effect". It seems a missing, or added, letter changes the degree of difficulty in unjumbling words. Each letter is important. I know 7-year-olds enjoy laughing at,and with, their Grandpas! Thanks Pamela!
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    May 5 2013: This trick only works if we already have a recognizable word with an accepted meaning imprinted in our conscious. So yes spelling does matter or we would never establish the required a posteriori knowledge.
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      May 5 2013: Spelling does matter. How esle cluod we eevr raed porrpely? Rihgt? By the way, the question asks why we bother to spell correctly when our brains do not require such precision. Also the question asks if there is some practical, beneficial application for this impressive human skill. Thanks Gord!
      • May 5 2013: Other than making us better Scrabble players, and helping us find words in our alphabet soup, this cognitive quirk is as fascinating as someone touching their tongue to the tip of their nose.

        As a super power to save humankind it ranks somewhere between uncanny white teeth and fearless crossing guards.

        [or maybe someday it'll help us communicate with aliens determined to destroy our planet] :-)
  • May 4 2013: If scrambled letters aren't as important as we think, then this person really has no regrets...
    http://s3-ec.buzzfed.com/static/enhanced/webdr05/2013/4/30/12/enhanced-buzz-27094-1367340581-20.jpg
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    May 4 2013: This is actually all false. The brain can understand these words because of the way they are presented.

    The only words here that are jumbled give you some insight.

    This has nothing to do with Cambridge University. This was an email sent by Graham Rawlinson. This email you posted was not produced by Cambridge University or anybody that works there.

    Many readers have reported a decrease in reading speeds between 10-15 percent when the words are jumbled.

    An actual study at Cambridge can be referenced here:
    http://www.crcummins.com/CRCScrambled.pdf
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      May 4 2013: It has been confirmed by earlier contributors that Cambridge University was merely mentioned in the sample paragraph and did not, in fact, conduct the study. Thank you for confirming the confirmation that the author of this is the mysterious Mr. Rawlinson. A million thanks for the very relevant link Henry. Hvae a good eneivng sir!
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        May 4 2013: Just wanted to make sure you are on the right track. No problem Edward I don't charge for my services. :)
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          May 4 2013: Good! Because they are priceless. You are wise and generous.
  • May 1 2013: oblivousy the aoaiipltpcn of ieeunnrfqt or eanavaxrgtt vulacanerr lades twarod foppery! :)
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      May 1 2013: Every word was easy for me to read with the exception of "vernacular". My brain did not respond when asked,"What contextually appropriate 10-letter word which begins with the letter "V" and ends with the letter "R" could this be?" There was no word in my memory which readily popped-up so I had to play Word Jumble to get the answer. Does that indicate that the skill is based upon pattern recognition? Hmmmm. Thanks for a telling emalpxle!
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      May 1 2013: :o You mghit heav a pinot theer.

      Hvae you raed Deianl Oepheinepmr's peaper ttleid:

      "Ceoncnseeuqs of Eiutdre Vaeuacnlrr Uzleiitd Itpresvicere of Niteescsy: Pmreolbs wtih Uinsg lnog Wrods Nessldeley"?
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        May 1 2013: "pinot" = a fine red wine. Also, the first and last letters must be correct. Does this phenomena work with emoticons?. . . :)-
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          May 2 2013: I enjoy vouvray myself......don't know about emoticons.

          You know, today I grabbed a piece of paper, and wrote a note to my son, and used the jumbling rule....and guess what?

          He read it perfectly........and he's still a little kid.....
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        May 2 2013: RE: "I enjoy vouvray myself. . . ". I am getting addled in my old age, I just spent 5-minutes trying to unjumble the word Vouvray! Good to know kids (yours anyway) can read jumbled words too. Gracias amiga.
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          May 2 2013: HaHaHa Ed!!

          That is too funny. The same thing happens to me when I am reading, and there happens to be a spanish word in the context which I try to read it as if it were English. Right before I yell out, "hey, this doesn't make any sense", my brain catches itself and realizes I am reading a different language.

          P.S. you misspelled gracious amongst ;)
  • Apr 29 2013: To be able to type as your copied text requires a perfect knowledge of spelling (or a spell checker), and would take an exceedingly long time to write. The trick fails if you don't have the first and last letter in place with correct word length.

    So, why do we bother with spelling as opposed to standard incorrect spelling wich cud b lyk dis?

    - Because it's easier to read.
    - Because it conveys information more accurately.
    - Because we are more likely to believe the information 'worthy', in the same way that many people judge others by appearance, not giving them a chance to prove their wisdom.
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      Apr 29 2013: Good argument John! Convention and uniformity is essential in a shared language. But, it's a heck of an ability the brain has to recognize the intended word.
  • May 5 2013: Yff wi dydnt yoose speilleng eeght wud bea dighikultt tu onedurstande thynss, plos, trice tyu ys wurds lic riot wich haz diforint spelyngs foure defirynt meeneengs.

    And that's just one reason. ;)
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      May 5 2013: "If we didn't use spelling it would be difficult to understand this, plus, try to use words like riot which has different spellings for different meanings." That took about twice as long to read as it would have had you spelled everything correctly, that's a50% reduction in comprehension speed. If you do it again using the "Official Jumble Rules" (first and last letter correct with only the correct letters jumbled in between) I will be able to read it with a maximum 10% reduction in comprehension speed. Thanks Pamela!
      • May 5 2013: This response I find interesting. Only because you cite "official jumble rules". That you must follow a specific protocol. Is that truly different than spelling? Especially as you cite it. Just thought interesting in light of the thread.
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          May 5 2013: Very astute Everett! The rules I see observed in the Cambridge paragraph are no less rigid than the rules of Spelling. This means that Typogycemia a.k.a. The Scrambler Effect is not a free-for-all festival of verbal anarchy. Nonetheless, the ability of the brain to read BOTH with ease is remarkable.
        • May 5 2013: Except he left out the word tricky.... And got the whole sentence wrong.

          Look at the Bible, when the Hebrews didn't use vowels. There's a reason they later added vowels to their language.

          We use standardization to come up with an equal way of understanding. Language is a science, expression is an art.
    • May 5 2013: Interesting, Pamela!
      I had to actually read this out loud to make any sense of it.
      My daughter is learning how to write, and this reminded me of how she spells - phonetically.
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    May 5 2013: If everyone spelled correctly, Jay Leno would be without his Monday night "Headlines" bit.
    (For non-Americans, Leno amuses millions of TV viewers with particularly embarrassing print errors from newspapers and magazines.)

    I once saw attributed to Thomas Jefferson a quote like "I have nothing but contempt for someone who knows only one way to spell a word."

    It's worth remembering that most of the words in our language (any language) that differ in meaning or spelling from the source language got that way by mistake, some time in the past. Mistakes made the language we're so proud of.
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      May 5 2013: That is a reason to not spell perfectly. . . the entertainment value. Thanks Paul
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    May 4 2013: The brain is an active and natural pattern decoder, able to decode. I have seen this stated as "proof" that the brain reads whole words at time. It doesn't prove that at all. The reading brain is an excellent predictor, but it doesn't get there until it has practiced plenty, learning the patterns of the language and applying them to reading text. A beginning reader would not easily read this text. Read Words and Rules by Steven Pinker or watch his talk.

    This doesn't have much to do with spelling. It has to do with a proficient reader's decoding brain.
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      May 5 2013: Thanks for the references, Della. I think spelling is germane to this debate because the brain does not stop functioning when it encounters a misspelled word. Although it may be socially preferable, It is not essential for every word to be correctly spelled to create a clear, readable communication. Several folks here have confirmed that their young ones are able to read the jumbled paragraph with ease which seems to offer a different explanation than yours. I agree that the jumbled words must be familiar to the reader, which is why it seems likely to me that a typical second-grader could read the following sentence: THE GRIL HIT THE BLAL WTIH HER BAT.
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    May 3 2013: Perhaps you could expand your argument and include grammar...
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      May 3 2013: Jumbled words rather than jumbled letters? Let's try an example: Would you the point here get that placement word critical is? Is that the idea Michael? That seems to require more conscious decision making that just jumbled letters. Interesting. Thanks.
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      Apr 29 2013: Which is precisely why spelling is important.Thank you. Any ideas as to how this remarkable ability to read jumbled words could be incorporated to enhance or improve daily life?
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          Apr 30 2013: The Cambridge research agrees with your observation that we don't look at every letter individually, but we look at the word as a whole. I don't agree with you that the phenomenon is not remarkable simply because everyone can do it. I think it is remakable. Also, the jumbled portion of the word is comprised of more than just the correct quantity of letters. . . they must be the correct letters as dictated by the rules of spelling. I too doubt that there is any way to use this skill to improve our lives. Thank you Chris!
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          Apr 30 2013: Again, thanks for the historical corrections. The gravity of the phenomenon itself remains real for me despite the dubious history of its discovery. Be well!
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    Apr 29 2013: Hi Erwdad
    I aerge, tihs aiitlby is alubsoelty aanmizg and gveis us a wee peek itno the hdiedn peowr of the haumn mnid.

    -):
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      Apr 29 2013: As a designer by trade I am always astonished at the unfathomable quality of God's designs. Perhaps the human brain is his best work? We are freflualy and wnfeodrluly mdae! Tanhks bthorer! :-D
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        Apr 29 2013: ".. I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well."
        Psalms 139:14
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    Apr 29 2013: Thank God for this trick of the brain!

    I know I can never edit my own work - even days later I still read from my mind rather then the words on the page or screen. Of course, as soon as I hit 'Submit', I see all the typo's and misspelt words glaring out at me. :-)
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    Apr 29 2013: Spelling is at its most important when reading a word you haven't seen before. In english at least most words are the sum of their parts.
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      Apr 29 2013: Exactly! I think this phenomenon of easily reading jumbled words is based on familiarity with the word. I would not know a word was jumbled if I did not know the correct spelling. I believe your answer to the question about the need for proper spelling is spot on. We must agree upon the proper spelling if we hope to recognize the word next time we see it. Unrelated to that truth it is intriguing that we can read the familiar word even when all but the first and last letters are jumbled. Spelling is important as a way to load our memory with good data. Thank you Peter!
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    Apr 28 2013: Frist fof all I hoep taht noen of my fromer sutdnest are raeding tihs conevrastoin Ed.

    Vrey itnerestnig piont idneed. I wlil heav to geiv it seom thuohgt and ceom bcak and rpely.
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      Apr 28 2013: I could not reply to you below, Mary, but of course any mother could interpret that message! Most of us have saved such writing. I wouldn't be surprised if Edward himself has saved little notes of this kind from a toddler grandchild, the apple of his eye.

      I appreciate your sharing your professional experience. The school to which I referred had Patricia Kuhl and Andrew Meltzoff advising, so I had a feeling the pedagogy was well considered.
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      Apr 29 2013: You amtsolt hvae the ieda Mray! But, "of" cannot be jumbled. "Hope" jumbles to hpoe. "None" jumbles to nnoe. "Students" jumbles to suentnds (or several other possibles). Remember, the first and last letter must be correct AND properly placed in the word while the remaining letters must be correct but are jumbled. Ain't the human brain amazing? I awiat yuor rsoepsne!
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        Apr 29 2013: Hlleo aigan ED!

        Well, I thought I had done it correctly......would I be a lousy misspeller....is there even such a thing?

        I will come back and try to answer your question.

        And fof was a type-o. I realize you have to keep 2 letter words intact.

        I will disagree with the word 'none'....This is why.....When you spell this word it ends with an "e", but is speech, it ends with the "n" sound. Therefore, the logical misspelling is better set as noen.....The brain will pick up n at the beginning and n at the end.

        If you spell it nnoe, the brain registers it as 'no' or 'know'......What do you think of this?
        BTW it is the same with hope (hoep and not hpoe)
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          Apr 29 2013: I love simple things. I think the rule of jumbled words is simply that the beginning and ending letters must be correct regarding spelling AND position while all the other letters need only be correct regarding spelling. I think phonemics etc. play no role in this particular phenomenon. This power of the brain is based upon choosing the right word from memory, not from familiarity with sounds produced by various letter combinations. I think the human brain sees the first and last letter and asks, "What word is probably intended here based upon the first and last letters AND the quantity and identity of the letters in between but not upon proper sequencing of those central letters, and upon context?"--PS I imagine you are not a very good misspeller.
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    Apr 28 2013: I don't agree the words can necessarily be read without a problem. When a word is dramatically misspelled, reading it becomes a puzzle which slows down reading. Sometimes the context does not give adequate clue to distinguish which of two words you meant to use.

    For small children it is definitely useful not to be finicky about spelling when they are very young. Children can begin to write fluently before it makes sense for them to worry about spelling. An English teacher can comment better about when it makes sense from a developmental standpoint to flag unusual spellings.
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      Apr 28 2013: It is with trepidation that I must disagree. Do you feel the sample paragraph was more difficult to read than if the spelling had been perfect? I did not. I stand amazed at the brain's power. I agree that a person who does not know the jumbled words will have trouble reading them. I read the sample paragraph just a easily as I would the unjumbled version because I RECOGNIZE all the words and my brain anticipates the next word based upon the previous word(s). Also, I cannot agree that it ever good teaching policy to allow a child to go uncorrected when doing something incorrectly. Teaching the 3 R's is about showing the correct way, it is NOT about condoning the incorrect way by withholding correction.
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        Apr 28 2013: I would have read your paragraph faster were the words correctly spelled, even though in your paragraph, context did make it clear what the words could reasonably be. I could imagine sentences, however, in which one would not immediately know whether "bred" means bird or bread.

        As I wrote, it would be instructive to hear from a preschool or kindergarten teacher on the point of when to start scrutinizing spelling. I have no professional expertise in that age group.

        I do remember that my eldest daughter went for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten to a school that was well known for its early childhood reading/writing pedagogy. In fact one of the world's experts on children's acquisition of language and probably a TED speaker (I have not checked that) was on the board.

        Their definite position on this matter was to start kids writing before the point of attending to spelling.

        We will wait until someone with expertise in early childhood language development chimes in.
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          Apr 28 2013: Yes, phonemic awareness.....which is making young minds aware of the 'sounds' letters make, helps 4 and 5 and even 6 year olds become writers before they can even read.

          If you google 'kindergarten classrooms or blogs' you might find some of this wonderful work online. Kindergarten teachers are notorious for showing off this kind of emergent writing.......it is very impresive.

          As an elementary teacher, I oftentimes have told my students to write the letters they hear, and when I read their paper I will be able to make out what they were trying to say.

          This system really works.....but should you carry off into the rest of your life? IMHO....No.

          I have to do some research so I can get my wording right to be able to give a precise explanation.
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          Apr 28 2013: Look at this link......scroll to the middle of the page and look at the note to the mom:

          http://www.idealcurriculum.com/early-learning-to-write.html

          Could you make out the message?....

          "Dear Mommy, I drew this picture for you, love Kayla."
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          Apr 28 2013: My advisor is my wife who has 25 years in elementary education. She says that to withhold correction for spelling errors would be a cardinal sin. If children are old enough to be writing they must not be allowed to spell incorrectly. They can give their best guess as to how a word is spelled, but when they get the paper back from being graded the incorrectly spelled words MUST be identified and corrected.Also Fritzie, the jumbled word must be composed of only the letters required to spell that word correctly, so your example of "bred" could not be the word "bread" or "bird". Jumbled bread would be beard, or bared, or braed. In context your brain would assume the proper word. Jumbled bird would be brid. Got it?
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        Apr 29 2013: I saw that in the Cambridge research. But in terms of the question of whether spelling matters, misspellings are not going to look like the anagrams in the Cambridge research. They are going to involve a sequence of letters that sound to the person's ear like the word sounds spoken. So the ambiguity the word "bred" offers is a better sample, I think, for illustrating why spelling does matter.

        In terms of your wife's philosophy, I am sure in any subject teachers have a variety of philosophies about how to handle their students. From a different subject, some piano teachers used to slap kids hands with rulers who made errors and some would never do this. Pedagogical preferences are all over the map. Some teachers let first graders use calculators and some not.
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          Apr 29 2013: Agreed sir on all points. I do, however, think the jumbled word phenomenon is unrelated to phonetics or phonemic awareness. Anyway we agree spelling cannot be removed from curriculums simply because the human mind can read jumbled words. Spelling is important!
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      Apr 30 2013: Unusual spellings slow down reading, I agree on that.
      But that's not why you have moderators or bots in chatrooms or foras and that's not necessarily why typed-in messages get flagged or removed, they dissapear when the rules of the community are broken. What breaks the rules or can be interpreted as breaking them depends on the community. The higher the level becomes in terms of either awareness or correctness (or awareness of what correctness may do, why does it matter, how it influences and changes within the community) the more difficult it is to decide what is or isn't correct.

      In other words, knowing the difference between "they're good" and "their good" is elementary, but knowing that the student knows it is essential in education and correction, which is and should be about creating more awareness and correctness at the same time.
      Know your students.
      Gentle correction creates both awareness and correctness more effectively than other types, from my humble experience (not Harvard or Oxford, less revered, but still educational). What is gentle depends on the community, but humour/irony usually works best. You shouldn't insult your students by calling them freaks or superfreaks because they know the difference between humour and irony and "they're good" and "their good", even if they like to call themselves superfreaks among themselves. You can at times, but only when sure that it's appropriate and being sure may be intuitive (that is: based on previous experience/quality of education received/how well you know the community).
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        Apr 30 2013: I don't think Edward's question about spelling had anything to do with online communities, Anna. I think he meant generally why does spelling matter anywhere. I know admins here don't remove posts for spelling, but I have no way of knowing whether that happens anywhere. It would seem inappropriate in communities with international participation.

        I have never heard of students calling each other freaks or superfreaks much less teachers doing that. I see you are from Norway. Is this your experience there?
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          Apr 30 2013: True, but I thought the first post answered the question in a way - it makes reading slower and may sometimes lead to confusion. Not always, but sometimes.
          When it comes to bullying at school - it's my experience from a music school in my home country. Freaks - that word was a summary of years of bullying in more or less subtle ways and how I felt after being a student at the school. Not all teachers did that and the fact that they did was mostly because of their own, justified frustration, but they shouldn't have brought that to work. It's a long story.
          To anwer your question - there are two official languages in Norway and a number of local dialects. This doesn't lead to any tension in itself, but some misunderstandings, both in terms of culture and linguistics and those do lead to tensions. It's interesting how this combination can influence the life of an individual in a foreign country.
          It took me some time to learn the differences and be able to communicate freely, but the confusion is still there at times.
  • May 5 2013: I think spelling is incredibly Important, dispite that im not the greatest speller, I realise that there is so much thought and history in one word alone its almost criminal to mispell. A word is older than I, and has had many years being formed and shaped into something to represent very specific things and carry so much meaning that even the writer may not be aware. So correct spelling is just a way to be specific and more precise way to express and its just logical to spell correctly to make sure we convey ourselves to others in the clearest way possible, because even with correct spelling we can have issues with communicating ideas.
  • May 5 2013: Thanks! I had a harder time writing that than you would think! It's not so easy if you're making it up as we go. Try it for yourself! lol

    If we didn't have spelling rules, bak can mean back or bake (remember learning about the 'silent e'? or that ck, th, sh, are two letters that can mean a single sound instead of two.We memorize rules that give language structure and meaning, otherwise words are just empty noise.
  • May 5 2013: I agree - and I can personally throw in jokes about bald guys as well. Let's just be glad a spell-check program can get us out of these misspelling predicaments!
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    May 5 2013: it is a little hard for the new learners but the native to undersantand .we alwasys read every specific letter to recognise a word .as a chinese , i believe the different order of letters in English creat different words ,
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      May 5 2013: You are correct Sarah. The phenomenon is based entirely upon total familiarity with the word as it would be properly spelled.How would we know a word was not spelled properly if we did not know how it is spelled properly? No unfamiliar word will be easy to read in a jumbled format. You are also correct that the identical set of letters can be arranged to spell more than one word. In such a case it seems the brain looks at the context and chooses the proper word. Thanks for your observations Sarah!
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    May 5 2013: I sympathise with those in a particular disposition to write that way. (I come across many such situations teaching).

    The real issue at hand, though, is in the amount of flexibility (or lack thereof) in spelling and punctuation,
    if you consider the way Greats wrote, Shakespeare notwithstanding, and not for convention's sake or originality but for more precise communication of the spoken word in written form.

    So long as the writer is understood, let 'em write how sounds are gonna be pronounc'd and, yes,
    hyphenate the contractions of Past regular verbs where needed: play'd, work'd. Allow for a more flexibl syntax, as well. Editors, cure yourselves of Comma-phobia. And spell-checkers never worked the way you want'em to.

    Another point is that, since colour print / display of text is so commonplace, why not assign colours
    to (English) word types so as to make it clear, to non-natives and natives alike, whether you're
    expressing a verb, noun or adjective etc.

    This could with advanced linguistic algorithms be universally set to be toggled on and off:
    'all verbs in GREEN' please, 'all adjectives VIOLET' etc. which would make for a visual aid whence
    reading any given webpage, to state your case in black and white.
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      May 5 2013: Ah! A progressive educator speaks. Color-coded parts of speech? Fantastic! Fanciful! What color would the word "green" be in this sentence: "His face was green with envy."? Anyway I am off topic. You react with "sympathy" toward the idea of using Typoglycemia a.k.a. The Scrambler Effect? Interesting. By the way have you seen McWhorter's current talk on TED Talks? You should. Thanks for your insights Alexander!
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    May 5 2013: Here are some more rules to consider when writing :-)

    http://www.gregor.co/language-blog.html

    And some thoughts why spellcheckers do not always help.

    http://www.gregor.co/1/post/2012/11/homonyms-or-how-not-to-use-a-spellchecker.html
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      May 5 2013: Great fun sir! Language is entertaining for sure. A simile is like a metaphor. Do not use a big word when a diminutive one will do. :-D
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    May 5 2013: I'd say, even with proper grammar, it's often difficult to understand what people say or mean. Each word may have more than one meaning, and the whole sentences may have different meanings in different contexts. ("TOILET OUT OF ORDER. PLEASE USE FLOOR BELOW." or an ad: ""MUST SELL HUSBAND disabled need more room")

    Brain can compensate for errors, but it does not mean that we need to be careless in our speech and writing. Sometimes, it can make a difference between life and death.

    http://www.gregor.co/uploads/1/4/2/3/14239340/677466885_orig.jpg

    http://www.unlearning101.com/fuhgetaboutit_the_art_of_/2010/02/a-woman-without-her-man-is-nothing.html
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      May 5 2013: This post is about written communication and you have shown that it is not just the letters that matter. Thanks. PS: You might enjoy this example: put a comma after the second word in the opening sentence of the great book Moby Dick. Talk about a change! Thanks Arkady!
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    May 4 2013: Come on, everything today has spell checker. No mind games, no superior mental challenges, if it is underlined in red, click and pick the correct spelling. No one has to spell incorrectly. Which brings me to the next best thing on the keyboard, the delete key. I use that when I correct my spelling and find my writing makes no sense...like now
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      May 5 2013: Your writing makes plenty of sense Mike. You are right that no one HAS to spell incorrectly. The debate here is centered more on the brain's ability to accomodate poor spelling without losing the point of the communication. Does that remarkable abilty mean we could relax the rigid spelling rules we all grew-up with? And, is there a functional benefit to be realized by exploiting this built-in spell checker/auto correct?
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        May 5 2013: I have read that there is a portion of the brain that deals with language. like cones and rods in the eyes, different cells react to differing languages, so the cells that can interpret Chinese are not the same as those that do English. Worse, if one language is learned the cells unused deteriorate, which explains why I am unable to master any other language then babble in my old age. the skills of which you speak must lie in an differing brain location. Like people who do jigsaw puzzles... how do they do that? Another skill which I was not blessed or cursed as the case maybe.
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          May 5 2013: Wow! Different brain cell types for different languages? That never occurred to me before. Good questionMike. Thanks.
  • May 4 2013: I noticed that while I could read your post - slowly - it produced a mild headache similar to reading something out of focus. I also had to reread a few words and decipher them and replace them in to context. So though it may be possible to spell this way - it is slow and gives me a headache!
    I would NEVER read a novel or other long text produced in such a way - and I bet no one else would, either. So this study points to the fact that a few misspellings don't matter - but a lot of them are really annoying!
    This research might have some use in the field of dixlexia - if I spelled it right.
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      May 4 2013: We have some responses here from folks who have overcome d-y-s-l-e-x-i-a. Did reading the paragraph in the introduction give you a headache? Some of the examples in the response section are pretty obscure by comparison. I agree a jumbled novel would be a hard sell. Thanks Andrew!
      • May 5 2013: Yes, I really got a mild headache from reading the misspelling sample. It lasted only a few minutes, thankfully. And dixlexia was a mild joke that only lasted a few minutes as well.
        I do wonder if a computer could be programmed to read through misspellings like we humans can. Might be a handy trick - like with that terrorist who was missed because his name was misspelled on the passenger list. Hmm...
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          May 5 2013: Some TEDsters do not find dyslexia jokes all that funny, kind of like I don't like jokes about fat old men who struggle with all the new high-tech do-dads. :-D
  • May 4 2013: Thanks to everyone for such a stimulating conversation. It has been a lot of fun, but I noticed that all the replies were from people who knew how to read and write correctly. Proper spelling and grammar facilitates understanding, so one who knows proper spelling and grammar can decipher the jumbled words, while one who doesn't just sees a jumbled mess. I would prefer to give all a chance to understand what I am trying to communicate.
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      May 4 2013: Mrs. M (Mary) tried a test on her young son and he had no problem unjumbling (see her comment below). Also see Frank Barry's response just a few below this. Good point though. Is unjumbling ability directly proportional to one's level of accomplishment in proper reading and spelling skills? There is a liyyle time left so let's see what folks think. Thanks Clarence!
  • May 4 2013: I think that it is because of our judging system. We tend to judge people by certificates- how well they do in exams, etc.
    Spelling is not different. We need to certify that the person who wrote what we read has passed a test set by society- leading to the belief that he is an intelligent person.
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      May 4 2013: Your reasoning seems sound to me, Itay, but I must know what exactly are you referring to when you say "THAT [my emphasis] is because. . . ".
      • May 5 2013: I am referring to the title- "Why do we bother..". The subsequent question which is how we can harness this ability to our own good is a tough one. In my opinion it can't be used for any "good" purposes because whenever most of the people spell in the same manner it turns to the practical correct way of spelling. That abillity may be utilized for humorous or informative purposes, as you did here.
  • May 4 2013: I agree with Muhannad. Anyone who attempts to read a story written by a child who is learning to spell can attest to the dificulty, and humor, that unusual phoenetic choices can cause.
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      May 4 2013: I have scrapbooks full of just such delightful creations! Thanks Valerie!
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      May 4 2013: Agreed sir. It is word recognition which allows the brain to quickly decipher, or unscramble, jumbled written words. Another solid expression for the importance of spelling correctly despite the fact that the brain is not paralyzed by incorrect spelling. Thank you!