Thursday, August 9, 2012

Learning to Spell Is a Fun, Lifelong Adventure

I loved it when I started learning how to spell as a kid. Spelling expanded a world I only knew visually and verbally into layers. Each new word was a precious stone added to my life’s treasure chest.

The C-A-T in the H-A-T S-A-T on the M-A-T. The rhyming was fun and it was great to point to a picture, know what it was, say the word, and then spell the word.

 No longer was I satisfied being told that all the tall plants were “trees.” They turned into T-R-E-E-S, then M-A-P-L-E trees with L-E-A-V-E-S that turned spectacular C-O-L-O-R-S around back-to-school time.

I started to devour books. I delved into other worlds and met so many wonderful characters.

But to get to the ‘next level’ of bigger words, I had to learn some rules.

 Mnemonics were exciting (as was learning to spell ‘mnemonics’). “I before E except after C” was fun to say, which made it easy to remember. I had no hesitation in writing ‘deceive,’ ‘conceive,’ ‘friend,’ ‘receipt’, ‘fierce’, or ‘believe’.

Soon, the rule added “and sometimes Y.” Okay, it was still fun to say and easy to remember, although a bit wierd. Wait, that’s not right, is it? No, it isn’t.

 I think I heard a drum roll at that moment, along with the announcement, “Welcome to the world of exceptions.”

 The exception with this particular rule is that using ‘ie’ or ‘ei’ sometimes came down to whether that part of a word carried a ‘long a’ sound or a ‘long e’ sound. Not so easy to remember, but, okay, it had to be learned.

As I encountered new words, dictionary definitions became important. Spelling bees became the norm in English class. I vividly remember being in the top 2 of my 7th grade class competition and purposely passing on “pneumonia” because I didn’t want to go to the next level (too shy). But I was thrilled to remember that the word contained a silent ‘p’.

I remember a classmate asking the trivia question, “What word has three vowels in a row.” The word was ‘beautiful,’ and it has always stuck with me. How I value knowing the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘your’ and ‘you’re’.

 I fell in love with words when I learned to spell and that passion has existed ever since. I read and write daily and work with others who need or want to put words onto the page for business or personal reasons.

What I love most about words is that there is an infinite amount of them. If I happen to run out of English words, there are numerous languages I can study, right?

I still come across words I’ve never met before and there’s a thrill in that. I love adding a new gem (word) to my life’s treasure chest, and learning rules and associated exceptions keeps me excited to learn more.

 Do you remember when you fell in love with words? Do you have a favorite word? I’m particularly fond of “ponder” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”

Lisa J. Jackson is a freelance writer with a passion for New England and New Hampshire. She’s also an editor with Story Circle Network’s Editorial Services, co-founder and regular contributor to the Live to Write – Write to Live blog, and is a weekly author interviewer/moderator at The Writer’s Chatroom. She has a blog dedicated to author interviews and book reviews. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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  1. Lisa, what a fun post. It reminded me of the feel of my spelling book under my coat as I smuggled it home—we weren't yet allowed to have homework in third grade, and I loved spelling so much I finished a year's worth of work in one weekend. The next year I loved competing in spelling bees—especially those last really hard words for first place—yet one time I was given "quilt." Almost insulted that I would get a prize for such a short word, I allocated a sliver of my brain to it and quickly tossed off "Q-W-I-L-T." By the time I realized what I had said the whole class was looking at me with their mouths agape!

  2. Hi Kathryn,
    Thanks! I had fun with this post. Those 'quilt' moments certainly stick with us, don't they? I'll never shake 'pneumonia'.

    I don't remember sneaking a spelling book home, but I do remember falling in love with books and always having one with me. I just re-read The Wind in the Willows and I was amazed at how I became my young self once again, pulled into the world of Toad and Mole and the others - and such fun words in that novel!

  3. Oops, my blogger ID is my pseudonym for my fiction writing. Lisa Haselton is also Lisa J. Jackson. :)

  4. I remember learning to spell Mississippi by chanting M-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-crooked letter-crooked letter-i-humpback-humpback-i.

  5. I remember that little diddy, too, now that you mention it, Helen. So fun having little games when spelling - they really stick with you.

  6. I'm intrigued by the "in" words that pop into the language, get used until they're overused, and then fade just when I've learned how to spell them. "Segue" and "frisson" come to mind.

  7. I still use 'segue', can't say I've ever used 'frisson', but now I have to look it up. :)

    So many words, not enough time to play with them all!

  8. Thanks for such a fun post, Lisa. I think this fascination with words is what first drew us all to reading and then to writing, although spelling is not my strong suit. Which is odd, because I won spelling bees in elementary school. Still have the dictionary I won in fourth grade. It has my name engraved on it.

  9. spelling is in my soul. I like the word sublime and I love foreign words - live savoir-faire

    and words that sound like what they are - gumption

  10. Ah, yes, we writers must nurture our fascination with words. They are, after all, the tools of our trade.

    When I was very young (a preschooler) my mom and my babysitter often read to me. Soon I could recite (my mother's word, not mine) the stories. My mother told me years later, when she said I never missed a single word, that I had memorized them. She must have believed that because in the early 1940s no one seemed to recognize that very young children can learn to read. However, when I entered first grade, I read very well - so I obviously had had some previous experience with reading.

    Moral of the story: Reading and word fascination go hand in hand in the case of writers (editors, too, in most cases). The ability to create word pictures in the minds of our readers is as much an art as creating great paintings, sculptures, or music.

    Excellent post, Lisa - and a fun one, too!

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  12. One more point that I forgot to mention . . . painting those word pictures is most effective when our beautiful words are correctly spelled. Misspellings pull our readers out of our stories - not good. :-)

  13. Joanne, I like the word savoir-faire. Due to French in college, I can even do the "r". But that's about all I retained from French classes.

  14. Maryann - very cool about still having the dictionary. It's great to have such a keepsake. :)

    Joanne - 'sublime' is definitely a fun word. I think I'll try to use it more. I might be able to spell the French word, but I know I mangle it trying to say it! My 7th and 8th grade French classes have not stuck with me, not much of 3 years of high school Spanish has either, though! (kudos, Helen)

    Linda - thank you for sharing that story. Wouldn't it be great to be able to understand the potential in ourselves at such a young age when starting to learn to spell and read and write? Related -- I have a hard time reading ARCs for book reviews because of all the misspellings and other errors - I don't know whether everything will be correct before final print or not, so get torn on how to write the review.

  15. Yes, deciphering those marks on the page really was an exciting time, I think we forget. I remember falling deeply in love with the word umbrella. It just looked so lovely written.

  16. Thanks for sharing, Lauri. Isn't it interesting how we can remember stuff like this? I'm enjoying all the replies. :)


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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