OPINION

Spelling it out - the words that give us trouble

Mind Matters | Spelling it out - the words that give us trouble

You can find words that people have trouble spelling by typing "how spell" into Google and then seeing how it finishes the question.

The top word right now is "diarrhoea". That is the British spelling. The American spelling omits the "o."

The word "cancelled" also comes up. The US spelling omits one "l."

I never quite know how to spell "enrolment". The US, just for balance, puts two "l"s in it.

"Connoisseur" I had to spell six times before I got it right for this article. The word is a monster.

I told my Mind Matters Facebook pals that I never remember how to spell the word for Satan that starts with B. I found it with a search: "Beelzebub".

A pal told me how to pronounce it: bee-el-zuh-buhb. That is a devil of a word.

My pals named other tough words: "yacht", "occasion", "Chihuahua".

I felt proud to know how to spell one of the words mentioned: "onomatopoeia" (a word that sounds like what it means, like the buzz of bees).

All the spelling led me to think of spelling bees. The US is big on spelling bees.

Almost every year a migrant child wins the US national spelling bee, after spending thousands of hours preparing.

I once took a written test to get into an American school spelling bee. We needed to spell correctly 85 of 100 words.

I got 84 correct, and the spelling bee went on without me. I went home and looked up one word that was marked wrong for me: "advertizement".

The dictionary listed my spelling as an acceptable variant.

I was robbed! I still feel bitter decades later. More important, though, is why we have trouble spelling certain words.

Lack of experience writing a word plays a big role. Some words are hard because they have different spellings in the US and here. Or because they are foreign.

Also, some people are better at spelling than others. Maybe I could have gone far in a spelling bee - the bitterness is rising here - but there was no way I would spend thousands of hours learning to spell obscure words.

I suggest that you have a spelling bee right now.

Ask someone to look up on a cell phone hard words to spell. Everyone else stands. If you misspell a word, you sit, and the next person tries to spell it.

Crown the last person standing spelling bee champ. I will have my own bee - it's never too late.

John Malouff is an Associate Professor at the School of Psychology, University of New England.

This story Mind Matters | Spelling it out - the words that give us trouble first appeared on The Canberra Times.