This week I am working on an old Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, and one of the clues renewed my belief about spelling correctly.
The clue is “”Diplomat Boutros Boutros- ________.” When I read it, I immediately knew how to pronounce the answer, but I wasn’t sure how to spell it.
Why was I certain of the answer but not the spelling? Because I hadn’t read about Mr. Boutros-Ghali lately. His term as Secretary-General of the United Nations ended in 1996, and I had not recently seen his name in print.
For me, that’s the key: Reading it. Seeing it in print. Recognizing the letters. I believe that if we want to be good writers, we need to do more than practice writing. We need to read. And if we want to be good spellers, we need to go beyond spelling practice. We need to read–to see the words in print.
Sometimes people in writing classes admit to difficulties recognizing the differences between simple words: then and than, accept and except, loose and lose. I share strategies and tips for sorting out all kinds of word pairs. But I think the best overall advice is this: Read. The two words in each of those pairs have distinct meanings. So reading them, seeing them in print, is an excellent way of identifying their distinct uses and spellings.
I admit that I am a visual learner. When I study a new language, I have to see the words in print, or I feel lost. It’s possible that my focus on reading is only good for people like me. But if you want to spell and write better, give it a try. Read. Read a lot. Read closely. Then proofread your own writing.
What do you think about the relationship between reading and spelling? Please share your thoughts and any ideas you have about becoming a better speller.
Now I will return to my crossword puzzle.