In school, I was that annoying, nerdy kid who read all the time. I used to get ten books out of the library every Saturday, have them all read by Tuesday and have to pretend to my mother that I still had some left to read because rest assured, I wouldn’t get another library trip until the weekend (I know, I was a pretty cool kid).
I loved reading and I still do, but aside from the enjoyment I got out of it, it gave me a pretty decent (but not perfect) grasp of spelling, grammar and sentence structure. As such English was probably my favourite subject in school and I did well in it in terms of my grades. I was nothing short of outraged to receive a 4/5 score for spelling and grammar in my Leaving Cert English mock exam despite there being no discernible mistakes, and my teacher had to soothe my bruised ego by assuring me exam correctors rarely gave full marks for anything, especially in a mock.
Unsurprisingly, I can be a bit of a pedant when it comes to spelling and grammar. Having said that, I have also developed enough self-awareness to know that relentless nit-picking at such things is extremely annoying. As much as people mixing up ‘their’, ‘they’re’ and ‘there’ and putting apostrophes where they shouldn’t be stresses me out, I try to keep my neuroses to myself. Not exhibiting perfect grammar when speaking or spelling with 100% accuracy when writing does not necessarily mean a person is lacking genuine intelligence, creativity or competence and it is perhaps fair to suggest that in professional and academic contexts, we are far too quick to dismiss people whose grasp of the technical nuances of language is not up to scratch. #
In recruitment, we review hundreds of CVs and emails everyday that are composed in programmes like Microsoft Word and Outlook that have built-in spellcheckers. It’s reasonable to experience frustration that candidates lack the diligence and attention to detail to use this function. If they haven’t spellchecked their CV or cover letter when a simple click of a button is all that is required, who’s to say they will do the necessary research and preparation for their interview?
However, we are still some way off having a spellchecker to follow us around and ensure our grammar is correct when we’re engaging in verbal conversations. Not everyone is articulate, well-spoken and possessing excellent communications skills but this does not for a second mean that their contribution to their workplace, team or social setting is any less valuable. If you work in customer service, what’s important is your demeanour, approachability, clarity and helpfulness, not your ability to construct a sentence to grammatical perfection. If you’re a mathematical engineer, your aptitude for solving numerical problems and communicating the solution is the value of what you do, not how many spelling mistakes are made in the introduction to your report. Language is fluid, everchanging, context-specific and evolves in the same way the rest of our brain capacity does. Children are all stimulated differently during the critical period where they learn to talk and with the variety of teaching styles, curriculums and educational models that exist it’s no surprise that some children grasp spelling and grammar differently to others. Slang, dialects and vernacular language all impact the way people speak and it is part of what makes conversation interesting – how boring would it be if everyone sounded the same all the time?
Everyone makes spelling and grammar mistakes from time to time, and some people make them more often than that – but unless you are someone’s English teacher they’re probably not going to appreciate your well-intentioned attempts to correct them. But there is never an excuse for not spellchecking a Word document or email!