Spelling checkers for language learners

Graffiti in an underpass, Leipzig, GermanyWhen learning a new language, it can be tempting to rely on the automatic spelling checkers to correct your words.

But in all languages, there are words that sound the same, spelled differently and have different meaning (homonyms).

I found auto-correction in Japanese to be much worse than English – my intelligent ‘spelling checkers’ regularly chose the wrong kanji characters, but which had the correct pronunciation.

These tools simply aren’t intelligent enough to look at the surrounding context and choose the correct word.

I love using the poem below for showing how spelling checkers can be fooled. Or rather, how the spelling checkers can fool the writer!

Moral of the story – don’t trust the spelling checker when learning a language. Look up unknown words with a real dictionary first!

Modified from the original poem by Jerrold H. Zar in 1992

Spell checker

Eye have a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plain lee marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye can knot sea

Eye strike the quays and type a whirred
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its rarely ever wrong

A chequer is a grate thing
It freeze yew lodes of thyme
It helps me rite all stiles of righting
And aides me when eye rime

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My chequer tolled me sew

(Sauce unknown)

ESL class activity: Rewrite the poem with the correct words.

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