Spellcheck generation 'failing to write simple words' - By Graeme Paton

Pupils are failing to spot the difference between words such as “their” and “there” or “cloths” and “clothes” amid confusion over the English language, it was claimed.

The Oxford University Press found that children in primary and secondary schools were increasingly encouraged to look up complex words using dictionaries and electronic spellcheckers.

An analysis of more than 33 million words written by pupils aged seven to 13 found that they regularly found the correct spelling for terms such as “pterodactyl” and “archaeologist”.

But the publisher claimed that too many pupils were falling down when presented with more common words.

In most cases, they failed to pick out silent letters or the difference between a single or double letter in words such as “disappeared” or “tomorrow”.

The top spelling error was "accidentally", followed by "practising", “frantically” "definitely" and "believe", it was revealed. Other misspellings included words such as “surprise”, "excitement", "weird", "doesn't" and "minute”.

The research comes after the introduction of a new spelling test by the Government.

For the first time this year, all six-year-olds have been given a new assessment using phonics – the back-to-basics spelling method that breaks words down into individual sounds.

But the OUP suggested that children were still being left confused by more unusual spellings in common words.

Vineeta Gupta, head of children’s dictionaries at the OUP, said: “Children are keen and motivated to spell well, and it is pleasing to know that they probably look words up that are technical or more complex.

“At the same time, children are still struggling with simple and everyday words.

“Spellcheckers can be useful but may not provide all the support a child needs to distinguish confusables such as their/there and cloths/clothes.

“These findings are fascinating and give us an opportunity to target the areas children need more support in.”

Researchers analysed pupils’ spelling skills using the Oxford Children’s Corpus – a database containing the authentic written work of almost 75,000 children.

Jane Bradbury, an English teacher and lexicographer, said schools should focus on developing children’s reading skills to get them used to words with “uncommon” spellings. Teachers should also place an emphasis on practising them in the classroom, she said.

She added: “The majority of errors are occurring in commonly used words with spellings that are difficult to guess and, in English, there are a lot of words with unguessable spellings.

“Many spellings are difficult to guess because they contain letters or syllables which are silent. We don’t hear them when the words are said out loud, for example the ‘e’ in ‘something’, or the ‘er’ in the middle of ‘different’.”