How do I deal with an incident of screwed-up spelling?
January 21, 2013 1:15 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with an incident of screwed-up spelling?

I was recently asked to type a letter in a language that I haven't written in in a while. As I was typing the very short text being dictated to me, I made two grievous spelling mistakes that mostly had to do with me writing the words "phonetically," or as I heard them sound by sound. As I actually do know how to spell these words correctly, I am fairly confident this won't happen the next time I write. (Though of course, such mistakes can recur.) The problem is I feel that I damaged my reputation as someone who can spell correctly in that language. The family member who asked me to type the text this time won't ask me again for several months. I can write in that language as much as I wish on my own time in other contexts, but I am haunted by the fact that the impression of my incompetence will persist in that family member's mind. I should like to add that this person shares their thoughts about my skills in family conversations. I have had her judgments reported back to me by others even if what was concerned were trivial matters. Note: I know it might be silly for me to be worrying about this, but I would appreciate it if people could trust my spelling skills in that language.
posted by gregb1007 to Writing & Language (13 answers total)
Did you acknowledge the mistake and apologize to the other party? Everyone makes mistakes, and an awareness of said mistake is much different than complete ignorance of any error.
posted by thorny at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2013

Not a big deal. This isn't a boss, this isn't a job, this was a favor that you were doing for a family member. If anything, your family member should think back on the incident and appreciate the favor - that is what I'd do, if it were me.

You misspelling a couple of words would be essentially irrelevant to me.

Incidentally - I receive letters regularly from people whose primary language is not english. This is clear in their letters, either through awkward phrasing, grammar, or spelling. I always appreciate their graciousness and courtesy in trying to communicate with me in my primary language. If I take anything away from it, it is that I should work to improve MY secondary languages so I can do the same as a courtesy.
posted by arnicae at 1:19 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

Dear Tante Waltraute: I'm sorry I was distracted when I typed your letter last week! I heard from my mother that you were embarrassed by my errors. My apologies, and I promise to be extra focused the next time. Love, gregb1007
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:22 PM on January 21, 2013 [5 favorites]

The only person who ought to be stressed about themselves is your relative because discussing other people's skill sets in a public forum is categorically rude and inappropriate and they should be ashamed of themselves for being a gossip.

Let this go. Punitive people do not deserve the free real estate we often give them in our hearts and minds.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:23 PM on January 21, 2013 [12 favorites]

You can type in more than one language. That has a good deal of us beat, on more than one front.

Don't beat yourself up about it.
posted by xingcat at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2013

"Hey, sorry I screwed up there. Lesson learned. Buy you a drink next time we're down the pub."

Seriously, what kind of family member would give you grief about this? They're the one who can't write the damned language, right? You helped them out. Gratis. And they're giving you grief about a couple of little mistakes? That is really, really bad behaviour on their part. You should not be beating yourself up about that.
posted by Decani at 1:28 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

What do you mean by "grievous" spelling errors? I can see how something like, to take an example from English, writing "pubic" instead of "public" could be a huge deal in a professional/formal setting. In that case, I would assure your relative that you have learned from the mistake and will take your time with the next letter/ask someone else to proofread/go over it two or three times after writing it/whatever concrete solution you can offer to make sure it doesn't happen again.
posted by payoto at 1:37 PM on January 21, 2013

What do you mean "how do I deal"? If the question is "how do I improve my ability to spell tricky words with silent consonants and vowel changes," the answer is to read more, write more, and test your writing with a spellchecker for that language (or, failing that, Google Translate or a similar site: automatic translators have additional trouble with non-standard spelling).

But I'm guessing your question tends more toward "how do I deal with the social fallout." That's a tricky question. For example, one of my main languages has a very strong culture of linguistic chauvinism. People will routinely and unapologetically call you out on things they think of as mistakes, and they will go on to form judgments about you as a person based on the way you write and speak. If anything, it's worse than English. In that case, I would stop offering to do favors for that person and consider the relationship to be damaged in a small way by your acquaintance's chauvinism.

On the other hand, if your broader social context is the American mainstream or something like it, you can lean on your social capital as a member of the cultural majority. I'm not suggesting that you make your gossipy, judgmental acquaintance feel bad for making a spectacle of your mistakes. In an English-language context, however, an occasional accidental spelling error is a very minor transgression, to the point that many Mefites have trouble understanding what you're talking about. Very few people would think worse of you or mention it to others in conversation. You can use that standard of behavior to make your acquaintance aware that gossiping about your writing abilities would reflect very poorly on the speaker in polite social circles.
posted by Nomyte at 1:43 PM on January 21, 2013

So to paraphrase, you did a favour to a relative, made two stupid mistakes. And now, since this relative makes a habit of smack talking others infront of your extended family, you fear your reputation re: language prowess is shot.
Are they likely to snigger at you? Refuse to believe you at other times when you mention an ability?

I mean, my first thought was "at least you will never have to write a letter for that person again!"

And that's what I'd recommend if you hear that unpleasant ungrateful relative has been talking shit about you. Next time relative wants a translation, tell them: "Oh no, I wouldn't dream of it. Just imagine the mistakes I might put in this time! You know I don't really write well in that language!"

I think if the problem-underneath-the-problem is that you do not have your family's admiration and respect as much as you would like, than the answer is that you will have to make the decision to stop caring.

Family can be awful that way, unfair, judgemental, denigerating and basing their view of you on some long past childhood-you that they misremember. You cannot change them. You can only change your attitude to "so what?" and quite possibly this will change how they act towards you. But you can't change their behaviour directly.

So the fallout from your writing mistakes is twofold and positive:
- They won't ask you to translate letters again (and if they do you can sweetly refuse)
- This gives you an opportunity to practice your "I'm an adult and I don't give a shit about what you think of my language skills" attitude.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:20 PM on January 21, 2013 [6 favorites]

Could not agree more with Sidhedevil above. If you hear that your aunt/niece/sister-in-law is gossiping about your competence behind your back, then you can shut it down by raising it directly with her. If this is actually a big deal, which it doesn't sound like, then that shifts all the onus onto her to talk to you about how you screwed up. If on the other hand this was a trivial error, and your aunt/niece/sister-in-law is just a malicious gossip, then confronting her goes a long way to stopping it happening again.
posted by roofus at 2:23 PM on January 21, 2013

I would appreciate it if people could trust my spelling skills in that language.

If that's the outcome you want, you'll need to have better spelling skills. Admit your mistakes and spell improperly no more.
posted by yohko at 2:53 PM on January 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming you caught these two spelling errors before the final version was sent out, but even if you didn't: anybody who'd pick on you for that? Unless she is 100% paralyzed and therefore totally, physically unable to, she can do her own damn typing, even if she has to do it one finger at a time.

Look, I'm considered a very good speller with an extremely extensive English vocabulary, and I assure you I was THRILLED when Metafilter got that lovely new 'edit' function! We ALL make errors, in our primary as well as secondary languages, and that is why things like proofreading and Witeout and spellcheck were invented. NOBODY is perfect, and anyone who demands you do their typing then bitches about it, isn't worth worrying about.

As for when this person passes her ridiculous complaints around the family: the first time some relative comes to you talking about this "error", cut them off and tell them you don't want to talk about it. If they persist, WALK AWAY. Second time that same person tries it? Don't say anything, just go straight to 'Walk Away'.
posted by easily confused at 3:43 PM on January 21, 2013

Will the family member even notice your mistakes? Do she even know?

I don't think there is anything that you can do to "deal" with this as far as what she thinks or will say about you -- you made a mistake, this person likes to is vocally judgmental, but it's out of your hands. You can only manage her impressions/judgments to the extent that your sincere apology for your error and your future efforts to not repeat these errors can, not beating yourself up, explaining, or excusing. If you like, you can tell her that her opinion of you means so much to you that it made you nervous. She may be flattered.
posted by sm1tten at 4:14 PM on January 21, 2013

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