I'm your head, messing with your speling!
February 23, 2007 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Why do I have to work so hard at spelling and writing?

To better explain what I mean, I wrote this post and then had to go back and edit it. I've left notes in paretheses (ooops, meant parentheses) to show examples.

Ok, when spelling or writing and sometimes thinking (oops meant to use the word speaking), I seem to have to work extra hard to sound half way intelligent.

I can't "hear" words. Seriously, if a word is produced (oops, meat pronounced) that I don't know, I can't spell it without methodically sounding (it) out aloud. I'm 31 this year, college educated and self confident and this has been a consistent thing since puberty. If I see the unknown word after its been pronounced, I completely understand who (oops meant to write how) and why it's spelled the way it is. But hearing? I'm thrown into some wierd blank spot (wanted to write limbo, but couldn't remember how to spell it) where I can't figure out the spelling without having to consciously think about it.

As to writing, I consistently leave words outta sentences. It's like I'm composing the sentence so fast in my head that my fingers can't keep up, be it typing or handwriting or even speaking (I sometimes stumble over words). Not only that but I often transpose words or letters. For instance, I might tranpose "late tasks" to "tate lasks" while speaking. Stress seems to make this work. My dad has similiar tendencies and called it a mild form of dylexicia
(oops, dyslexia). Does this even exist?

Is this common? Is there a study that's been down (um, done) on people like this? Are there techniques that have helped people (like) this?

I am a introverted visual artist and good creative writer. I have the same problem hearing musical notes and have to work hard playing the guitar or singing, but I can tell what (meant when) I'm outta pitch and match pitches, so I'm not tone deaf.

Forgive me for rambling, but all of this seems interlated and lately it's been driving (me) nuts. I want to improve and at least look and sound as intelligent as I know I am. At this point I have to edit every damn thing I write, no matter how simple it easy (it is), in order to not sound like an idiot.
posted by The Behatted Wild Man of Greenfield to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, you sound like a visual learner who types too fast. I transpose words all the time, too, and will often ask people to spell things out for me when they say them, so I can fully "get" the word.

Can you tell when a word looks "wrong" (ie, misspelled) when it is written down?
posted by dame at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2007

It could be a verbal processing issue for you. My daughter, who is otherwise very intelligent, just doesn't hear words the same way as the rest of us. Therefore sounding it out doesn't work so well for her. She pretty much has to memorize the word to spell it correctly. She had speech therapy when she was 4/5 years old and the speech therapist told us that she could battle this issue her whole life. Her speech was impacted for the same reason. The therapy overcame the verbal issues and her speech is fine now. Her spelling, not so much.
posted by COD at 1:18 PM on February 23, 2007

Best answer: You should look into the work of David Rose, a great human being for many reasons, but one is that he developed the concept of universal design for learning (UDL). UDL addresses the fact that we ALL have different ways of processing, interpreting and interacting with input (of all types..visual, auditiory etc) and so we need to have many ways of "getting at" content and expressing our ideas. Not new-agey or anything, he has great (free) online material that might be insightful.

Point, is that we alll have challenges (not to downplay your thoughts/feelings) and that we luckily live in a time where flexibility in information delivery and expression is possible.
posted by Meemer at 1:44 PM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

I resemble this post!

It's that you are typing too fast, and you are editing in realtime, fixing misspellings you type as you type them, rather than writing the whole paragraph (or better yet the whole post or document in question) and then revising.

When I do serious writing, I get the thought out of my head and onto the page, regardless of how choppy and messy it is. I don't fix misspellings or punctuation, because I'm trying to get the thought down.

After the thought is written, then I revise and revise and revise. I'm not fixing typos or grammar at this point either - I'm reorganizing, adding or deleting sentences for clairty and so the argument flows, and generally reworking the structure of the composition.

Only when the composition is communicating whatever it is supposed to communicate do I correct the mechanics. I read the composition backwards to find dropped or duped words and misspellings, then I read it out loud for awkward phrasing or stilted sentences.

For informal fast writing (like comments around here) I just blast away, and edit as I type if I notice something is screwed up. I'm not proud of this, as I've reread things I've written often a mere hour later and misunderstand what I've written, which is of course bad.

So perhaps the thing for both of us to do, even for informal writing, is to slap the thought out on the screen, and then be courteous to others and clean it up a bit.

I will endeavor to start with my next comment (after this one).
posted by Pastabagel at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2007

this has been a consistent thing since puberty

Are you saying it was different before puberty?
posted by jamjam at 1:52 PM on February 23, 2007

Response by poster: Yeah, I can usually tell when a word looks wrong.

The editing in real time thing sounds off. It often seems as though my thinking is WAAAY too fast and nothing on earth seems able to catch up with it at times.

Yeah, before puberty seemed different, more normal.

Will look into David Rose. I tottally agree that people process information differently. I'm just trying to figure out how I an relate the information to others better.
posted by The Behatted Wild Man of Greenfield at 2:05 PM on February 23, 2007

Best answer: Yes, there are studies on this sort of thing. I did a few papers in my last year of my undergrad in Linguistics that touched on some of these issues.

Let's talk about how you store words in your brain, and how you translate that into speech or writing. And let's remember that no one really knows how our brains do this, and there are a few competing theories that have great evidence to back them up, but which contradict each other.

You know the word "heart". What does your brain know about it? It knows how to spell "heart" and what it looks like when written or typed. It knows what it feels like to type "heart," and what it feels like to write it. It knows how your mouth moves to say it. It knows what "heart" sounds like. It knows what "heart" means (multiple meanings!) and what other words are associated with those meanings (blood, heart attack, love, romance, the heart symbol, diagrams of human hearts, Cupid, etc.). It knows that it is a noun and how to put it in a sentence.

But, your brain might have trouble linking all of that different knowledge together. Maybe your brain stores all of this information separately and the links are broken.

Let's say you think of the word "heart" and want to write it down. Your brain could:
- write down the usual way of spelling those sounds ("h" + "art" would be a perfectly logical conclusion)
- access your brain's file on [heart] and follow the link to the spelling (h-e-a-r-t).
- access [heart] and trigger the remembrance of a word that means something similar, and write down "lung" instead (like you did with "thinking" and "speaking" in your post — you triggered a word with a similar meaning)
- access [heart] and trigger a word that is spelled similarly or sounds similar (like you did with "produced" and "pronounced")

Maybe the pathways to orthographic (writing and spelling) information or production are impaired in your brain. Maybe you trigger similar words too easily. Think of it as your brain looking at a tag cloud and instead of selecting the correct word, it just selects the biggest (most common) one and says "that'll do!" And if you're working fast, your brain will make more mistakes because it will sacrifice accuracy for speed.

I didn't get to research treatment very much, but it was commonly found in the studies I read that speed greatly increased error rates. If your brain tends to take shortcuts that result in errors, give it more time and it may take the long, accurate route.

The linguistic articles that I found on this for my papers had the following keywords:
lexical and sublexical processing, orthographic output, phonological/orthographic/semantic representation, phonological mediation, lexicon

posted by heatherann at 3:08 PM on February 23, 2007 [2 favorites]

This is some what similar to a problem I have. Like COD's daughter I also went to speech therapy when I was younger although I didn't realize they were connected.

I switch words around in speech and writing just as you do. Once I was told my friend that I switch numbers around too, referring to it as dyslexia when I meant dyscalculia. The most embarrassing example of it was when I said orgasm instead of autism at a fancy dinner party! I don't really leave words out of sentences so much as I combine two totally different sentences into one which leaves me sounding like English is my second language. I often write like a Japanese person with the verbs at the end.

The only thing I've found that works is to re-read whatever you write several hours later. Sometimes I can write a paper and go through it just an hour later and find tons of these little stupid problems. I don't catch them all (I recently turned in an astronomy paper discussing large chunks of rice in planetary rings) but I've gotten better as I've learned more and more what to look for. Reading my words out loud after I've written also helps.

If you figure out some way to solve this, let me know!
posted by avagoyle at 7:22 PM on February 23, 2007

Best answer: I hear (and to some extent) feel your pain. It sounds like you're suffering from two (admittedly related) problems:

1) a "broken brain" issue that leads you to make more language mistakes than the average bear.

2) irritation that you have to re-write and edit so much.

I wish I could help with issue 1. I can't, though I have some similar problems -- probably to a lesser extent than you do. I can't exactly help with issue 2 either, other than to say that, if you care about writing well, you SHOULD be re-writing and editing.

Your posts in this thread were well-written and clear, so you obviously have a technique that allows you to get the job done. So do I. Even though I'm a sucky speller, and I even though I often mangle word and letter order, leave out words, etc., I'm a professional writer with two published books under my belt, contracts to write two more, and a regular magazine column. I don't feel the angst that you do, because I expect to do many re-writes. To me, that's just how writing works.

I guess there's a point at which I would consider re-writing a problem. If I spent 10 hours on each sentence, that would be bad. But it's not strange -- and I don't think it's bad or abnormal -- for me to spend four hours writing and editing a 150 word article. So maybe the difference between me and you -- unless you spend 80 hours trying to compose 150 words -- is that you consider yourself broken while I consider myself diligent.

I also spend time editing my forum posts and emails. Most of my friends don't, and it shows. I'm get emails all the time from 40-year-olds that look like the were written by 5-year-olds. My guess is that most of these people know how badly the write but don't care.

They may even be able to write well when they have to, but perhaps they consider email "casual writing" and feel that, as such, no one cares how well it's composed. I can't exactly fault them for this, because there are other things in life that (e.g. clothes) that I'm less careful about than other people. Perhaps, like me, you're a perfectionist when it comes to writing.

Here are a few tips:

1) Spell checkers. I know you know about spell checkers, and I'm sure you use them. But do you have spell checkers built into ALL your writing software? For instance, are you using the latest version of Firefox, which has a built-in spell checker (great for MeFi posts!)? If you're writing plain (ascii) text, are you using Notepad? Don't. Search for "free text editors" or "notepad replacements." You'll find ones with spell checkers.

2) Improve your typing skills. My thoughts fly really quickly, too, but as I've increased my typing speed, I find I can more accurately capture them when they first fly out of my head.

There are many tools out there to help you learn to type faster, and perhaps someone here can point you towards free ones. Way back when, I used Mavis Beacon. But what really helped me was writing my first book. I had to produce 600 pages, and I spent every waking hour typing. When I started, I was a hunt-and-peck guy. I emerged a touch typist without even trying.

It makes a huge difference to the thought/typing connection if you don't have to hunt for keys. Multi-tasking is impossible. You can't hunt, think and type at the same time. So as I have, you need to improve your skill to the point where you can just think and let your fingers automatically do their work without any conscious effort.

3) Re: perfectionism. Realize that even well-respected, published books contain errors. Even if ten editors have poured over the text before it hit the press. If you don't notice these errors, that's because you're engrossed in the book's subject matter, but I guarantee you there's not a book in the library that's 100% typo free.

[Edited twice before posting -- both times by reading it text aloud to myself, which is the only editing technique that works for me.]
posted by grumblebee at 8:45 AM on February 24, 2007

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