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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Literacy and Your Deaf Child: What Every Parent Should Know

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Even though some children persist with invented spelling over several years, longitudinal studies show that these children do adapt to standard spelling. Spelling is not always easy because of the vagaries of the phonetic relationships and sound-spelling correspondences in the English language. The difficulty is seen, for example, in the pronunciation and spelling of words like, for example, enough-cough-bough, and meat-great-threat. However, many of the so-called weird spellings are usually words that are in fairly common use, which gives a person many opportunities to pick up on these peculiarities. Fortunately, about 85 percent of English words have predictable spelling.

The primary aim of all forms of writing is to convey a message to the reader. If writing is regarded as merely a procedure for connecting the auditory and visual patterns of a language, then it should be no great surprise that many of the world’s languages lack a written form.

Therefore, when it comes to creating writing experiences, the major goal for parents is to get deaf children excited about writing so that they can put down their ideas on paper. In doing this, they should be given the message that there are two ways to write a word—the right way and the wrong way. Sensible parents know how to strike a balance between nurturing creativity and fostering correct conventions. We agree that the emphasis in early writing should be on fluency rather than on accurate spelling, but this doesn’t mean we should throw the baby out with the bath water.

Spelling has to be taught at some point, and because of the irregularities in English, some memorization will be necessary. Spelling instruction, however, should relate to words in the real world, focus on the recognition of patterns, and give children the strategies necessary to correctly spell words that they want to use. We know that today’s teachers would never return written assignments, especially in the early grades, with misspellings and grammatical errors heavily marked and corrected in red. Without this kind of intervention, children learn quickly enough that if audiences are going to comprehend their message, then it helps greatly if the spelling is correct. This, in itself, can be a great incentive for them to “get it right.”

The arguments made for not being overly concerned about spelling can also be made for punctuation. See the box titled “Is Punctuation Important?” for an example of how punctuation can change the meaning of sentences. Obviously, when a child’s written message is unclear, we can expect parents to talk to the child about the intent of the message and to offer kind suggestions about how to make the message understandable by others.

The more writing activities deaf children engage in, the more likely they will come to understand that correctness in spelling and punctuation will help others understand their written message. At this point, we can expect this realization to become a prime motivator in their desire to learn the proper conventions with regards to these two aspects of writing.

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