When you’re unsure, rely on spell check

We speak to students to find out how much they rely on technology

Image Credit: K. P. Devadasan/Gulf News
Latest technology and spell-checkers are creating what is popularly dubbed as an “autocorrect generation”.
Gulf News

Dubai: If someone asked you to spell ‘definitely’ or ‘necessary’, would you be able to do so without seeking help? If you answered yes, you’re better equipped than one-third of young British adults who were unable to spell those words, as stated by a poll conducted by Mencap, a UK-based charity.

Teenagers are worse off. Latest technology and spell-checkers are creating what is popularly dubbed as an “autocorrect generation”.

For Lama Mosallem, an Egyptian student based in Sharjah, autocorrect is a part of her daily life. From her smartphone to laptop, the feature is always switched on, making her extremely dependent on it.

She said: “I don’t stop typing, even if I am making spelling mistakes, because I know that they will be fixed. When the autocorrect feature goes off, that is when I realise how many mistakes I make while typing.”

A few days ago, a friend of hers who uses autocorrect on her chats wrote a word, which automatically changed to something completely different that wasn’t very appropriate. This lead to an embarassing situation, which could have been avoided had she not used autocorrect so often.

Going back to the UK study, it shows that while many adults struggle to spell common words correctly, 75 per cent of them believed that they were good at spelling.

Mosallem said: “You’ll be shocked when you see how some people cannot spell the simplest words. It’s because they rely on this feature so much and don’t want to interrupt their train of thought when typing, knowing that any mistakes they make will get fixed.”

Similar to Mosallem, many people around the world make all sorts of mistakes as they type because they are sure that their phones and other smart devices will step in to save the day. So even if they type something like “im at thw stote”, the person they are messaging will know of their whereabouts correctly.

Shoumik Karkera, an Indian student based in Sharjah, also keeps the autocorrect feature on at all times and ends up using it while working on assignments or having a simple conversation with a friend.

He said: “It sometimes changes words to something you don’t want to use. Most of the times it has been comical. But, if I ever have a doubt, I do research to make sure what the correct spelling is. Autocorrect is not entirely reliable.”

In his experience, a lot of the students around him have grown up with English as their second language and so they have no choice but to depend on autocorrect to ensure they spell correctly. For him, it is just convenience. However, during an exam, if he isn’t sure how to spell a word and hits a dead end, he just opts to use another word altogether. “I’d rather use a synonym instead of spelling something incorrectly,” he added.

US-based Slate magazine conducted a test to see how much of a difference it would make if people switched off the autocorrect feature on their phones. On average, the non-autocorrect version of a sentence took about eight seconds longer to type without any errors. The main issue was when people would add an extra letter to a word.

Dhara Bhatia, a Pakistani student based in Dubai, refers to it as something that is “built into our systems”. When using her computer to type assignments, the autocorrect helps her find small mistakes, like when she accidentally skips an ‘e’ in a word.

She said: “When you’re chatting, you wouldn’t use a high level of vocabulary. But, if it’s something important, you end up using spell check quite a bit.”

Getting confused with some words, not being sure whether to use an ‘i’ or ‘e’, is when she most often depends on the autocorrect. But, more than the spell check, her friends end up using the thesaurus to replace words like ‘therefore’ and ‘thus’ with something different to avoid repetition.

Another issue brought to the fore by Abdelrahman Elkallawy, an Egyptian student based in Sharjah, was that of small keyboards on smartphones. A lot of times he ends up pressing the wrong letter due to his “big hands”. In such cases, the autocorrect feature is his best friend.

He said: “It isn’t our fault. When an invention comes up and makes things easier, you resort to using that rather than old things. Autocorrect is easier and faster than referring to a dictionary. Some people just rush to type out an idea before they forget it. I don’t want to stop to think and worry about pressing the wrong key.”

When he types assignments and sees a word that gets underlined, he immediately knows it’s wrong.

There are, however, those who refuse to use it altogether and even try to convince others to do the same. Amal Mariam Raju, an university student based in Ajman, is one of them. When she first started using social media, she went with the flow and started using slang terms and abbreviated versions of common phrases. It took her a “long time to realise” what she was doing was wrong.

She said: “Our teachers would always tell us that we’re not supposed to use the ‘cool’ spelling for words. For example using ‘dis’ instead of ‘this’. All of that comes from chat lingo.”

A study published by the US-based Columbia College Chicago shows that with the younger generation constantly using terms such as “LOL”, for example, they could possibly forget how to spell “laugh”. This is leading to a generation that might begin to value “understandable communication of language over proper form”.

But, with autocorrect, people around Raju stopped using these terms to a certain extent and started relying on technology to fix their errors. Raju was appalled that some people were looking to their phones to sort out something as basic as vocabulary, which she was taught at an early stage in her life and should be “engrained in your mind”.

She said: “We now use a calculator to find out what is five plus two. We are going in search of things to make some of the basic things even simpler. Why?”

As technology advances, will people find a balance and be able to adopt the new writing practices associated with these gadgets while maintaining basic vocabulary? Only time will tell.