The spelling is no longer important

When Baden-Württemberg's Prime Minister Winfried Kretschmann (Greens) spoke a few days ago about the importance of spelling lessons, there was great excitement. "The importance of learning spelling is decreasing because today we only rarely write by hand. We have smart devices that correct grammar and mistakes," said the former high school teacher. His own education minister Susanne Eisenmann (CDU), her colleague at federal level, Anja Karliczek (CDU), the president of the Conference of Ministers of Education, Stefanie Hubig (SPD), teacher, the Council for German Spelling - all protested. Big words were used: key qualifications, cultural assets, basic skills. But why actually? An interview with Julia Knopf, professor of German didactics in primary schools.

SZ: Ms. Knopf, Winfried Kretschmann experienced a lot of contradiction for his views. Can you defend him?

Julia Knopf: No. That the spelling loses its meaning because we write less by hand is nonsense. Spelling also plays a role in writing in digital media. The question is: Do we need spelling in general, regardless of whether it is analog or digital?

And the answer?

We absolutely need them. More than a century ago we introduced uniform spelling so that we can write texts more easily and read them better. Imagine the traffic rules without spelling norms: pure chaos. The brain can process texts that follow standards much more smoothly. There are studies that show that missing commas alone drastically reduce reading speed.

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Well, Kretschmann didn't say, let's throw this superfluous spelling overboard. He just thinks that spelling lessons are no longer as important as they used to be because the correction programs eradicate our mistakes.

But that's not true. Many current programs only find superficial errors. When I type into my mobile phone "It is forbidden to play with the ball", it accepts the small "s" because it makes no difference to "It is forbidden to play with the ball". The error remains because the context is not recognized.

But the correction programs keep getting better. Why shouldn't we let them help us?

Of course we can let them help us, and they actually get better, for example they will be able to suggest synonyms for us. Nevertheless, each individual must still have spelling skills. If I no longer know the standards, the programs no longer work either. To put it bluntly: If I enter "Schultigu fü die faschpetuk", even the best correction will not result in the fact that I mean "Sorry for the delay". That means, I have to know the rules in order to be able to communicate with the program and to check whether it is doing its job as I see it.

Is it also about autonomy?

That too. It does not make sense to blindly rely on tools. I would like to be able to intervene in the actions of the program in order to change and improve my text. This is the only way to keep my sovereignty.

Does that mean that elementary school students have to learn spellings in the same way they used to?

Learning to spell doesn't mean spelling a word correctly ten times on a line. A good didactic teacher doesn't just let people practice words blindly, they explain strategies, memory aids and tricks. An example: The plural of "hand", ie "hands", is written with "ä". The children learn this, then they look for related words such as "wall" and apply the strategy to the new word: "walls". That is something completely different from timpani, that is, memorizing.

Are primary school teachers adequately trained for this?

Spelling seminars are not compulsory for every place of study, but in my opinion they should be. At my university, everyone has to complete an orthography and grammar didactics seminar. Such training helps teachers to become good facilitators.

And yet every fifth fourth grader misses the minimum spelling standards. Are the cell phones included? fault?

Not only but also. We know from studies that digital communication affects spelling. In private short messages, upper and lower case is particularly neglected and tends to be written as one speaks. Therefore, spelling lessons have not become less important, as Kretschmann says, but more important. And we also need to focus more on the students' spelling awareness. This is extremely important.

What does "spelling awareness" mean?

Children need to recognize that spelling is important and be able to distinguish whether they are writing a message to their girlfriend, a text at school, or an application. It has been proven that employers draw negative conclusions about the applicant's discipline and perseverance from incorrect applications. Even when I use a short message service like Whatsapp for work, I have to write differently than when I am chatting.

Does that mean I make an effort in the professional environment, but it doesn't matter in my private life?

Even private messages with lots of mistakes are sometimes considered inattentive, even among young people. You think: He wrote it quickly, didn't even read it through - am I worthless?