I know that many people may avoid the public eye out of embarrassment or fear of speaking in front of a crowd. That is not a big issue for me; what I really dread is writing live for the public, and not because I’m not good at writing – I totally am – but because my spelling is D-.
I’m going to start by hypothesizing that this conundrum comes from my relationship with my mother tongue, Spanish.
For me, grammar and spelling correctors are paramount helpers – sort of glasses for my brain – when I sit down to write. This is something that several years ago, I would not dare saying out loud.
The younger me would be sad and down when a reader remarked my mistakes, even if they were trying to help. Back then I had not accepted, let alone embraced this flaw. One reason for that, was that I knew popular belief had it that spelling difficulties came from poor reading habits and/or low academic formation, if not plain lack of intelligence. But let me elaborate a bit more about me for context.
I grew up in a family of educators. My parents worked as primary school teachers so of course for them, particularly for my mother, it was very important to teach their students and of course her own children to read and write correctly.
From the moment my siblings and I began to write and read, my mom began her crusade to make us understand what we read. She taught us not to stick to a single source in order to understand a topic, to question and to contrast information, because a teacher or author can always make mistakes or lie.
My relationship with handwriting was a Greek drama. The everlasting writing exercises of hundred or repetitions of words to learn spelling was almost a torture for me and the results were really poor.
When I came to 3rd grade, my teacher was more interested in her eyelashes, literally, than in explaining anything to us. My mother was not ready to let me lose my time or her patience with someone who only cared for her paycheck, and made the decision to move me to home school for the next 6 months.
I remember those days as if they were yesterday. Every text I read, no matter the topic, was a lesson of reading comprehension. My mom corrected even my pauses and at the end, she asked me to use my own words to explain what I just read. The rule was: don’t repeat the author’s words if you can’t understand them. In those 6 months, and only spending my mom’s “spare time”, together with the radio education audio-guides that we borrowed from a cousin who lived in the countryside, she ended up teaching me everything I had to learn in 3rd grade. She even had time to give me all the content of 4th grade, just so I had plenty to do before I was back in school again.
As a teacher, my mom worked at school half time, and the rest of the day she was a homemaker, wife, mother of three, home school teacher and student, as she was getting a major in education.
My mom made such a good work, that I just spent one week in 4th grade when I returned to school before I was sent directly to 5th grade, jumping straight to the last lap of elementary school.
Oftentimes, my mistakes faced this reaction: – “You should know this, as it’s taught in 4th grade”. And I would go like “that’s true, and that’s why I don’t know it, since I skipped 4th grade”. Obviously, it was just an excuse. I learned it, but that knowledge wound up in one of those lost and found boxes in the back of my mind, where that my conscious mind cannot reach.
When I got in sixth grade, at 10 years old in a female institute owned by a religious community. Things got even more complicated then, because I was the youngest student in my class; a little fish in a big pond. I used to spend my spare time reading in the library where I loved to read about mythology and creepy stories that I would tell my sister later at home as bedtime stories… Sis, if you read this, I have an apology for you: I know you had nightmares, and I might be one to blame for that.
I hope my point came across already: I liked a lot to read, and not only when I was a kid. When I was at my grandparent’s country house, I used to binge read the Readers’ Digest Selections and sacred history books they kept there. Well, I also watched a lot of TV but that’s a topic for other day.
You would be forgiven to think that all that reading made school a breeze and improved my spelling. Well, no. I read a lot but did not write enough. My class notes were mostly doodles that I scribbled while my teacher spoke. That made my Spanish teacher go ballistic about; he would confiscate the notepad and my bag of implements to stop me from keeping on doodling.
Language therapy was in order and that at least helped me to see the difference between ‘a’ and ‘o’. most of the time. My handwriting was a disaster back then, just like it is today. My personal ‘font’ is a midway between imprint and cursive and it is usually quite small. In my school notes, I was able to fit on a page, what others would need three pages for.
Back in 1996, nobody would have guessed that the 15 years old me, with disaster spelling, poor skill in technical drawing and difficulty to learn English, would someday make a living out of those abilities. Now you can stop running the numbers, I will disclose my age in the next paragraph.
Today, at 41, I am a graphic designer, UX specialist, moviemaker and script supervisor. As you may correctly assume, I will provide suggestions about the story, but don’t hold your breath waiting for me to make a spelling correction. I also edit videos, write blogs and lecture occasionally, something I enjoy as I am quite comfortable with professional and business talk.
I can also say that I am an accomplished professional, as several of the projects I have participated in, have received honors. In my list, I have 2 little statues, awarded in the most important film festival in Colombia, along with honorable mentions on works completed during my university time.
Having bad spelling, has not been an obstacle to follow my parents’ footsteps; At 21, I was an undergraduate teacher, collaborated in the creation of educational scripts, and – who would have thought – learned English. Not perfect but functional. Thanks to it, I can talk with friends around the world, and blog for my readers, notwithstanding with the ineffable assistance of Google translator, Grammarly and my siblings Laura and Manuel, who lend me a hand checking my texts to make sure they are stylish and nice!
The last few lines may look like self-aggrandizing or vanity, but there is a point to them. I want to convey that while my spelling was a source of shame an insecurity in my life, and caused some people to distrust my skills, there were always those who saw the value of my work behind the flaws and gave me the chance to shine doing what I love. This is something that will always make me feel gratitude with each one of them.
I learned that I am not alone and that I don’t need to be perfect. I have a family, friends, and coworkers with good spelling who have been by my side to help me. This is a good opportunity to shout out to my best friend, Miss X, who I met in first year of Graphic Design – when we both were only 16. She took pity of me, and made a point to help me out with my fine motor skills, which were rather rough around the edges… and of course with my shortcomings with spelling. She took on the job of correcting all the works we made together, and she inspired me to start learning other languages.
Anyone who knows me or works with me, has heard that anything I write – if needs to be published – has to be spellchecked. I also always say to my clients, that they need to doublecheck the text that they send to me, because I will use it exactly as I receive it.
I did not intend this writeup as a subversive text against correct spelling, nor I try to lessen the importance of learning to write. If I had a better spelling, I’m sure my life would be easier, but alas, I lack of that sense. In exchange, I believe that I have great judgement of storytelling so I am quite proficient helping others to improve their texts; since I provide professional criticism, I learned to take criticism without problem and with gratitude. I never get mad by helpful advice, but I get annoyed every time a random self-proclaimed proofreader, use my mistakes to mock my opinion or to invalid my point of view.
Faced with the vicious confrontations on social media between the ones who disregard spelling and those who correct everyone with or without real knowledge, I decided to embrace my defect, making me care less and less every time someone tries to take authority away from me or to judge my intelligence or based on how I put letters together.
Today, candidly unafraid of the swarm of red lines under my digital words, I enjoy writing, filled with patience, because I know, once I finish bursting all the ideas that my – hardly ever restful – mind wants to throw on the paper, I will have to proofread, decipher, correct, rinse and repeat multiple times. I will apply all of the suggestions that Word kindly offer me and know from the bottom of my heart, that some words will be wrong and make it to the eyes of my readers. Then I will feel blessed for all the people who will help me clean and beautify – with the nicest attitude – my disaster Spelling.