Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dyslexia - Spelling Bee


After writing the previous article this thought on spelling and phonological awareness came to my mind and led me to this article.
A spelling bee is a competition where contestants, usually children, are asked to spell English words. The concept is thought to have originated in the United States. Today, National Spelling Bee competitions for English are held in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Indonesia and India among others. Similar institutions are also found in numerous other countries such as France's "La dictée" and Poland's "Dyktando". They are rare to non-existent in countries whose national language follows more  phonetic  spelling rules, as compared to the largely historical spelling of the English and French languages. The first winner of an official spelling bee occurred in 1925 which saw Andrew Smith being the victor. (Wikipedia)

A majority of the students in a class, tested to take part in spelling bees will be knocked out in the first round. Are these children to be considered as having a deficit in phonological awareness? If not then why is it that they cannot spell to even stay in the second round?

Why don’t we have spelling bees in Malay, Romanized Mandarin and Finnish languages?

I have copied some of the words asked in the spelling bee from The Herald. You may read the whole list of words from here:

This list is only a list of some of the difficult words from the alphabet ‘A’ list.

My question is – What has phonological awareness got to do with spelling these words. If you cannot spell say 50 % of these words can I say you have a deficit in phonological awareness? Should you be considered a dyslexic?

Abattoir is a slaughterhouse.

Abeyant means temporarily suspended.

Acquiesce means to comply or submit.

Aerogramme is a pre-stamped, lightweight paper that folds into its own envelope.

Afrikaans is an official language of South Africa.

Amethyst is a purple quartz, used as a gem.

Anathematize means to denounce or to curse.

Androgynous means being both male and female.

Ankh is an Egyptian cross used as a symbol of enduring life.

Anopheles is a malaria-causing mosquito.

Apartheid a rigid policy of segregation in South Africa.

Appaloosa is a hardy breed of riding horse.

Aqueous is of or pertaining to water, watery.

Armoire is a large wardrobe or movable cupboard.

Arrhythmia is any interruption in the heartbeat.

Ascetic is a person who practices self-denial for religious reasons.

Aurochs is a black European wild ox, extinct since 1627.

Autocephalous is a bishop subordinate to no superior authority.

Avuncular pertains to an uncle.

Azimuth is the angle of horizontal deviation of a bearing from a standard direction.


John Aquino said...

Many words in English borrow from other languages. The capacity to memorize all those exceptions to the rule seems to be what is tested in these spelling bee's.

Luqman Michel said...

Yes, John you are right. This is additional burden for a dyslexic who already has other problems to deal with.
We don't have such a problem in Malay and Romanised Mandarin nor in the Finnish language.

Unknown said...

Hi Michel:

I want to thank you for your hard work and wisdom. Your ideas have been fresh and interesting. For many years I have struggled because of my dyslexia. It has had a profound affects on the kind of work I do, on how I have had to approach what I do, on the way I see myself and on who would become friends. School had labelled me a lazy, stupid, and sloppy because I was not able to spell. I was kicked out of university 30 years ago when the university found out I was dyslexic, “university is only for the best and brightest”, which meant it cost me my carrier of choice.

People like you give us hope that a new generation will, maybe get the choice I never had. Your pedagogy and your willingness to share it is a gift that I hope will inspire many. You have inspired me.

I have worried and watched my two children grow with fear and trepidation in my heart. Will they be dyslexic too? Will I have the patients and the wisdom to help them if they show signs of dyslexia? I am happy to say there is no sign that they are so afflicted. Instead I am honestly inspired and amazed to see them pick up and learn what I so struggled with. Through their success I will succeed vicariously.

I had been aware of the notion promulgated by special ed teachers that the dyslexic are “phonologically unaware.” The notion has infuriated me for years. But I was a lone voice in the wilderness, I was also dyslexic ergo dumb. When you said it, there was a cry from out in the wilderness “holly crap! Someone smart has come to the same conclusion!”

I loved your description of English as “phonetically inconsistent.” You hit it on the head. The words I used for years were “the most illogical, stupid language.” You have said it much more succinctly and descriptively.

Unknown said...

I believe that the best solution to many problems end up being rather elegant.

To be a little outrageous let me use the analogy of how to kill a mosquito. Many years ago people where bothered by mosquitoes. Nobody new what to do. At one point a council was called of the elders. The wise gathered around the camp fire and discussions went on all night. As dawn was nearing one man said he once dropped a bolder and found it had crushed a mosquito. That day the elders got together and started dropping boulders on unsuspecting mosquitoes. It seemed to work and so it became the procedure that some big guy in every village was designated as mosquito exterminator and it was his job to go and kill mosquitoes. Well unfortunately there where a lot of burses, some crushed limbs and the occasional death. Hey they did have a solution. One day someone was particularly bothered but there was no mosquito exterminator near by so she grabbed a near by rock and crushed the mosquitoes. This was reported to the council. They visited the women scolded her. She showed others what she did and some of them took up rocks and did the same. Well there where well paid mosquito exterminator and councillors that had reputations to preserve. Resistance to the new idea was strong but some people practiced the new technique. Eventually the elders died off and people with crushed limbs hated the exterminators. So another council was called. The small rock was adopted and before you knew it exterminators where equipped with their own personalized and monographed hand held mosquito crushers. Now there where no more deaths the occasional fracture, and lots of small bruises. One day someone found that a simple smack of the hand resolved the problem and nobody had to know. This was adopted by the masses. For years the mosquito crushers carried on there work. But some years later the last mosquito crusher died quietly in his sleep. Today we all just smack the mosquitoes and the grand history of the original mosquito exterminators and grand council is lost.

Well folks we have survived the first generation of dyslexia exterminators. The second generation, the “phonological unaware” generation and there great councils are now in power. I wait for that generation to leave the stage.

I am a strong believer that the “elastic brain” is where the ultimate answer lay. Within the circuitry of the brain, the very brain that is dyslexic lay a solution. Somewhere along the line research will show that a few carefully designed exercises will set up a cascade of events that will rewire the brain. I believe that your work, your exercises hint at it.

I hope that someday public pressure and intelligence will lead to a rationalization of English and French.

Thank you, thank you and thank you my friend.

Luqman Michel said...

John, my eyes became moist reading your comment. Thank you. It is comments like your that makes all my work on this blog worth while. I have said from the time I read your first comment that you are an intelligent man. If only you had a good teacher you would have gone places. But now you are a good teacher to your children and that is all that is important. Let us look forward and do what we can to make the world a little better for the future generation.

Yes, I am now devoting my time writing to which ever site I can to spread my theory on 'phonological awareness'. I have written to many professors who have written on this topic but hardly anyone responds. I am happy to say that Reading Horizon has placed my url in their article.

The professors have their their egos to nurse and will not respond but the next generation will probably look into this over 30 years theory on phonological awareness deficit being the problem for dyslexics and discard it.

Luqman Michel said...

Your analogy on how to kill a mosquito is excellent and this is what I have been facing all this while. I have written to many organisations and they don't respond because of vested interest. I have said this many times in my blog. These people will be glad that I am about to stop my blog.

Researchers just quote previous researchers without questioning. I made a comment in a blog where a professor had written on phonological awareness and under pressure (because my comment was approved by the blog owner) she came out and said that she had quoted Sharon Vaugn. I wrote to Sharon and she responded to my first e-mail but did not reply when I questioned her on phonological awareness deficit.She too must have just copied it from some where in the internet.

You may read my comment and the professors response here:

Valrie said...


NO! "I have said this many times in my blog. These people will be glad that I am about to stop my blog." You have got to be kidding right? My students are reading your blog too! DO not stop blogging.
You are right many people cut copy and [paste, some do not even cite sources. The reseacrh should be vaildated and retraceable and not made to fit. I am so tired of the pomposity of researchers and people who have earned doctorates disregarding the research of those with a lesser title!

Truly educated people does not mean a degree in hand, it means being educated through a wide variety of means. Scholarly reading and reseaarch does not in my opinion have to be accompanied by a degreee.

YOur reseach is meaningful, insightful, and our BOOK we will PUBLISH!

Hugs and Love from America

Valrie A. Verhoeven
CEO Founder The Reading Doctor LLC
Ed.D. in progress 2011 Argosy 4.00
MSE Reading Specilaist 4.00 GPA
Elmira College
BA English & General Literature SUNY Binghamton,

Luqman Michel said...

Thank you Valrie for your kind words.By now I hope I have made a few people think about the erroneous definition that dyslexics have a phonological awareness deficit.

I gave myself a year to blog and it is about coming to an end. I am now very busy writing to researchers and commenting on articles in the internet.

Yes, let us get our book done soon.