Everyday Life · General Thoughts · Words · Writing

My Inability to Spell Doesn’t Mean I’m Stupid

As you can probably guess from the title up there, I can’t spell. Like, I can’t. I’m awful at it. If it weren’t for the wonders of spellcheck, this post would be riddled with various errors that I would never, ever notice.

You’d be amazed how many people have tried to call me a moron for this.

People, people, I’m telling you now: trouble spelling has nothing to do with intelligence. Period.

IMG_2810When I was a kid, every teacher from first grade on was baffled that I couldn’t spell. “She reads so much; why can’t she manage this?” they’d ask my parents at every conference. After all, I saw the words a thousand-billion times in context; why couldn’t I just spell the darn things?

Yet I couldn’t. My dad likes to recall the short story I wrote in third grade, where I spelled “raccoon” no less than three different ways, none of them correct–even though I’d gone through the trouble of looking up the word in the dictionary, just as the teacher told me to do. Looked it up, got it wrong, and never noticed. Not even once. Not even as I miss-copied my own error.

My teachers were concerned, my parents were confused, and even I didn’t get it. All through school, my spelling continued to be awful. Inconsistently awful. If asked to spell most common words, I could do it correctly if I didn’t think about it, but the second I thought, I got it wrong. If I had to write anything, I got it wrong. Consult a word and copy it out, wrong, wrong, wrong.

IMG_2810 (2)Readers, my gentle readers, I’m not dumb. If you’ve read my blog posts, you know this; if you’ve met me, you really know it. I’m 36-ACT-in-reading not dumb. And yet all my life my spelling has been used against me. I’ve tried to fix it–trust me, being called stupid because I can’t spell “intelligent” on the first try rubs pretty hard the wrong way–yet I’ve never been able to. And I couldn’t understand why.

And then I started studying Japanese. Turns out, I have a fifty-fifty chance of reversing most of my kanji (those are the characters). As in, writing them backwards.


In fact, once I started analyzing my spelling mistakes, they were all phonetic mistakes–places where Es and Is sound the same, where S can be Z and C can be K. Or where two Ls blended into one, or similar-looking vowels hang out together.


Looking back on my education, I went from not reading to smack, reading, in the space of a week or two. No phonics, ever. But once I started teaching phonics to kids learning English as a foreign language, focusing on intensive pronunciation work and plenty of repetition with a huge emphasis on correct formation of letters, my spelling improved. Not markedly, but some.


And remember those copying mistakes? Back in high school, I had a problem in math class one unit not with the math, but with an extremely long series of simple multiplication problems. I’d repeat the problem, repeat it and repeat it, only to come out with different answers every time because I was miss-copying the numbers.

And the clincher? I can’t tell left from right. I use my fingers, every. Single. Time.

I’m not asking for sympathy here; I’m making a statement, and with that, a request.

Inability to spell has no correlation with intelligence, just as a lack of small motor skills doesn’t mean someone isn’t creative, or an inability to play sports doesn’t indicate that they can’t cooperate with others. The two skills are not linked.

Therefore I’m asking you not to automatically call people who can’t spell “stupid.” We might be, we might not be, but a mix-up of vowels is not how you’ll know.

Though if you point our mistakes out enough, you might just learn how many of us have tempers.

Or how many of us have been spending a long time hiding our shameful weaknesses, our vulnerable points, the chinks in our armor that are so easy to target.

Just sayin’.

IMG_2810 (3)As an adult who writes all day long, I still can’t spell plenty of words on the first try, but I don’t sweat it anymore. Anything I write that gets seen by other people is done on a computer or phone; worst comes to worst, I blame auto-correct and move on, no harm done. And every once in a while, I see that little red line wiggle across my screen enough times that I go out of my way to memorize the spelling of a word.

Sometimes, it even works.

What does it all mean? Should I armchair diagnose myself and ask you to accept it? I could, but that’s probably not useful, especially since I’ve come to the point where these troubles don’t overly impact my life. My once-frantic dashes to memorize my spelling lists are long over, and I don’t do long arithmetic problems on paper these days. In short, I’ve learned to compensate.

Really, my problems only show up in force in other languages, and that’s where everyone’s small learning troubles are magnified five-fold. Now that I don’t have to use a second language every day, it’s fine. I’m fine.

In fact, you might never know I have this trouble so long as you don’t ask me to suddenly turn while driving. You’d be amazed how many times I’ve heeded a desperate cry of, “Left! Left!” by quickly and efficiently turning right. What can I say, I can’t make the little L signs with my fingers when they’re holding a steering wheel. Just point the way and we’ll get along fine.

Are any of you poor spellers? Have you dealt with others with similar struggles in a second language only to realize that’s something you had difficulty with as a child in your first language? Please share below!




15 thoughts on “My Inability to Spell Doesn’t Mean I’m Stupid

  1. Hi there! Can I congratulate you on learning another language, here? That is extremely hard! I really admire people who manage it! You sound like a dyslexic, as I’m sure you’re aware. Though it also seems you’ve never been formally diagnosed. 🙂 I also have issues with right and left. I once completed a painting in reverse without noticing I’d done it. I wish I could have money for all the times I’ve been insulted, rejected, told I don’t belong, laughed at, someone had tried to get me to drop school, or had illegal actions taken against me at whatever job I’d been doing / trying to do, because someone found out I’m dyslexic. I’d have tidy nest-egg!

    I just want to remind everyone that dyslexics are, at core, creative thinkers. This is in case people haven’t seen / heard Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘David & Goliath’, which does a respectable job talking about the pain and power of dyslexics. It takes creativity to build strategies and coping mechanisms around a touchstone skill that’s a benchmark of humanity in the Western world – whether you can read or not.

    In any case, being dyslexic simply means that there are different methods involved in learning reading and writing, and a different amount of effort expended when using language. It doesn’t mean that person will never master reading and writing. Just that it will be harder, especially at first. What it *really doesn’t mean* is that the dyslexic you’re speaking to is stupid. (This logic works the same for dyscalculia too, in case your number issues fall on that range.)

    Dyslexic or not, there are ways around spelling issues. Thankfully, spell checkers don’t discriminate. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds like you’ve had a pretty tough time; I’m sorry to hear that. I used to work with a few kids who were learning English as a second language who were very dyslexic, and seeing them try to cope with those troubles in both English and Japanese was eye-opening. Yet their perseverance will, I hope, help them in their later life to surmount challenges to come.

      I do think I am dyslexic; however, I’m at the less-troubled end of the scale, so reading through lists of ‘warning signs’ is something I do more as a way to understand why I do what I do than pursue a diagnoses to help me address it. Really, spelling is my only “major” symptom that was ever picked up. I can remember hating to write by hand for years, and how difficult typing was to learn, but reading has always been a favorite activity that I’ve excelled at. Though I do substitute words sometimes.

      Yet when I began learning Japanese, I was thrown back to square one. I still have to stop and think if I want to talk about today vs. yesterday, over vs. under, in front of vs. next to, though those were some of the first concepts I studied. I still am nearly illiterate in it, despite years of study. The trouble I didn’t have in English showed up there in force, and the censure that came with it.

      That’s part of the reason I made one of the main characters in my novel dyslexic. I wanted to explore the difficulties of every day growing-up as nuanced by this extra hurdle. Sometimes it makes for funny situations, like when the speech-to-text app on his phone auto-corrects him awkwardly without him realizing; other times, my character has to deal with shame and anger for needing to be told “your other left” for the third time. Or being called stupid, or being baited about his reading abilities, or any of the myriad situations that can be everyday life. At the end of the day, it’s just part of who he is, like anything else.

      Thanks for taking the time to read my post and respond to it, I really appreciate it. I’m glad I struck a cord, even from my limited perspective.


      1. Oh! Lol! Yes. I understand, I think a lot of what you’re talking about. I have no basis for learning Japanese, sadly. I’ve not tried to learn another language, having had enough challenges with my own. Lol! It’s odd to run into dyslexics in books, in fact. It’s even more unusual to find dyscalculics (though Marvel’s X-Men once stated that one of their mutants, Jubilee, was dyscalculic, surprisingly enough).

        I’ve compensated for my dyslexia about as much as anyone could, but I have had years of experiences like your character is experiencing. This includes people calling me a liar when I said I wrote my own resume. When your life is deeply impacted like that, it’s memorable. Your character can learn to hide all he likes, but, depending on what he’s endured, that won’t help with any buried anger he might carry.

        When did you publish your book, can I ask? And what is it called?

        Liked by 2 people

        1. My book is called “A Better Man,” and it’s the first in a trilogy. It’ll be coming out this winter, though the exact date isn’t decided yet, as it’s still in the middle of copy-editing. But if you sign up for the newsletter, you’ll hear all about it! (Though heaven knows I’ll be posting plenty here about it. No one will escape this, ha ha.)

          Definitely everything you said about hiding weaknesses. I’m still sensitive about my spelling; there’s no way to stop those feelings when something intrinsic to you is looked down on or made fun of. Though enough resumes are written by someone else that that seems an especially ironic thing for someone to get angry at you about.

          Yeah, I haven’t seen a lot of dyslexic characters either. Actually, I can’t recall reading about any as a kid, now that I think of it. Or an adult. Unless it was a throwaway detail or something like that, usually played for laughs. Though I did read an amazing fanfic where Hermione was dyslexic, hence her academic overcompensation at Hogwarts. Can’t remember anything except it was fascinating–and made a lot of sense.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Oh, I like that “No one will escape this!” So I’m following you here on WordPress, please feel free to drop in any time with updates on your book. 🙂 Also, good luck!

            Keep your chin up when your run into the occasional person who just can’t get through a day without making someone disabled free like an outcast. These people are rare. The majority of people are civil. 🙂

            And I’m fascinated that you read fanfic — how cool is that?!

            Liked by 1 person

        2. I don’t have dyslexia, but I have always had trouble remembering what I read or learned. If I don’t leave a review right after reading a book and I don’t read the whole series at once, I won’t remember it unless something amazing happened. It is so frustrating. Because I have several authors I would love to follow, I just can’t remember the series titles I’m also not stupid, just don’t have much of a memory and none of the memory aids they teach you in school way back when (grad of 1973), never worked. I never tested well. What is the title of this book, sounds interesting.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. You mean my book? Those are the Saint Flahety books linked on the side bar. Since I wrote this post there was a title change, so you’re looking for What Boys Are Made Of. Simon is the dyslexic character, which the third book in the series gets into a bit more.


    2. I can’t spell very good people make fun of me all the time I graduated high school and have a college degree in animal science my ex-boyfriend called me retarded and makes fun of me so does his new girlfriend someone I love all my heart near and dear to me call me the same thing i’ve learned to except it I try really hard but I just can’t spell


    3. Wow, do you always assume that everyone under 65 grew up with a smart phone? They came out in 2007. Texting is not allowed in classrooms. First language learning and second language learning are not connected in that way. This post is about a learning disability, not laziness. Please attempt to connect with the real world before condescendingly commenting on blog posts from two years ago.


  2. Many people have spelling problems, including me. Like you, if not for spell check my blog would be a mess. I have a problem with seeing my errors in punctuation, spelling, and I leave words out and can’t see I have left them out. When I first started my blog, I tried so very hard, laboring over the post and I still do. Each post is labor of love which takes me days to complete. After the blog had been up about 6 mos, someone posted a scalding comment statementing the blog was rife with spelling, punctuation, etc errors, I knew nothing in regard to composition, and some other awful comments. I had read and read each post so many times, and still they were awful. Now I let the post get cold before I publish and I find some errors that way, then sometimes not, months later I can still correct my posts. so I know what you mean. I am not dumb, or stupid, or inferior to the rest of the world, I am just different. I love blogging, and try my best and that is all anyone can ask of us. I am at peace with my talent or lack of, resting in the knowledge God made me as I am for a reason.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello, Vera! I think that’s really how we have to look at it–this is how our brains are made, and we can find work-arounds as much as possible, but at the end of the day we are what we are.

      Like you, I have a long system of checks to find errors, but all my books go through some pretty heavy editing before seeing the light of day, otherwise there’s more than a few mistakes in them. That means my Amazon comments won’t be filled with “too may mistakes” complaints. But on the blog, it’s all me. Luckily, folks have been kind. Sorry to hear someone was so rude!


  3. I don’t have that much trouble with spelling (although I’m especially horrible with compound and hyphenated words), but the right and left thing…yeah, I have that, and it is extremely frustrating. It used to embarrass me, but now, everyone just knows to point. I’m grateful that I can look at the phone screen when I’m using my GPS, that’s for sure! The worst was marching band in high school and college. We had these “drill downs” where the drum major would call out moves as we marched down the field, and we had to do whatever was called in the next two to four steps. I had to spend the entire time thinking “left” every time I stepped with my left foot so I’d know which way to turn. I HATED drill downs.

    Liked by 1 person

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