Learning to Spell From Print and Learning to Spell From Speech: A Study of Spelling of Children Who Speak Tamil, a Dravidian Language

Authored by: P. G. Aaron , R. Malatesha Joshi

Handbook of Orthography and Literacy

Print publication date:  September  2005
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780805846522
eBook ISBN: 9780203824719
Adobe ISBN: 9781136781353


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In the opening segment of this chapter, the spelling performance of children who speak Tamil, a Dravidian agglutinative language, is examined. Tamil orthography can be described as shallow because it has an almost one-to-one correspondence with pronunciation. As can be expected, Tamil-speaking children attending Grades 6 through 12 committed very few spelling errors on a dictation test. The small number of spelling errors was due to certain unique features of the phonology and morphology of the Tamil language. In the later part of the chapter, the question of whether learning English first from textbooks rather than from speech will lead to a reduced number of spelling errors is addressed. The spelling performance of a group of Tamil-speaking children who learn English first as a written language is compared with that of a group of American children who learn English first as a spoken language. It is concluded that learning English first as a written language helps children to avoid spelling errors that are dialectical in nature, but the phonology of native Tamil leads children to commit different kinds of spelling errors. It was also found that Indian children who are exposed to textbook English during the entire schoolday are better spellers of English than Indian children who are exposed to written English only for about an hour per day. The results point to the influence of both speech and print on learning to spell.

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