Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Arabic Spelling: Errors, Perceptions, and Strategies

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Arabic Spelling: Errors, Perceptions, and Strategies

Article excerpt

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Introduction

In the field of second language acquisition, the question of how best to teach and learn languages is one of great debate. Ultimately, developing proficiency in a second or foreign language is a long and arduous task that continues to be approached in a variety of ways. Considered holistically, communication as defined by the ACTFL World-Readiness Standards (ACTFL, 2015) has been viewed as consisting of three interrelated modes: interpersonal communication (listening and speaking or realtime reading and writing), interpretive communication (listening and reading), and presentational communication (speaking and writing). In addition to considering these modes, research attention has also been given to learners' developing mastery of the subskills of speaking, listening, writing, and reading, as well as to other aspects of language development including grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and spelling. However, since the ultimate goal for the majority of language learners is developing a high level of global proficiency particularly in the oral and written modes, researchers have sometimes seen grammar, pronunciation, and spelling as secondary skills and have allocated to them more limited instructional time and emphasis (Brown, 2007). With respect to spelling in particular, why should anyone, they apparently reason, bother to teach how to spell if linguistic software resources exist that can correct spelling automatically (see also Cekaite, 2009).

However, in both students' first language (L1) and second language (L2), spelling is central to reading and writing, to the acquisition of new vocabulary, and to pronunciation. In addition, correct spelling is a critical element, particularly as learners advance toward higher levels of proficiency in writing where greater accuracy is required (ACTFL, 2012). Whereas accurate spelling is perceived to be a significant factor in improving the quality of written texts (Puranik, Al Otaiba, Folsom, & Gruelich, 2012), spelling errors, which can occur due to graphic or sound confusion, negatively influence the message that writers intend to convey in both L1 and L2 (Wilcox, Yagelski, & Yu, 2013) and negatively affect writers' perceptions of their writing ability (Kreiner, Schnakenberg, Green, Costello, & McLin, 2002). Furthermore, writers who need to consider how to spell a word during the cognitive activity of writing will eventually lose track of their thoughts, word choice, and organization. In other words, writers focus their attention on form rather than on meaning (ACTFL, 2012). In addition, poor spelling ability can restrict those writers' verbal power as they choose words that they can spell correctly rather than more sophisticated ones that convey meaning in a more nuanced manner but that they are not sure how to spell (Simosen & Gunter, 2001). Furthermore, to be successful in using the language for an increasing range of purposes and in a range of styles, students still need to write accurately (Brown, 2007; Smith & Elley, 1997): Members of literate societies expect that educated people use that language accurately and appropriately in both the oral and written modes, and spelling errors are often equated with a lack of education, ignorance, or incompetence. Simply put, being able to spell correctly is expected of any functioning member of society.

The conclusion is clear: Spelling is the mortar that enables foreign language students to fully understand the structure of words, recognize their meanings, and learn their accurate pronunciation (Joshi, Treiman, Carreker, & Moats, 2008), thus making written communication both easier and more powerful for effective spellers. However, unlike acquiring the mother tongue, learning vocabulary in an L2 entails the learning of the meaning, pronunciation, and spelling of new words essentially simultaneously so as to support communication in both the oral and written modes. …

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