Jan. 24th, 2009

A few years ago, my youngest brother was visiting me, and as we were driving somewhere, I asked him to read the street signs while we passed them, as I wasn't sure exactly how to get where we were going.

He wasn't able to do it - he would see a sign with the word "Figaro" on it, and what would come out was "Finster". The first time, I just looked at him and said "um, *Figaro*" and he replied "sorry, Figaro". But it kept happening. So I started asking him to read signs on building and storefronts. More often than not, if it was an unfamiliar company name, he would just say a word that started with the same letter.

Eventually he got frustrated, and we moved on to another topic. But it bugged me, because my brother is *not* illiterate - reading is one of his favourite things to do, and when he was in grade 2, he was reading at a grade 7 level - his vocabulary is astounding even now. He has ADHD and has been diagnosed with Asperger's so school was hard for him - I basically figured somewhere along the line he was never taught how to sound out new words - and it's true his spelling is atrocious.

Talking to my mom tonight, I mentioned this - and she told me that she's the same way - unless someone tells her how to say the word when she is reading it, she can't figure out how to say it. And when she's writing, a lot of the time, there will be words she knows and wants to use, but she has no idea how to spell them - not even well enough to get a spell checker to figure it out.

I've always assumed that "not being able to spell" was something that just meant you forgot how to spell a word here and there - not that literally, there are words for which you know the definition, and use in daily conversation, that you cannot spell.

For my mom and my brother, they literally cannot spell all of the words they know and use in conversation.

This is a whole new concept to me - aside from a handful of words where I don't always remember if there are 2 L's or one, or if its an S or a C - I can spell every word I know, and can make a reasonable attempt at pronouncing a word I've never seen before. I assumed everyone was like that - if you know a word, it means you know how to spell it.

I'm apparently wrong.

My mom reminded me - for years in our house, she would talk about "Canoe Reeves" - the actor. And when she was telling me about how she was out of "Skidoo puzzles" - we laughed, because she knows that's not right, but these are words she'd only ever seen written, and hadn't connected them to the verbal sound.

If you're reading this - how do you learn words?


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