Spelling and Math – a Poll

I’ve always been under the impression that the students who are good at spelling are also good at math.  Something to do with analytical thinking, I surmised.

At yesterday’s great #eltchat on spelling, (see an equally great summary of the chat here!) a few teachers disagreed and thought that if there is any connection at all, it is a negative connection; great spellers were not strong math students.

It seems to me to be a good idea to enlarge the sample and throw the question out into blogosphere. I would be delighted if you could take a moment and answer these two questions:

1) Were you good at spelling when you were a child?

2) Were you good at math when you were a child?

46 thoughts on “Spelling and Math – a Poll”

  1. 1) Yes
    2) Yes

    Interesting, I’ve never thought about there being a link, but I guess it could have something to do with pattern awareness skill??

  2. Lesley!
    Thanks for being the first one to answer! That’s one for my original theory, though people thought it was the opposite during the chat. I”ll keep you posted!

  3. I was excellent at Math(s) as a child, to the point that I was in a group of one, working on a higher level book than the rest. My spelling wasn’t so good, although I was still better than most and used to finish near the top of class. In later childhood this began to switch and post-Maths A-Level (which I failed miserably) and in my adulthood I became a proficient speller (in English) and terribly slow at maths. I can’t let spelling errors go uncorrected, unless deliberately dumbing down for txt spk & twttr. This, I believe was through practice, but there has always been natural aptitude in me towards analytical thinking.

  4. 1) Yes.
    2) Not really.

    Never noticed a correlation between being good at spelling and being good at math. I consider myself a reasonably competent spelling, but my math skills have never been that sharp…

  5. Phil! Thanks for coming back and adding a “countable” answer to your very interesting comment. Your tale supports my original hypothesis regarding analytical thinking.
    Will the poll support this? Curious!

  6. Marcus!
    Thanks for taking the poll! You are the first representative of those (during the #elltchat on spelling) claimed there is a NEGATIVE correlation between spelling and math! Getting more curious by the minute!

  7. 1 Yes
    2 Yes
    though much depends on what you mean by child. I was good at maths until it got complicated (or my mind started wondering more hehe). This, I shall put at around ages 14, 15, thereabouts.

  8. Hmm … as always something to ponder over. So, first – I have always been good at maths and analytic thinking. Second, when I was at school I was a horrible speller (in Hebrew) – failing spelling tests regularly. In fact, I always got F for spelling when most of my grades were A’s and B’s. Always made me laugh. But, I outgrew it and now have no spelling problems – and not necessarily because I read so much as people often recommend, but more because I became conscientious and would check my work. Actually, I am a fierce anti-spelling advocate, believing that it gets far more attention and credit that it deserves – in other words a waste of time, teachers trying to justify its importance – because it is the easiest aspect of language to test and mark … You can automatically check a spelling test while attending a staff meeting or watching TV. Checking and correcting the structure of a student’s text or the relevance of its purpose or the underlying connections that hold it together are much more thought demanding and challenging. Rather than getting students to spell “lettuce” and “hygiene” more thought and effort should be invested in encouraging students to use a spell check AND how to review and improve their writing. Sadly, many students believe that it is their job to put words to paper and the teacher’s to mark and therefore rarely reread their work and even if they do they don’t really know how to go about correcting it!
    Phew! Your questions got me going!

  9. I have to agree with the naysayers. My daughter was able to spell almost as soon as she could read. I think she was born with the ability. However, Maths has never been her strong point 🙂
    Personally, I was a good speller too, but better at Maths than my offspring, although not fantastic either.

  10. Interesting hypothesis. I must say I’ve never come across any research about this.

    For me spelling was fine, but maths was a struggle.

    Author of ‘Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners’

  11. Posting on behalf of Dorit Renov (who was good at both):
    Here’s a link to a research on
    ” Predicting Spelling Scores from Math Scores in a
    Population of Elementary School Students with a
    Learning Disability”
    Christopher B. Wolfe

    They find a correlation between math skills and spelling: “…at low levels of spelling and arithmetic skill, such as those found in some students with a learning disability, children are accessing a similar ability to complete the tasks. ” “…the finding of a mathematics/spelling relationship lies outside reading
    skill. Scores used in this study were obtained from children who exhibited a significant reading disability and had not yet received an instructional intervention that targeted this skill. Therefore, even with little or no ability to read, a relationship exists between
    aspects of spelling and mathematics performance.”

    Interesting!!! Thank you Dorit!

  12. Adele and Chiew!
    You both support the theory, though from different ends of it. I was like Adele. For me spelling improved while math remains a painful subject. So count me as a supporter too.
    Judy, you should join us on #eltchat! You have so many interesting things to say!
    Judy and Sue – both of you don’t support the theory. Neither do you Johanna. I really appreciate you joining the discussion, Johanna.
    And just when a lack of research was mentioned, Dorit wrote with one to start things off. It must be noted though that the research deals with students with a learning disability.
    Thank you all for taking the poll – lets see where this goes!

  13. Hi Naomi,

    As I recall, I was reasonably good at spelling when I was a kid, and have always had a difficult relationship with maths. I learnt to read early, so I suppose I was good at deciphering text.

    I still have some exercise books from when I was 11, and spelling wasn’t an issue by then – what I always got grief for was my handwriting, which was either microscopic or appallingly illegible!

  14. Hi Naomi!

    What an interesting poll you have set up here : )

    I was good at spelling in both my languages (considering how late I started to learn Greek properly, I really don’t know how that happened!).

    I was also good at maths (or at least I think so), until my sophomore year in high school, when our maths teacher told me I would be better off studying languages, because (in his words) Maths was not for a dufus like me : ( It totally put me off maths!

    Interested in seeing the results of this poll!

    Best from Greece,

  15. Thanks Naomi for this interesting discussion!

    1) yes (in all languages that I studied, and they were four)
    2) no (geometry was a nightmare)

    Perhaps it depends on your first (second, third) math teacher if you are good at it or not 🙂

    Teachers here occasionally talk about some student who is brilliant at one subject (say, math) but can’t write “properly” or vice versa. No one has ever discovered any reason for this, as far as I know.
    My experience says there is no rule or regularity in this because I have taught all kinds of students – those who were excellent in both subjects, those who were great at languages but could not do math and great at math but weak at languages.
    One thing is true – if a students is good at one language, he is good in all other languages he studies.

    Looking forward to the results!

  16. 1) No
    2) Yes

    But I am Dyslexic so I don’t know if you want to take that into consideration or look at independently.

  17. 1) Yes
    2) No

    I did really well in English and languages at school, but struggled with maths and science and always needed extra help with it!

    Although I eventually managed to bring my maths up to scratch years later, it took a lot of effort. Maths really doesn’t come naturally to me and I can’t say I enjoy the subject very much, if I’m being honest.

  18. Posted on behalf of Laurie Ornstein:
    I’ve always been a good speller and always been terrible with math/arithmetic, both since I was a child.
    Laurie, I’m recording that as 1) yes 2) no

  19. Anthony, Vicky, Baiba, Chris and Sue,
    Thanks for taking part in the poll! Your replies have been recorded. The bigger the poll the more interesting the results!
    Chris, the only research found so far on the topic actually relates to students with a learning disability and does find a correlation. See in the comment above, posted by me on behalf of Dorit Renov.

  20. I was good at spelling as a little boy, but I guess it was somehow related to my reading habits. I have always enjoyed reading, so this might have affected how I spelt words in my native language (Spanish) and then when I started to learn English. I continued to read but on my second language.

    And as s boy, I was also good at solving math problems. I enjoyed the challange of getting the right answer. What I mean, my primary school teacher made the class enjoyable and memorable, and “competing” against my partners was a thrill.

  21. 1. I was a reasonably good speller, though not outstanding and to this day, there are still words that I need to look up in the dictionary (though I am very aware of the fact that I don’t remember how to spell them, so I don’t usually spell them wrong because I look them up first).

    2. I was excellent at math.

    But wouldn’t this be language-dependent? I would imagine that its easier to be a good speller in a phonetic language like Spanish than it is to be one in English. Does this skill necessarily carry over from one language to another?

  22. Posted on behalf of Sara G.:
    math – (and not arithmetic, but math..) i am / was very good in it. i do not know the multiplication tables (that is arithmetic) but did a 5 pt bagrut in math with high grades, and have a BSc in math.

    spelling – bad, in both languages. that is because of the LD / ADHD. (and that is why i can’t remember the multiplication tables, either.)

    so i don’t really see any connection, at least not for LD people.

    sara g

  23. Posted on behalf of Adi Orian:
    I have always been Excellent at spelling (both Hebrew and English) and Horrible at math (good with remembering, recollecting numbers though)

    So, does the theory collapse because of me or am I the exception to the rule?…:)

  24. I have always thought that there was a correlation between spelling and math. I was a terrible speller and even worse at math. I always asked my students who have trouble with spelling if they also have a hard time with math. More often than not, there is a connection.

  25. 1) Were you good at spelling when you were a child? No

    2) Were you good at math when you were a child? Yes

    I won the Mathematical Assn of America award at my high school in the 11th and 12th grades. My 9th grade algebra teacher put my desk in the back of the room with another desk facing it and told the class that anyone who wanted individual instruction could sit with me whenever the desk facing me was empty.

  26. Posted on behalf of Etti Dudkevitz:
    No correlation
    Kids who can’t spell have some sort of dyslexia. Many kids that are
    dyslexic are good at math

  27. Posted on behalf of Tamar Iancu:
    I was always good at spelling, but not particularly good at math. Tamar

  28. I wad not good at either until 5th or 6th grade. Then i was put ibto remedial speeling. And then i became good in math. By high school i was still struggling (and still do today) with spelling (i believe this is why forign languages were also hard) but i was in honors math classes.

    I currenly am a technology teacher but also certified as a middle school math teacher.

  29. Posted on behalf of Marjorie Rosenberg:
    I wasn’t good at math or spelling and am a visual (but not spatial) global learner.

  30. Good at spelling, although, Leo has pointed out I’m no longer good at it! LOL! Terrible at math. Always did well in math because I studied longer but it takes me about 2 hours longer to complete difficult math tasks than it does others.

  31. Very good at spelling, disastrous at Maths! Find it hard to deal with numbers at all.. Can’t remember them, can’t see patterns in them, very slow and often get numbers jumbled up. Words and pictures are my friends. But just to confound you … I can read music and play several instruments.(thought to be Maths oriented). And as a freelance writer, I specialise in science.. Writing on everything from biology and genetics to quantum physics… So would say I’m capable of logical thought. … It’s just numbers I have problems with. 🙂

  32. Yes for spelling and so so for maths. I was good at maths until they introduced the concept of fractions, which in Brazil happens really early on: I was only 8 and I couldn’t grasp it for the life of me. By the time I was 10, the penny had dropped and I became a great math student again until I was 17. I was also a very good Soroban student. But nowadays I’m ashamed to say I can’t do basic math… But I continue pretty good at spelling, which is not surprising since I work with language.

  33. 1. Yes
    2. No

    In fact, my spelling has always been so strong and my math skills so weak that I was flabbergasted to read your hypothesis!

  34. 1. YES
    2. YES

    I often ranked high in both spelling bees and math Olympics (5th place or better every year.) I find my skills are too well rounded in a world where you are expected to only excel in one, or perhaps a couple of fields. I have had a rough time choosing which to pursue as I naturally excell in Math, English, Art & Music, Philosophy, Science & Engineering, and Social Studies. I would say that the only downfall is that in both art and writing it has to be creative, and not a forced subject that I do not care for.

    1. It’s so interesting to see the interplay between skills.
      Thank you for sharing, Michael!

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