Children write more these days than ever before, thanks to texting, Facebook, Tumblr, and whatever else they’re using that we haven’t even heard of yet. iCorrect is an add-on for Apple’s iMessage app that uses this fact to teach them better spelling and grammar. It works by not letting kids send a message until they’ve got everything right: no LOLs allowed.
I asked the app’s creators, Emily Berger, Michael Weisburd, and Heinrich Schnorf, if the ubiquitous autocorrect on our phones is ruining our spelling. “Ruining might be a stretch,” they told me. “We see autocorrect more as an unreliable crutch.”
When iCorrect is engaged by parents through iOS’s parental controls, any misspelled words or grammar mistakes will get the familiar dotted underline to warn the author. The message cannot be sent until these errors have been fixed. This is either a genius scheme to harness the endless ramblings of kids for purposes of education or the most annoying thing ever.
If the kid is stuck, they can call up a helper overlay, giving them tips to solve the problem themselves. Hopefully they won’t be trying to compose a message like “Mommy theres a stranger im scared,” because they won’t be able to send it without a little bit of polishing.
Spelling is the latest skill to be threatened by technology. We’ve already lost the ability to do anything but simple arithmetic in our heads, if the number of available tip-calculator apps is anything to go by. But are we really getting worse at writing? After all, just a couple of decades, the only writing we did was school reports. Now we’re typing all the time.
“What’s really interesting is that recent studies on the matter contradict each other. Some suggest that texting helps kids with spelling and grammar, while others argue the complete opposite,” says Weisburd. “From the conflicting studies (there’s a lot of them), we came to the conclusion that texting has the potential to improve spelling and grammar, but as of now, it’s not doing anything.”
As the team has shopped its idea around, iCorrect has gotten a lot of interest from adults. I like the idea too. You could ditch the part that stops you sending a malformed message, but I’d love to have a popover that could remind me of the difference between that and which, or to point out typos that are correctly spelled but grammatically hopeless. For instance, I know perfectly well when to use it’s vs. its, but my fingers aren’t so adept at hitting the apostrophe when they’re supposed to.
Another use is for those using and learning English as a foreign language. iCorrect could be a great teaching aid.
Unless Apple gets involved in the idea, the system-level integration the team hopes for is unlikely. And that’s probably just as well, because it would probably just drive kids to use WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger instead.
But the team is committed to bringing some for of the app to our devices. “However iCorrect finally takes shape,” they say, “we just want it to be an easily usable, highly effective and efficient tool for kids and anyone else who could benefit from using it.”