One of the primary tasks someone with literacy difficulties or dyslexia wants their software to do is check their spelling. So you might expect that, as an Assistive Technologist, I get asked the question “Which is the best spell checking software?” a lot. However, despite the prevalence of students with literacy difficulties and the many software titles which claim to assist them, I very rarely get asked this question. I suspect this is because people assume it will be one of the dominant software titles such as Read&Write or ClaroRead.
If someone was to ask me now the answer wouldn’t be a piece of software, it would be a cloud service. And the answer is: Google Docs.
It seems to me that currently the best spell checker is Google. The reason for this is the amount of data on spelling Google possesses. This data comes from all of the web pages and documents it indexes and also from the mistakes its millions of users make when searching. When you mis-type a word into Google, it asks you “Did you mean..?” and you accept the correction, that’s all more spelling data.
When you use Google Docs, the ‘engine’ which is checking your spelling is the same as the one checking your search and therefore accessing all that data. Also because it is internet based, there is no need to wait for the next software update so that the spell checker’s dictionary can be updated. New words, names and phrases have been provided by the internet publishers and users..
One of the other reasons Google’s spell checking is so powerful is that it works on the context, not just the individual word. There are other spell checkers which do this and also collate spelling errors from real users. However they can’t possibly compete with the sheer magnitude of spelling and context data Google continuously collect.
Another reason people use checking software is to have their text read out to them. Texthelp have provided a great (and free) way to do this in Google docs. The Read and Write app for Google docs has decent text to speech along with a dictionary, picture dictionary and highlight collector tool.
I’ve not run extensive tests comparing on Google docs with other spellchecking software, but in my (and others) limited tests Google puts other spellcheckers to shame.
What I’d like to do is start a conversation about this. I want to know why people should pay for spellchecking which is seemingly inferior to something they can get for free?