Advanced Spell Checkers

CALL Scotland
University of Edinburgh, Paterson’s Land,
Holyrood Road, Edinburgh EH8 8AQ
Copyright © CALL Scotland 2012 www.callscotland.org.uk
Advanced Spellcheckers
For a number of years, most word processors and writing programs have had built-in spellcheckers which highlight and offer suggestions for incorrectly spelled words. CALL carried out a detailed comparison of many of these spellcheckers in Supportive Writing Technology1 in 1999. At the time, an ‘average’ spellchecker would offer a ‘correct’ suggestion for around 60% of spelling mistakes in a document. Most spellcheckers struggled to
cope with ‘real word errors’ (where the incorrect spelling matched that of a ‘real’ word), and phonetic spelling, particularly where the spelling became quite bizarre.
Recent Developments
Over the past decade, most standard spellcheckers have improved, but they still struggle with ‘unusual’ and ‘dyslexic’ spellings, such as letter reversals. A number of new dedicated spelling correction tools have been developed to provide more advanced support. Ghotit and Ginger are online spelling support tools that have been designed to find and correct many of the spelling errors that are missed by standard spellcheckers. They operate in a similar
fashion by extracting and analysing individual sentences from a piece of text, allowing misspellings to be corrected based on context, but there are significant differences. Oribi VeriSpell comes on a CD and does not require an internet connection. It works in conjunction with most word processors and looks like a more ‘traditional’ spellchecker, with a box containing options for the questionable word.
Ghotit
Ghotit is an online contextual grammar and spelling checker, available from www.ghotit.com in two versions, a free ‘box’ on the web site into which text can be pasted and checked, and a plug-in that can be used with Microsoft Word, which can be purchased on either a ‘monthly’ or ‘lifetime’ basis. The free, web-based version, highlights possible ‘real word’ errors in blue and words that it does not recognise in red and provides alternatives with dictionary definitions, but without text-to-speech support.
Most of this discussion focuses on the plug-in for Word, though it should be noted that the two versions sometimes come up with different suggestions for questionable words.
When you install and register the Ghotit plug-in for Word, you will find that it adds a new Ghotit icon to your toolbar (Word 2003), or to the Add-ins (later versions of Word).
Advanced Spellcheckers Compared: Quick Guide
Ghotit, Ginger and Oribi VeriSpell
The web-based version of Ghotit.
Note that even after you download and install the plug-in, your computer MUST be connected to the internet in order to use Ghotit.
Place your cursor in the Word document at the start of the text that you wish to check and click on the Ghotit icon, or press the F7 function key.
The user can click on each of the questionable words in turn to see a number of choices, each of which has a definition. There is text-to-speech support to help the user choose the word they want. Ghotit always offers the incorrect spelling as first choice in the list that it offers. This might suit good spellers, for whom an unrecognised word is likely to be a ‘real’ word, e.g. a foreign name, that isn’t in the Ghotit dictionary, but is less helpful for people who make many spelling mistakes. We would have preferred a more definite break, e.g. a line, between the unrecognised word and the 1st suggestion for a corrected spelling, which is actually the second word on the Ghotit list.
Ginger
Ginger is an online contextual grammar and spelling checker that looks very similar to Ghotit. It is available from www.gingersoft.com. As with Ghotit, it is possible to use a box on the web site to check individual sentences and there are also two downloadable versions, the fully functional Premium version and a free version, which does not include a text-to-speech facility. Ginger can be used with Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, Outlook, Internet Explorer,
Firefox and Chrome. Ghotit transfers the sentence under consideration in the Word document to a window at the top of the screen. Ghotit provides a list of alternatives for each ‘questionable’ word, with definitions and a text-to-speech facility.
The web-based version of Ginger.
When you install and run Ginger it places a green drop-down tab at the top of the screen, and also a small icon – confusingly similar to the ‘Safely Remove Hardware’ icon – in the system tray at the bottom right of the screen. If your currently active application can use Ginger, the tab at the top of the screen becomes visible. Place your cursor in the text that you wish to check and either click on the tab, or press the F2 function key. Like Ghotit, Ginger transfers the text that is being checked to a window at the top of the screen, but rather than just highlighting ‘questionable’ words, Ginger will go one stage further and actually change the text to what it thinks it should be, indicating the questionable words in red and its suggestions in blue. This saves the time involved in checking each word, but there is a danger that the user will accept the corrected version without question. If you are not sure about one of the ‘corrections’, click on the word offered by Ginger and you should be offered alternatives, including your original spelling. If you spot an error that has not been picked up by Ginger, you can click on the ‘Edit’ button beside ‘Approve’ and then modify the word.
Oribi VeritySpell
Oribi VeritySpell is a more ‘traditional’, but very effective spellchecker, generally installed from a CD, which can be used without any need for an internet connection. It works with any application in which you can select text with a mouse. VeritySpell analyses the text to be considered and transfers confusable and unrecognised words to its working window one by one. In the case of confusable words, it lists the possible choices in the form of example sentences, using each choice in context. Where the word is unrecognised, it simply offers the .word and likely alternatives. There is an option for text-to-speech support, using voices. Ginger immediately offers a ‘corrected’ version of your text. Ginger offers a short list of alternatives. When you have made your choice for the first word, click on the word to select it and then on Replace, or just double-click on the desired word. VeritySpell will move on to the next word automatically. If you want to leave a word as it is, click on Next.
Do these Spellcheckers Work?
The ‘perfect’ spellchecker would always pick out incorrectly spelled words, whether they are confusables, or unrecognised words, and would always offer just one choice – the desired word, with a correct spelling. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect any spellchecker to be perfect! In the case of unrecognised words, a good spellchecker should be able to offer the correctly spelled word in a short list. Ideally the list would have three or four words, but it is
acceptable to have a few more, where there are a number of genuine possibilities. It is pointless having the desired word coming 20th in a list – nobody is going to go that far down! Ideally, a check on confusable words should take the context of a word into account, e.g. ignoring a phrase like “this is a piece of text”, but flagging up “this is a pees of text”. If a spellchecker highlights every confusable word in a document, the user will be overloaded and may ignore a valuable writing support tool.
In the original Supportive Writing Technology book, we tested various spellcheckers with pieces of text written by learners with spelling difficulties, along with lists of common spelling errors. We have chosen to use one of these texts, along with another sentence by a dyslexic writer, which incorporated a ‘letter reversal’, to test the effectiveness of these spellcheckers. The text we used is shown below. For comparison, we also tested the spellchecker in Microsoft Word 2007 and ClaroRead 6 and Read and Write Gold 10, which are both popular writing support tools.
The tests considered three main factors to measure the effectiveness of the spellcheckers:
- whether or not they noticed and highlighted errors (including ‘real word errors)
- whether or not the correct word was offered by the spellchecker
- the position of the correct word in the spellchecker’s list
Notes on the Results
It would be dangerous to draw too many conclusions about the effectiveness of the spellcheckers as both pieces of text came from a similar phonic stage of writing. It is possible that the results would have been different using text from a Further or Higher Education student, or from an adult with dyslexia. Nevertheless, It is clear that Ghotit, and VeritySpell would both be very effective tools for a writer at this stage, and that Ginger could also be useful.
Microsoft Word – It is generally felt that the spellchecker in Microsoft Word is pretty good, so it provides a good benchmark for comparing other spellcheckers.
ClaroRead – ClaroRead 6 uses a spellchecker that is very similar to the one used by Microsoft Word, with only a couple of small differences in the words offered as choices and the order in which they were given.
Ghotit – Ghotit proved to be the most effective program at spotting errors, whether they were incorrect words, or ‘real word’ errors. If it did not have the annoying feature of putting the original (probably incorrect) spelling at the top of the list, then its results would have been very impressive. If the user of
Ghotit remembers that the second word on the list should actually be the first choice, then itis a very effective product. Ghotit and Read and Write Gold were the only programs that offered a correct replacement for the letter reversal in (“deb” for “bed”).
Ginger – Ginger was slightly less effective than Ghotit and VeritySpell at identifying errors,but scored spectacularly well at offering the correct word as a 1st choice. If somebody does not have the time and patience to carefully check every questionable word, Ginger would be a good choice to end up with a document in which spelling is much better than in the original
Read and Write Gold – The Read and Write Gold result was surprisingly disappointing. In the program’s defence, the test was carried out using only the spellchecking function in each program – Read and Write Gold has a separate ‘sounds like’ function which would have picked up most of the words that were not noticed by the spellchecker. Unfortunately, the ‘sounds like’ function is not particularly discriminating. Very few people would take the trouble to go through each of these potentially questionable words.  Read and Write Gold was actually almost as good as the other programs at offering the correct word in its list of choices, but the word would often be very far down the list. It is difficult to understand why it offered “field” as 11th choice for “feald”, when the other programs gave “field” as 1st choice. As mentioned above, Read and Write Gold DID offer“bed” as a choice for “deb”, but it was 17th in the list of words.
VeritySpell – VeritySpell proved to be a very effective ‘traditional’ spellchecker, focusing on one word at a time, rather than trying to look at the word in the context of the sentence. It was the only spellchecker that managed to offer “vehicle” as the correct spelling for “vearckl” in Test 1. VeritySpell comes with a choice of two dictionaries – Standard (35,000 words) and Advanced (100,000 words). We used the Standard version for this test.
Conclusions
Though spellcheckers in word processing programs, such as Microsoft Word, are now generally
pretty good, they do not always suit people with very poor spelling. Ghotit, Ginger and Oribi
VeritySpell could all be very useful for this group of people. The exact choice would depend
on the individual circumstances, particularly taking account of whether or not there is an
internet connection, the programs with which you need to use the spellchecker, whether or
not you need text-to-speech support and your budget.
The free version of Ginger would generally be a good starting point, provided that you have
an internet connection, don’t need text-to-speech and primarily use the programs in
Microsoft Office. If you don’t have an internet connection, or use a different word processor,
VeritySpell is the only choice among these programs. It is also worth considering if you
require text-to-speech. Ghotit is more expensive than the other programs, unless you are in a
school, and can only be used with Word, but it is very effective and seems to handle letter
reversals (e.g. “deb” for “bed”) better than the others.
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1 Nisbet et al (1999) Supportive Writing Technology. Pub CALL Scotland. Available online at
http://www.callscotland.org.uk/Resources/Books/Supportive-Writing-Technology/
Program Details
Program Ghotit
Available from http://www.ghotit.com
Platforms Windows XP / Vista / 7
(Web site version platform independent)
Cost Single user - $129.99 (c. £82)
A free option is available for schools. If they send the school URL to Ghotit and add a link to the school web site, Ghotit will provide 20 free accounts.
Key Features - limited version can be used on web site
- full version requires internet connection
- full version can only be used within Microsoft Word
- includes text-to-speech support using voices already on computer
- very good at identifying errors
- ‘best’ choice is usually 2nd in list of suggestions for a questionable word
Program Ginger
Available from http://www.gingersoftware.com
Platforms Windows XP / Vista / 7
(Web site version platform independent)
Cost Basic version free
Premium version: Single user – $89 (c. £56)
School licence - $8.50 - $19 (c £5 - £12) per student,
depending on numbers.
Key Features - limited version can be used on web site
- requires internet connection
- can only be used with MS-Word, Outlook, Powerpoint, Internet Explorer,
Firefox and Chrome.
- text-to-speech support only available in Premium version
- good at suggesting correct word as 1st choice
- automatically replaces questionable words, which saves time, but can be dangerous!
Program Oribi VeritySpell
Available from http://www.dyslexic.com
Platforms Windows XP / Vista / 7
Cost Single User - £59
5 Users - £240
FE / HE Licence - £1,750
Key Features - no need for an internet connection – intended for use on a standalone PC
- can be used by any application, which allows the user to select text with a mouse
- text-to-speech support is available, using voices already on computer
- very effective at identifying questionable words and offering correct choice

This is an edited version of the article. the full version can be found at

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