Level 1 of Grade 1 has very simple words, such as “new”, “free” and “time”, which will be suitable for children aged 5 or 6. By Grade 10, Level 10, the words are much more challenging, such as “exultant”, “somnolent” and “abjure”.
The tried and true methods for learning spelling — elaboration and repetition — are used in Ultimate Spelling as well. Firstly you read about the word in the spelling list, including its definition and sample sentences.
As with Ultimate Vocabulary, once you have learned a word, you can click on ‘mastered’, and the word won’t be included in the spelling drills any more.
The main techniques that Ultimate Spelling uses to improve your spelling are repetition and elaboration. You start by reading about the word in your spelling list, including the word’s definition and sample sentences. Then you progress to flash cards (called "Dictation Cards" in Ultimate Spelling), which show you the word you are studying and which flip around to reveal the word’s meaning.
Ultimate Spelling's main tools for improving your spelling are the Spelling Drills. There are three spelling drills in Ultimate Spelling: Fusion Drill, By Definition, and By Sound. Each of these drills selects a word at random from your chosen spelling list. You are then asked to type the correct spelling of the word.
The By Definition drill displays a definition of a word. You then spell correctly the word that matches that definition. This can be a bit tricky as there are often synonyms that would also fit the definition, but remember that the word is always taken from the set word list.
In the By Sound drill the word is read aloud, without the definition. You must type the correct spelling of the word you hear. The voice that reads the words is a very pleasant female British voice (not computer generated), and quite clear on the whole.
The Fusion Drill combines the By Definition drill and the By Sound drill. So in this drill the program shows you the definition of a word from your spelling list and it is read aloud. You can then type the correct spelling of the word.
If you make a mistake when typing, the program gives you an error message and provides the correct spelling of the word, which you can then use to correct your spelling. At the end of each test you are given your percentage correct, and a list of the words you spelled correctly, and those you typed incorrectly, so you can fine-tune your studies.
There is a fun feature where you can quickly add a picture that illustrates the meaning of any word in the spelling lists. This is useful for people who find pictures help them to remember the word's meaning. Simply press “Click to add image” in the top right hand corner of a word’s listing, and immediately you are presented with a gallery of images associated with that word from Google Images (so long as your computer is connected to the internet). Choose the image you like best, and this visual reminder of the word’s meaning is automatically attached to the word’s file. This could add quite a lot of fun to the whole process for children. This feature works best with nouns, naturally enough, but judicious selection will find good illustrations for verbs and adjectives as well. Prepositions and pronouns don’t work as well.
This combination of written words, spoken words, and pictures provides the maximum number of methods for learning spelling, and should suit most children and adults.
Ultimate Spelling keeps users further engaged throughout the day with their novel “Word Messenger” option. To turn this option on, put Ultimate Spelling into “Word Messenger Mode”, (under the “File” menu) and you will get reminders on your computer screen at random times throughout the day of the spelling and definition of words from your words lists.
Ultimate Spelling has a couple of other ways you can explore the meaning of the words on your spelling list; there is a Rhyme tool, which links to an online database of words that rhyme with a particular word from your spelling list, and Word Explorer, which lets you explore synonyms for the word.
As with all good educational software, Ultimate Spelling comes with reporting tools that track your progress over the days. You are able to set up multiple user profiles, which means you can easily track the progress of your children or students separately.
The “Create List” function is a very valuable and powerful part of Ultimate Spelling. It is a simple matter to compile your own list of words to practice. Just type a word and press “Lookup”. In one click of the mouse (Add to Word List, in the lower menu bar) you can add the word, its definition, usage examples, and pronunciation to your custom list of spelling words. By using this feature you can take Ultimate Spelling beyond Grade 10, and make word lists for your profession - medical, scientific, ESL vocabulary lists, and legal terms in particular come to mind.
It is possible to find good lists of specialist words and industry-specific jargon on the internet, put words such as “medical words list” (for example) in a search engine, and see what you can come up with. These word lists — checked over first for accuracy and relevance of course — can be the basis for your new word lists. Specialist dictionaries are another good source.
Once you’ve added your words through the Create List function, your words are automatically added to the flash cards, the Fusion Drill, the By Definition drill, and the By Sound drill. You can add images to the word just as you can with the inbuilt spelling lists. This is a highly useful tool for a teacher who wants to educate and test students on a custom, class spelling list. This feature Is a bonus for students preparing for spelling bees and class spelling tests, too.
The Ultimate Spelling user interface is clear and easy to read, and simple to use with “point and click” interactivity. At the moment the software only runs on PCs, but a Mac version is being developed and will be available within a year or so. We had no problems with installing the software.
Ultimate Spelling comes with an extensive Help file. To get the most out of Ultimate Spelling from the start, we recommend that you read the "Quick Start Guide" under the software’s Help menu. This way you won’t miss the software's most important features.
If you do run into any problems, Ultimate Spelling has a help desk that uses a ticket-submit system. They have a 24-hour guaranteed response time, and say that they always resolve technical issues, without exception. When we used Ultimate Spelling's technical support, we received a response within the hour and the problem was resolved quickly and painlessly.
Ultimate Spelling sells for US $59.95, which is about standard for spelling education software. Compared to other forms of spelling instruction, such as private tuition and special spelling classes, spelling software represents good value. If you’re not satisfied with the software, you can return it at any time within 90 days of purchasing it, for a full refund.
Ultimate Spelling comes as an instant download. It is compatible with Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7. As mentioned above, a Mac version is currently in development.
Some Room for Improvement
We felt the definitions were often not age appropriate - a five year old is hardly going to understand “a cardinal number that is the sum of one and one or a numeral representing this number” as a definition for TWO. This is where an adult is really needed to guide the student, and translate the dictionary definitions into terms a child can understand. This issue is being addressed in the upcoming new version of the software.
The sound level on the spoken words is a bit variable, with some words sounding fainter than others. Very occasionally her pronunciation is a little hard to understand, but with the definition as a clue, you should be able to figure it out. A “Replay” feature would be handy, though.
The addition of some fun interactive games to the drills would be welcome, especially since the program has children in mind.