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Spelling in English
by Paul

Spelling is often the first item that strikes the reader’s attention, even before evaluating the writer’s other writing components such as sentence structure, grammar, and punctuation. 

In other words, spelling is important in shaping the first impressions about the writer’s English language skills.  Correct spelling, therefore, is an essential component in any form of writing whether it is a school assignment, a report for an employer, a resume, or even a letter to a friend.

Students often ask for the one “magic strategy” toward becoming a good speller.  Unfortunately, there isn’t only one approach or some secret recipe.  One needs to try different spelling strategies, and focus on the ones that seem to help the most. 

The following are some strategies and steps to help you improve your spelling.  These suggestions are not arranged in any particular order of priority.

1.  Always aim to spell your words correctly, even if it’s only the first, or the rough, draft of your writing.

2.  Don’t let your concern over correct spelling prevent you from using new, or difficult words.  Simply do your best using your spelling skills, and using any spelling resources available to you.

3.  Read when you can, not just content that you enjoy but a wide variety of English material.  This will expose you to many new words.  Think about the words that you read, especially reflecting on the words that are new to you.

4.  Try to gain a general interest in English vocabulary including definitions, usage, pronunciation, and spelling patterns.

5.  Take advantage of writing opportunities in order to write as much as possible.  If your writing is corrected —for instance by a teacher—then carefully look over any feedback.  Give just as much attention to indicated spelling errors as to any other advice toward improving your writing.

6.  Sounding out a word can be very helpful toward spelling since it helps you recognize similar words, or parts of words, that you already know how to spell.  For example, knowing how to spell the wordsplit will help you spell the word splat.  Similarly, knowing how to spell mental, will help you spellmentality.  Knowing how to spell the “root word” flatter will help in spelling the words flattering,and unflattering.

7.  Compare and contrast words in terms of sound, spelling patterns, and meaning.  This will help you remember the spelling of specific words, as well as becoming aware of the unusual spelling patterns of many words.  For example, compare the group of words chopping, tapping, grinning, begging, and bragging, to the group of words saving, joking, biting, and hoping.  Notice that in the first group, the final consonant is doubled when the suffix –ing is added.  This rule doesn’t follow in the second set of words.

8.  Learning and remembering the spelling rules of English is helpful, especially in spelling tricky words.  For example, the rule “i before e except after c” applies in the words thief, grief, receive, ceiling, and conceit.  However, there are exceptions to this rule as in leisure, neither, and seize.

9.  Although electronic tools such as spell-checkers or word-processing programs can recognize many misspelled words and suggest alternative acceptable spellings, it is best not to depend on such tools for your spelling.  These tools may not detect the wrong form of a homonym, as betweentheir/they’re/there, and they may not flag other incorrect spelling or incorrect grammar.  You should always reread your work for homonyms, or for other English language usage errors that were not detected by your electronic tools.

10.  Don’t hesitate to ask a teacher at the Pearson Adult Learning Centre, or check in a dictionary, if you are either certain that you can’t attain the correct spelling, or just to confirm your spelling.  The advantage in checking with a teacher is that rather than simply giving you the correct spelling, the teacher may, instead, review with you some of the spelling techniques and strategies.

Learning to spell isn’t necessarily a difficult task.  Becoming a good speller of English words involves trying out different approaches and suggestions, such as the strategies mentioned above. 

These strategies are interrelated and they complement one another, so be sure to work on many of these suggestions at any one time.  Be aware of which approaches help you the most, and then concentrate on these toward becoming a better speller.

Lessons on words with follow-up spelling quizzes:

Spelling Demons (Part 1)                               Spelling Demons (Part 4)

Spelling Demons (Part 2)                               Spelling Demons (Part 5)

Spelling Demons (Part 3)

Spelling Quizzes Online (not arranged in any order of difficulty):

Spelling Test 1

Interlink (only levels “a” require sound, while levels “b” do not)

Hangman Games (try the activities under the “Hangman Games” heading)

For reference and further details, check these sites:

Spelling it Right                                      Black Hills State University   

How to Spell Better                           

Expert Answers


(March 18, 2007)

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