Proven Techniques to Improve Spelling Help (page 2)

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 13, 2011

Identifying What Kind of Learner You Are

Second, have you ever considered what type of learner you are? Knowing how you learn may help you a great deal as you try to improve your spelling. Consider the following:

  • Are you a visual learner? You learn primarily through the written word. You read explanations or texts and then take copious notes. You like visuals, graphics, and flip charts. You prefer a written response to a verbal one. You are frequently the recorder in a group. You should continue to read as much as possible. Avid readers find learning to spell a bit easier.
  • Are you an auditory learner? You learn primarily through listening. You are a focused listener. You may like to talk rather than write; therefore, discussing what you've learned is always more fun than either writing or reading.
  • Are you a kinesthetic learner? You learn primarily by doing. Underlining and highlighting key words or ideas work for you. You need to practice what you've learned, so whatever you're learning, it's hands-on for you. The computer keyboard, an instrument, ice-skating, skiing—learning is all in the doing.

How does this apply to improving your spelling? You should think about how you prefer to learn when you study words. Do you prefer to move around (kinesthetic) as you study? Do it! Have your list handy, perhaps on 3-by-5 cards, and spell the words out loud as you walk. Then write, correct, and rewrite if necessary. If you learn better by listening, dictate the words into a recorder and then listen to the way the words are spelled. In every case, and no matter what kind of learner you are, make writing one of the steps in the learning process. For some, the writing simply may not be the first step.

What You Have to Know About Spelling

To improve your spelling, you need to know the following: English has forty-five distinct sounds, called phonemes, but only twenty-six letters. This makes spelling all the more difficult. Specifically, there are vowels, a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y, and consonants, which are the rest of the alphabet. Letters are put together in syllables, or small units of sound. Any word that contains more than one syllable has an accent on one of those syllables.

    Example: .

This word is made of four syllables. Say it out loud. Can you hear the accented or stressed syllable? The second syllable is stressed; therefore, an accent mark appears before it.

There are reasons for English spelling being as peculiar as it is. English is made of words from many different languages and has inherited spellings from all of them. Until about three hundred years ago, there were no set spellings and there were no dictionaries in English. That is no longer a problem; there are many excellent dictionaries—some with clear guidance on pronunciation.

Another peculiarity: We use some letters illogically. The most famous example is gh. Gh stands in for many different sounds. Look at the following list of words in which ough is sounded in seven different ways:

  • bough    
  • cough    
  • sought
  • thorough
  • though
  • tough    
  • through

That leads us to the old riddle: What does ghoti spell? The answer is fish, as in rough, women, nation: gh-o-ti = fish.

To complicate the problem further, many English words are spelled the same but have different meanings depending on their use.


    The wind was too strong for us to wind the kite's string. (noun, verb)
    The special parking permit was invalid for the invalid. (adjective, noun)
    Our neighbors use the community farm to produce produce. (verb, noun)

Helpful Spelling Rules--Or Not

Not everyone learns to spell by memorizing spelling rules. Some people prefer to use spelling resources such as print dictionaries or electronic dictionaries. If, however, your spelling problem is severe, you may spell what you hear, and normally that doesn't work with a print dictionary. For example, you hear praktis, anser, and storwhen you mean practice, answer, and store. How will you find any of these words in the dictionary? The answer for you may be a dictionary that lists the common misspelling, followed by the correct spelling. Look for a book called, How to Spell It, by Harriet Wittels and Joan Greisman. In it, you'll find many misspellings, each followed by the correct spelling in red.

If you use a computer, your word-processing program has a spell-checking function that will find incorrectly spelled words and highlight them or even correct them as you type. One caution, however: Although spell-checkers recognize when a word is spelled incorrectly, they won't always tell you if you're using a word in the wrong context. For example:

    Don't you think its to hot for baseball? (Correct: It's, too)
    We chose there uniforms. (Correct: their)
    The city counsel made a decision regarding the new school. (Correct: council)

On the other hand, if you find rules extremely helpful and not too hard to remember, you may choose that route to better spelling. One caution: Don't try to learn too many rules at one time. Sometimes, however, a series of rules naturally go together. One such rule has to do with adding prefixes and suffixes to words: Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word; suffixes are added to the end.

Rule 1: Adding a Prefix

In most cases, you can add a prefix to a word without changing the spelling of that word.

    Example: Add prefix un- to necessary and you have unnecessary.
Prefix Meaning Root Word New Word
ir- not responsible irresponsible
un- not necessary unnecessary
pre- before fix prefix

Rule 2: Adding a Suffix that Begins with a Consonant

When you add a suffix that begins with a consonant, the spelling of the root word does not change (with few exceptions).

Word Suffix New Word
bare -ly barely
careful -ly carefully
careless -ness carelessness
economic -al economical

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