Proven Techniques to Improve Spelling Help (page 3)
Who Needs Help with Spelling?
Many people need help with spelling. Adults don't necessarily like to talk about it, but they fear spelling and spelling errors as much as children do. And they have good reason. Some are natural spellers, learning to spell and retaining the spellings very easily. For others, spelling is a lifelong problem. If you have spelling problems, however, having a plan of attack really helps.
If you can't rely on yourself to spell words correctly at least 98 percent of the time, spelling is a concern that may cause you considerable worry. Your readers notice the errors immediately. If you are submitting writing to teachers, test examiners, or employers—even friends—poor spelling creates a bad impression. Interestingly, these people may place undue emphasis on spelling, ignoring the brilliant argument, the correct answer, or the dazzling description. Your only choice is to improve your spelling.
Interesting, too, is that even though people use word processors equipped with a spell-checker, there are still times when people need to write. Consequently, although many adults can read well at work, they do all they can to avoid writing because of their fear of and embarrassment over their spelling.
If there is any comfort in it, you should know that poor spellers are not alone. Some very famous, successful people have had significant problems with spelling. One of the more surprising examples is Alfred Mosher Butts, the inventor of the game Scrabble who said to a reporter, "I'm really a terrible speller." Perhaps developing the game was his way of tackling the problem. Other famous people on the poor-spellers list may surprise you. Note that most had learning disabilities that if noticed today would probably be treatable. Many on the list were or are dyslexic (having a disability that makes understanding written language and actually writing language very difficult), which would account for serious spelling problems. Some notable poor spellers include Albert Einstein, Norman Rockwell, Winston Churchill, Agatha Christie, Thomas Edison, General George Patton, and Charles Schwab.*
This is only a partial list of famous people who had trouble reading and writing. Each one attacked the problem in a different way, but the way was always difficult. Undoubtedly, your spelling problem, if you have one, is not as serious as those you just read about; however, whatever your need—from a simple review to a serious spelling makeover—try the following suggestions and practices to improve your spelling. And by the way, please don't ever send an e-mail or other electronic message without first using the spell-checker!
*Most of these quotes were originally published on Susan Barton's "Bright Solutions for Dyslexia" website. They are reprinted with written permission of Susan Barton. Fuller descriptions were added by Steve Miller. To learn more about dyslexia, go to: www.BrightSolutions.US.
Techniques for Improving Spelling Skills
If spelling is a problem for you, try a more organized approach to learning. First, learning to spell correctly takes time and patience. Never try to learn to spell a whole list of words at one time. Instead, take your time and do a small amount of studying at any one time. Review on a regular basis. The following constitutes just the beginning of a new plan:
- Keep a small notebook handy to record words that you have spelled incorrectly or those that are new to you.
- When you enter a word into the notebook, divide it into syllables. For example, the word constitute would be listed in the spelling book in syllables first, then with pronunciation help, a definition, and the part of speech:
- Read the word. Say it in syllables.
- Try to connect the word to a common spelling rule. For example, niece, I before e except after c.
- Close your eyes, and picture the word.
- Write the word. Check it. Write it again if necessary.
- Review a word until you are sure you know how to spell it.
con-sti-tute (kon-st-toot), comprise, make up (v.)
Make sure you are spelling and pronouncing the word correctly. Check with a dictionary or use the spelling or dictionary tool on your computer. Use an audible dictionary to hear the correct pronunciation.
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:
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|
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).
Rule 3: Adding a Suffix that Begins with a Vowel
When you add a suffix that begins with a vowel to a word that ends in e, drop the e before you add the suffix.
Another exception is the word dye: dye + -ing = dyeing
Rule 4: Suffixes that Change the Spelling of Words that End in - y
Suffixes change the spelling of words that end in -y.
Rule 5: Doubling the Final Consonant in a One-Syllable Word
When a one-syllable action word ends in a consonant preceded by a vowel (e.g., run), double the final consonant before you change the form of the word.
- run runner
- plan planned
- thin thinner
Rule 6: Doubling the Final Consonant in a Two-Syllable Word
When a two-syllable word ends in a consonant preceded by a vowel and is accented on the second syllable (e.g., occur), change its form by doubling the final consonant (e.g., occurred).
- refer referred
- occur occurrence
Rule 7: Not Doubling a Final Consonant Based on Accent Changes
In a two- or three-syllable word, if the accent changes from the final syllable to a preceding one when a suffix is added (e.g., refer/reference), do not double the final consonant.
- prefer preference
- confer conference
Rule 8: I Before E Except After C
Exceptions to this rule occur when e comes before i in words that have a long a sound:
Other exceptions include:
Rule 9: Rules for Forming Plurals
Add an s to most words.
- rug rugs
- shoe shoes Add es to words ending in -o preceded by a consonant.
- hero heroes
- tomato tomatoes Add only an s to words that end in -o preceded by a consonant and refer to music.
- alto altos
- piano pianos Add es to words ending in -s, -sh, -ch, and -x.
- boss bosses
- crush crushes
- church churches
- sex sexes Change y to i, and add es in words that end in -y preceded by a consonant.
- fly flies
- story stories
Rule 10: More Rules for Forming Plurals
Words ending in -ful form their plurals by adding s to the end of the word.
- mouthfuls spoonfuls A compound word forms its plural by adding s to the main word.
- mother-in-law mothers-in-law
- court-martial courts-martial Numbers and letters form plurals by adding 's.
- 7 7's
- m m's Some words keep the same spelling for singular and plural forms.
- sheep deer
- Chinese trout Some words form their plurals by irregular changes.
- child children
- leaf leaves
- tooth teeth
- crisis crises
- thief thieves
- knife knives
- woman women
- louse lice
- alumnus alumni
- appendix appendices
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