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Some facts about spelling

Published: 
Thursday, April 13, 2017

​Spelling correctly is a skill that takes time and effort for everyone except the few who have very good visual memories. For most of us, seeing a word or reading it over and over is not enough to enable us to spell it correctly. We need to actively learn spelling.

Over the past two weeks we have debunked some common spelling myths - from the idea that reading more will make one a better speller and that some people are weak spellers because they do not speak Standard English.

Many people are literate – they’re able to read and write but still struggle with spelling. Alta has a Spelling Programme which can be quite useful - call them at 624-Alta if you’re interested. Today’s column looks at some spelling facts to which Alta tutors are exposed during training. These can be useful to teachers who work with poor spellers or even anyone who struggles with spelling

Alta Fact: The sound of a word is a guide to how you spell it.

Knowledge of the letter–sound relationship is essential to spelling. While English is not completely phonetic, the sound of a word does enable you to write a readable version of the word or give you options to choose from. Knowing spelling rules and choices as well as phonics guides you to the right spelling. However sounds cannot be relied on as your only spelling strategy. Once a word is not phonetically regular, Alta tutors help students and praise efforts that did represent the sound, even if the spelling is not correct.

Alta Fact: Guessing at how to spell a word helps learning.

It’s important to understand that if we make a guess at how a word is spelled, even if it is wrong, we are attempting to apply to print what we know about the English language; that is, we are forming a hypothesis, or theory, about a spelling. This ‘having a theory’ about something makes us more likely to remember an amendment or correction to our guess than to remember a spelling we have never attempted. Thus guessing helps learning. Less emphasis should be placed on correctness in spelling than on better guesses. Students who have significant spelling problems or who are beginner writers should be encouraged to invent spellings and then be given a correct version if the piece needs to be rewritten.

Alta Fact: When you are writing, you should stop at every word you cannot spell and look it up in the dictionary.

Dictionary skills are useful in some contexts, but of limited applicability with beginning spellers or students with spelling difficulties. Many students have had only frustrating experiences with dictionaries. If the student’s guess at a spelling puts him or her in the wrong section (for example, ‘inuff’ for ‘enough’), then a week spent in the ‘i’ section of the dictionary will only leave the student furious at words, writing and language in general. Dictionaries are useful, however, for students who are making minor spelling errors such as ‘independant’ for ‘independent’; ‘compleately’ for ‘completely’; ‘seperate’ for ‘separate’, etc.