7 Ways to improve your english spelling
Building up on our post on ways to practice spelling words, this is for those who want to improve on their spelling.
Some people can speak with the confidence of Barack Obama and the grace of Hilary Clinton, yet when you ask these people to spell the simplest of words. They are completely lost and stumble in their own attempts.
In today’s world, filled with acronyms, abbreviated messages via text, and spell check, when does anyone actually have to spell these days? Sometimes, we do need our spelling skills, especially if we’re still in school. If you’re at work and called to present a presentation, you will want to be able to recognize the errors on your handouts and visual presentations. Remember – spell check services are only as good as the programmer who creates them. You, yourself, are the best way to improve your spelling skills.
Fair or not, your spelling skills are used throughout your life to evaluate you as a person.
But what if you’re a reasonably intelligent person with a fairly good sense of written style who, for one reason or another, just doesn’t spell very well? How do you improve your spelling, short of going back to elementary school and sitting through four or five grades of English class again? There are books and lists of commonly misspelled words available, but they’re too overwhelming to be very useful. Looking things up in the dictionary isn’t all that helpful if you don’t know already that you don’t know how to spell something — or if you can’t spell it well enough to find it!
Those who can spell well have a hard time explaining it, too – it just seems like a natural gift (and of course people who don’t spell well often blame their lack of that “gift”). It is easy to tell people how to spell particular words, but explaining how to spell better in English and how to spell better in spanish overall is trickier. It doesn’t help that people generally look down on others who spell badly, seeing them as people of little education or little intelligence – or both.
If you want to help your kids, learn how to spell better, or it’s for personal use, this post is just for you. It is useful as a means for how to spell better for adults, then we have got some techniques and practices that teachers use to teach what is, after all, just a skill, like riding a bike or learning long division. Here are some of the things you should note:
- There is no substitute for reading a lot.Just as we learn spoken language by hearing lots of people speaking, we learn written language, including spelling, by reading what a lot of people write. Spelling is not about how a word sounds, it’s about how it looks on the page, which means you have to look at a lot of words on the page to learn how they are spelled. End of story, really – the first step to improving your spelling has to be to read a lot (and it should go without saying, read a lot of stuff that’s spelled correctly; txtng ur frnds may b fun bt isn’t going 2 hlp ur spllng).
- Make a list of yourcommonly misspelled words. When you catch yourself spelling the same word wrong over and over, write it down somewhere (back of a Moleskine is a good place). When you get a chance, look it up and put the correct spelling next to it. (Make sure you mark which is correct!) Unlike the massive lists of “commonly misspelled words” in the back of dictionaries and the like, this is a custom list that reflects the words and spelling rules you have trouble with – so instead of a huge list of Other People’s Problems you have a custom-made guide to your own.
- Use mnemonics. There’s an MnM in mnemonic!Mnemonics are memory tricks or devices, like “i before e except after c”. Since spelling rules are often abstract and, in English, even contradictory (what sound does “gh” make?), they are hard to memorize by themselves. Mnemonics “sneak in” through a different part of your mind, by rhyming, presenting an image, or forming a pattern that makes better sense than “that’s just how it’s spelled”.Here are some examples of spelling mnemonics:
- It’s necessary to have 1 Collar and 2 Socks.
- A piece of pie
- You hearwith your ear.
- Pull apart to separ
- Definite has 2 i’s in it
- Thereis a place just like here.
- Because: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
- Cemetery has three e’s – eee! – like a scream.
- IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.
- Slaughter is LAUGHTER with an S at the beginning.
- Study spelling with Carolyn.The National Spelling Bee offers a 36-week spelling course, a lesson a week, by Carolyn Andrews, an ex-teacher and spelling coach to her championship-winning son. Each week’s lesson focuses on an aspect of spelling; taken a week at a time, it’s a good way to cover the basics.
- Put a mark next to every word you look up in the dictionary.If you look it up more than once, add it to your personal list.
- Write! Write! Write!The only way to really learn a word is to use it, and that counts for spelling as much as for learning its meaning. When you look up how to spell a word, write it down several times in a row, and do it again a day or two later – you’re trying to build up the motor memory of writing it correctly spelled. Write a blog, a journal, emails, a novel, anything that will keep you using words – and pay special attention as you write to the words that come up wrong (spell-check is good for this, at least!). Let others read your writing, and ask them to circle misspelled words (or post it to a blog – blog readers make especially harsh taskmasters where spelling errors are involved!)
Better minds than yours and mine have ranted about English spelling rules (or the lack thereof). There has been a near-constant drive for spelling reform for centuries, with advocates including Samuel Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Andrew Carnegie. These efforts have generally been failures, attempts to impose artificial “corrections” on the organic flow of language and writing.
English, it seems, won’t be rationalized, leaving it to each of us to make peace with its foibles and somehow work out how to get things spelt. Hopefully these tips help you begin the process of patching up your own spelling.
Now, here are 7 ways you can improve your spelling
Do something with your mirror besides looking at your own reflection. Most of us look in some type of mirror several times in one day. Write a new vocabulary or hard to spell word on a sticky note. Place it on your mirror and your compact if you have one as well. Every time you look in the mirror, you will see the word, and in time you will know how to effortlessly spell it.
Stop relying on spell checking programs. If you always rely on spell check features, you will never be able to rely on your brain. Just don’t make changes with suggestive spellings; pay attention to how the word should be correctly spelled.
The popular phrase is “an apple a day, keeps the doctor away”. A similar phrase is “a book a day; keeps the brain freeze away.” The more you read; the more words you learn.
Most people can’t stop themselves from doodling when they have a pen or pencil on their hands. Why not doodle constructively? Create doodles around hard to spell words (this is a great thing for parents and children alike to do together) and see how quickly you pick up the spelling.
When you’re reading books, magazines, and newspapers, either jot down unfamiliar words or circle or highlight them (make sure you’re not writing in library books). This will help you learn new words and increase your vocabulary.
Keep a spelling journal. Every time you come across a word you don’t know, write it down. These can later be used as your mirror words.
Use a Spelling Software program. Software programs are great for kids and adults. An example of a first-rate spelling system is the Ultimate Spelling software package. With Ultimate Spelling, you and your children can improve your spelling abilities while interacting and having fun.
These are seven ways that you can improve your spelling skills. All of them have their strengths, but if you want to do as little as possible to learn (which most children do – and some parents); then a spelling software package is the best bet for you. Everything you need is already included at purchase, and you have the ability to customize the program to match your needs and your interests.
Besides that, here are some more delicate tips to help your spelling get on just fine; or even better!
Learn the rules
Because of its aforementioned exceptions, learning the rules of English spellings may be easier said than done, but you can at least start to identify common patterns and combinations of letters so that you can begin to guess how a word might be spelled. These could include common endings such as “-een”, “-ough”, and “-tion”, words beginning with a silent K or G, and even homophones (words that sound the same but have different meanings and/or spellings).
Learn the exceptions to the rules
Once you’ve learned a rule, make sure you also learn its exceptions. For example, an oft-quoted rule is “I before E except after C”. This is not universally applicable, however, so you’ll need to learn the exceptions to avoid tripping up, such as “weird” and “height”. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to learn these exceptions – it’s a matter of being aware of them, trying to remember that a word may not conform to the rule you’ve learned, and memorising the words that don’t.
Crosswords and codewords
Puzzles are a good way to make your brain work harder and improve your general knowledge, but they’re also a good way to improve your spelling. Crosswords give you a series of clues that you must fit into overlapping horizontal and vertical boxes, while codewords look similar to crosswords, but involve working out which numbers stand for what letters (meaning that you have to make deductions based on known recurring letters, such as words ending in “-ing”). If you get the spelling wrong in either a crossword or a codeword the other words won’t fit, so it’s a good idea to have a dictionary beside you.
Watch English television with subtitles
You can get better at spelling without even realising it by learning while you’re watching television in English. Simply switch the subtitles on and you’ll see how the words you’re hearing should be spelled. They’ll be moving too fast for you to make notes, but you’ll learn through osmosis, and this will help you identify instances in which a word you’ve written “just doesn’t look right” – so you can then look it up to find the correct spelling.
Break it down into syllables
For longer words, it can sometimes be helpful to break the word into syllables to help you remember the spelling. Many people get confused with the word “several”, for example, because it looks and sounds similar to “separate”. We’ve already seen how to remember “separate”, but you could remember “several” by breaking it down into “sev-ER-al”. “Desperate” is another tricky one because it sounds as though it should be spelt in the same way as “separate”, but breaking it into syllables helps you remember that it’s “desp-ER-ate”.
Word of the day emails
You can learn some very odd words with ‘Word of the Day/Week’ emails. Check our own Word of the Week sections.
Word of the day emails are useful for learning new words, but they can also help you learn spellings. Such emails are generally geared towards helping you learn more unusual words – words that most British people don’t even know – but there are some dedicated to learners, such as this English Learner’s Word of the Day from Merriam-Webster, which teaches you the various meanings of words and the contexts in which they can be used, as well as the spelling and pronunciation (click on the red audio symbol to hear it spoken). Collect your Word of the Day emails in a dedicated folder on your computer so that you can look back over them, or add each new word to a Post-It note and stick it to your mirror so that you see the new words when you’re getting ready to go out each morning.
Spelling competitions with friends
Do you know anyone else who’s learning English? If so, why not challenge them to a spelling competition? Take it in turns giving each other a word to spell and you’d be surprised how much this cements your knowledge. The competitive element will make it more fun, as well as helping things sink in more easily. You could start by each making a list of the spellings you find trickiest, using a dictionary to help you compile the list if necessary; then try to learn them by heart, and finally swap lists to test each other.
Online spelling quizzes
If you don’t have a friend to hand who’s willing to have a spelling competition with you, you could instead try one of the plethora of online spelling quizzes to put your spelling skills to the test. Here’s one example from The Guardian, but if you Google “spelling quiz”, you’ll find plenty more. Don’t forget to look for the correct spellings of any you got wrong, and perhaps make a note of them for future reference.
Learn plural versions
Learning the plural version of a word sadly isn’t as simple as adding an ‘S’ to the end of a word. You can get better at spelling plurals by learning rules for the different plural versions of words, which vary depending on the ending of a word and its origins. For example, the plural of the word “berry” isn’t “berrys”, it’s “berries”, and the plural of the word “knife” isn’t “knifes” (“knifes” is the third person present tense form of the verb “to knife”), it’s “knives”.
Get the pronunciation right
Sometimes, mispronouncing words can lead to spelling errors, because you try to spell the word in the way you think it sounds. Many English people are guilty of this too, so don’t despair if you find yourself doing it! For example, many people think that the word “espresso” – the coffee – is pronounced “expresso”, and spell it as such, or that the word “clique” is pronounced and spelled “click”. Even if the pronunciation is correct, it can still land you in trouble. For example, some people struggle to spell “Wednesday” because it’s pronounced “Wensday”. In this example, the tip we mentioned earlier about breaking it into syllables may prove useful: “Wed-nes-day” might be easier to remember than the word as a whole.
Don’t read bad English
Internet forums and social networking sites are a hotbed of poor spelling and grammar, so frequenting English-language sites like these will do you as much harm as good. People make less effort with spelling and grammar when they’re on the internet, and pick up bad habits from other users, perpetuating common spelling errors and creating new ones. If you’re trying to learn English and get better at spelling, it can seem a good idea to hang out on English-speaking sites and chat to English-speakers, but in fact you may end up learning incorrect spellings without even realising it. So, try to limit your exposure to English to high-quality written sources, such as newspapers, magazines and books.
- 7 Ways to Improve Your Spelling Skills. https://www.vocabulary.co.il/7-ways-to-improve-your-spelling-skills/
- Sarah In Wonderland: How to Improve Your Spelling Skills. https://sarahinlalaland.blogspot.com/2010/12/how-to-improve-your-spelling-skills.html
- How to Improve Your Spelling Skills – Lifehack. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/how-to-improve-your-spelling-skills.html
- 19 Ways to Improve at English Spelling. https://www.oxford-royale.com/articles/improve-english-spelling/
- K is for Knowing When you can Help – Martin Parnell. http://www.martinparnell.com/blog/posts/2018/december/12/k-is-for-knowing-when-you-can-help/