Not everyone finds spelling easy. Children and adults, native and non-native speakers, and individuals with and without learning difficulties alike can all struggle with the irregularity of spelling in English.
There are many ways to practice a list of spelling words, from making flash cards, to using oral recitation, or just plain writing the words out by hand. Yet one of the most effective and easiest approaches is using a computer or tablet and wireless keyboard.
Not only is typing convenient, but it is also a multi-sensory activity that involves kinetic elements which can aid learning and retention of letter patterns. Typing is a highly accessible solution for learners who struggle with fine-motor skills and find it painful to write by hand, such as in dyspraxia.
Moreover, touch-typing a word allows muscle memory to encode the spelling as a series of key strokes. This is a great aid for students who struggle with language-based learning difficulties. Learn more in this post on touch-typing for learners with dyslexia. Also note, learners with no disabilities, difficulties, or learning differences will still benefit from this approach as multi-sensory learning is effective for everyone.
Spelling is one of those skills that a lot of people find challenging to master. This is particularly true if English isn’t your first language. One of the main reasons spelling is so hard to learn is that English is a highly irregular language. It has borrowed words from many other tongues and anglicized their spelling in an inconsistent way.
Spelling rules such as “i before e except after c” do exist in English, as in the words receive and receipt. But there are also plenty of exceptions to these rules, such as in species and science. Moreover, knowing a rule doesn’t always mean you can operationalize it in an automatic fashion when you need to write words quickly and accurately, for example during interviews, sales-meetings or timed assessments.
Spelling is one of those subjects that most children and adults associate with rote learning. In a classroom context, it typically involves reciting words in front of the class, writing on the board, spelling bees and weekly quizzes. But hands-on games are a great way to move beyond repetitive drills and memorization, so kids can have fun and learn to spell at the same time.
If students are focused on achieving a goal, such as helping their team win, they may be more motivated to engage with the material and are more likely to learn a word’s spelling incidentally.
That’s because the more you hear, see, and use a word, the more active it becomes in memory. Spelling outside of the classroom doesn’t have to be boring either. Homework is often workbook-based, yet creative and multi-sensory activities make for fun projects that can entertain kids and help them spell. And it's a lot of fun to get outside and learn on the go too!
There are words on menus, street signs, film posters, and even t-shirts. Language is all around us and once kids start to pay attention to what’s in their environment, they are more likely to pick up on correct spelling patterns from repeat exposure.
Everyone has difficulty with spelling from time to time. You might make a mistake when you use a word infrequently, or have trouble reporting a word’s spelling verbally when you’re put on the spot. These are common issues for a few reasons. One is that spelling is something we usually do in writing - delivering this information in another modality can be awkward. Two, spelling is information that we store in the brain as procedural knowledge.
This means it becomes automatic only after a person builds up extensive contact through repeat exposure to a word in reading and writing. You might have certain words you always mix up because you never learned the correct spelling, or because you wrote them incorrectly and now can’t tell the right from the wrong version. But some people struggle with spelling in a very different way.
For example, dyslexic individuals may put a word’s letters in the wrong order, miss out on a letter, or even add one that doesn’t belong. They often have difficulty spelling consistently, and can get a word right one day and not the next. This doesn’t mean they are “stupid” or “lazy,” it just means there’s something interrupting the encoding process by which words are split into their component sounds and those sounds are then mapped onto English letters.
English spelling can be a source of great frustration for a child who is learning how to read and write. But when difficulties persist beyond the first few years of school, a language-based specific learning difference could be the cause of the trouble. Estimates suggest 1 in ten people struggles with some form of dyslexia, which also affects reading ability.
Dyslexic children may be able to spell a word one day and not the next and can find high frequency service words, such as prepositions, articles and conjunctions, particularly difficult to learn.
Being able to spell correctly depends partially on phonemic awareness, which is the ability to hear the sounds that make up words. But as a lot of English vocabulary is pronounced differently from how it is spelled, there is also a bit of memorization involved. When spelling becomes a source of difficulty or stress at school, it’s important to remind students that it is just one aspect of knowing a word.
Computers and mobile devices can help them increase their accuracy in writing and they may want to try a phonics-based program of strategy instruction to improve their skills. Additionally, learning how to touch-type is a useful intervention, particularly when specific learning difficulties like dyslexia are present. This is because typing harnesses muscle memory in the hands to encode spelling as a pattern of keystrokes.
Spelling skills are not something people are born with – we learn to spell at the same time as we learn to read and write. For individuals who struggle with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, spelling can pose a particular challenge as it requires the ability to split words into sounds and then match those sounds to letters and letter combinations.
This is easier said than done because in English there are many ways to spell the same sound. There are also plenty of silent letters, words that break the rules, and foreign words with unintuitive spellings.
When kids lack confidence in the classroom, are struggling to keep up with their peers, need help preparing for exams or are dealing with a learning difficulty, parents may arrange for them to see a private tutor outside of school.
Tutors provide the extra scaffolding that less able students may require and can also encourage gifted children by introducing them to more advanced topics not covered in a school curriculum. By working one-on-one, tutors are able to go over content at a pace that is right for every child.
They can also assist with school assignments and help enforce good study habits, including setting smart targets which are specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant in a given time period.
While most words are relatively easy to learn, every individual will encounter challenging spelling and words that are frequently misspelled. Making spelling mistakes is frustrating for students and can lead to low self-esteem for learners who may be labelled as lazy and penalized by losing marks on written work.
For adults, having poor spelling skills can cause them to miss out on career opportunities and lose face in front of friends and family. It’s important to understand that spelling skills have nothing to do with intelligence and that there are plenty of strategies that can help. If spelling becomes a persistent problem, there may also be an undiagnosed learning difficulty to blame.