Spelling Tips for ESL Students

Spelling in English is hard even for those of us who have been practicing for years! For one thing there are so many exceptions to the rules. The English language actually has two basic types of words – words which are original to English and those adopted from other languages. Words which are original to English follow a few simple rules and are generally spelled as they sound. Words adopted from other languages go through a process called transliteration. Sounds from the foreign language will be represented by the English alphabet. Each language from which words have been adopted gets its own set of rules for how the sounds in that language will be represented in English. Since the English language has adopted words from literally hundreds of other languages, this can make for a very challenging number of spelling rules.

Nevertheless, there are some techniques you can use to increase your spelling accuracy. If you apply these tips you will improve your spelling and, therefore, your ability to communicate in English.

Really look at a word. When you encounter a new word or one you know you have trouble spelling, take the time to really look at the word closely. Try breaking the word into syllables and then imagine stringing them together like pearls to form the word. Take time to write the word on a scrap of paper, checking the spelling as you go against the correctly spelled word. Studying words in this way imprints an image of the word in your brain which you will use later when you write the word again. The more times you see the word correctly spelled, the more likely it is that you will be able to spell the word correctly when needed.

Sound it out. Although it is true that English words are not necessarily spelled the way they sound, many, many English words are. Say the word carefully and write down the letters which go with the sounds. The majority of the most commonly used words in English are phonetically spelled. You’ll be glad to know that spelling champions use this technique when faced with a challenging word!

Play word games. All types of word games and puzzles can help you learn to spell. “Word searches”, also called “word finds”, help you learn the common spelling patterns. Crossword puzzles and scrabble rely on correct spelling for solutions. You can find books of word puzzles in bookstores and on-line. You can also search the Internet using keywords like “word search”, “crosswords”, “word games”, and “word puzzles” to find more websites which offer games to play.

Practice spelling daily. Like so many skills in life, the more you practice the skill, the better you become at doing it. Spelling is no different. One way to do this is to post a new word on your mirror each day. Study it when you are brushing your teeth. Then jot it down on a slip of paper and put it in your wallet. Pull out your slip of paper while you are riding the bus or waiting in a line. Practice saying the word to yourself and then spelling it. Devoting some of your time to learning to spell will improve your spelling.

Get a spelling practice book. Since spelling is a known hazard in writing English, there are lots of practice books available to help you learn the spelling rules and practice the most commonly misspelled words. You can find these books in your library and at bookstores. Just ask the reference librarian or bookseller to help you find them.

Keep a spelling list. Everyone has words which are just plain troublesome. Every time you spell the word, it is wrong. When you find you are repeatedly having trouble with a particular word, add it to your spelling list. Keep this list in a small notebook or your iPod. Refer to your list when you need to use the word and that way you will spell it correctly each time.

Turn on “spell check”. Spell check functions in word processing and e-mail programs will catch many bad spellings, so it makes sense to use this line of defense against poor spelling. However, having said that, I need to give a word of caution as well. Spell checkers rely on dictionaries supplied by the program. Often these dictionaries are short versions so they do not contain many words. You might get an error message about a word when there is no problem what so ever with the word. Pull out a more extensive dictionary if you know the word exists.

By practicing these techniques, you should see a big improvement in your ability to spell English words correctly.

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