Spelling correctly is a skill that takes time and effort for everyone except the few who have very good visual memories, that is, they can remember the letters and their exact order in a word just by looking at the word once or twice.
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. Written English is phonetic, that is, it uses letters to represent the sounds within words. Therefore to spell a word you must identify the sounds in it and write the letter that corresponds to each sound.
However because English has taken words from many other languages, many of the sounds may be spelt in more than one way. It’s important to use rules and strategies when learning to spell or practising spelling but even then, it is quite a difficult skill for some to master. Unfortunately many associate ability to spell with intelligence. In the same way that some people need to work harder than others to develop their reading and writing skills, spelling skills also take practice.
There are many myths surrounding spelling, which many believe to be facts. Today we happily kick off a new “myths vs facts” series with the loyal readers of our column.
MYTH: There is no logic or pattern to English spelling. That’s why it’s so hard.
The fact that the English spelling system is not 100% phonetically regular (it is, in fact, 85% regular) does not mean there are no conventions or regularities which can make sense of the spelling system. Learning these patterns or rules makes spelling much easier. It is easier to learn the exceptions than all the words in the language. Dyslexics need to be taught these rules and patterns since their brain does not pick these up as they don’t think sequentially.
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, teachers should help students and praise efforts that represent the sound, even if the spelling is not correct, e.g. becus for because.
In next week’s instalment of this series we will continue to look at more spelling myths and facts.
Look out for the brand new ALTA Spelling Chart coming in June.
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