Regardless of whether they are a native or non-native English speaker, everyone who knows the language can agree that English spelling is frustratingly difficult.
English is anything but phonetic when it comes to spelling, english lessons will teach you that.
This means that those learning to speak the language can rarely rely on English pronunciation to help them spell a word.
‘Though’, ‘through’ and ‘who’ a just a few examples of problem words which cause a lot of unwanted hassle for any English learner.
How can the first two words look nearly alike but not rhyme, whereas ‘through’ and ‘who’ look completely different and yet sound incredibly similar?
As frustrating as it may be, spelling is essential to good reading and writing communication, and it is impossible to achieve a high level of English without it.
Being fluent in any language is much more than just speaking fluently.
Achieving fluency includes working on your English listening comprehension, literacy skills and knowledge of English grammar rules in addition to your English conversation.
Since writing skills are such a large part of communication, they must not be neglected.
Regardless of how good your English accent is, whether you speak English fluently, or your knowledge of common English phrases and idiomatic expressions, you won’t reach complete proficiency without conquering English spelling.
Coach Yourself to Success in Your English Learning
No matter whether you’re studying English at school, with a private English tutor or through an ESOL course, you’ll need to exercise some degree of self-discipline by engaging in self-study outside of your contact hours.
You can use this time to work on any of your weak points and find out which revision methods work best for you. Learning how to learn English online effectively is the first step to academic success and stress-free exams.
Here are a few suggestions for overcoming tricky English spellings:
Make a Note of the Worst Offenders
Everyone has their own problem words when it comes to spelling, however, they never usually take the time to learn them.
Actively targeting the areas you struggle with will help you save time and stress in the long run.
So, why not make a start by keeping a note of any words that commonly trip you up?
This is a great start to sorting out your spelling and improving your English writing skills as a whole.
Once you are confident of the spelling of a certain word, you can remove it from your list.
Likewise, if you come across any other awkward spellings, you can add them to your list. This might be tricky if learning UK and US spelling.
Keeping track of your progress like this will keep you motivated in your English learning.
Conquer Tricky Letter Combinations
The infamous ‘o-u-g-h’ combination with its numerous pronunciations is the most prominent of troublemakers in English spelling.
Others include silent ‘P’s as in ‘pseudonym’ and ‘pneumatic’.
Categorising these types of spelling could be a helpful way to learn them, and will help you solve a lot of problems in a short space of time.
For instance, you could start by listing every word beginning with a silent ‘K’ (such as ‘know’, ‘knife’ and ‘knead’), and cross them off as you get the hang of them.
Check for ESL lessons here.
Another popular method is grouping.
This is where you divide words into smaller, easier letter combinations.
For example, when spelling ‘acknowledge’: ‘ack’-‘now’-‘ledge’.
This method will help you tackle the problem at source, as you will be able to pick out the part of the word you struggle with.
The key to overcoming tricky spelling is testing your skills.
Working through grammar exercises and taking online quizzes will not only help you keep an eye on your progress, but it will enable you to consolidate your knowledge and target your problem areas.
Set yourself a weekly target of around 10 words per week, for example, which you aim to learn to spell over a 7-day period.
In this time, you can break words down into letter combinations and practise writing them to see what ‘feels right’.
Each day, you should assess your progress with the ‘look, cover, write, check’ method.
This means looking at the word you want to spell, covering it from view, attempting to write it, then checking your spelling.
Train Your Brain with Regular English Practice
When you learn to speak a new language, you can’t afford to take it easy.
Learning the ins and outs of English is all down to keeping your language skills active.
When it comes to spelling in particular, you should be regularly exposing yourself to written English and literary material as well as practising your own written skills.
For learners of English as a second language as well as those who speak it as a native language, reading is a great way to improve your vocabulary as well as get used to the ‘look’ of written English.
It is possible to familiarise yourself with common spelling patterns in English without necessarily concentrating on your spelling.
For instance, regularly losing yourself in a piece of English literature means that you will have to take in what is printed, and you will slowly get used to how English words should look when you come to spell them for yourself.
Always having an English book on the go is an effective way to keep your English skills up between teaching periods whilst appreciating anglophone culture.
If you want to take your reading a step further, you could practice reading aloud.
Reading aloud, even for just a few minutes, has all the benefits of reading to yourself as well as being good pronunciation practice.
The tricky spellings which run throughout English vocabulary aren’t always consistent with the way they you pronounce them.
For this reason, reading in front of a native speaker or someone else who is fluent in the language will give you an opportunity to sort out any of your pronunciation problems before they become a habit.
Whoever you read to will be able to listen for any mistakes and correct you as and when they occur.
Since the most effective way to learn is to absorb information through as many channels as possible, you can also learn to spell by simply having a go at it.
This method of spelling revision is not planned, but a part of practising your written English skills.
Any time you write sentences or even paragraphs in English, there are inevitably difficult spellings which come to light.
It’s tempting to gloss over these and just finish what you’re writing, but you’ll find that if you don’t tackle the problem once and for all, it will never be resolved.
So, all you have to do is make a note of the words you struggle with while you write, and once you have finished, go back to them.
Next, try spelling each word a different way, and look at each spelling side by side before choosing which one ‘looks right’ to you.
Finally, look this word up in the dictionary and see how close you were to the correct spelling!
This trial and error method will make you think critically about your spelling and how letter patterns work in English.
Invent Mnemonics to Jog Your Memory
According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, a mnemonic (pronounced nemonik) is method a person uses to remember something.
This could be a song, a rhyme or a short poem.
For example, a popular way of remembering the spelling of ‘difficulty’ is the rhyme:
Mrs D, Mrs I, Mrs F. F. I.
Mrs C, Mrs U, Mrs L. T. Y.
However, mnemonics don’t always have to include a rhyme.
Acronyms can also be a helpful way of remembering spellings like ‘because’:
Birds Eat Crumbs After Uncle Stops Eating
Mnemonics are playful reminders which can make a big difference to your writing, and can keep you motivated to learn the most complex of spellings.
Why Having Fun is Key to Success for ESOL Learners
Time and time again, studies find that people make the most progress in their learning if they’re enjoying themselves.
This is exactly why having fun is essential to improve your English spelling.
There are endless amounts of spelling-based games on the market, such as Scrabble.
The aim of the game is to make the longest word you can out of the seven letters you are given – and your spelling must be correct!
Scrabble is a great way to make yourself think critically about how letter combinations could form part of a word all in the name of good old-fashioned competition!
Boggle is another fantastic game for those aiming to improve their quick-fire spelling skills.
Players have to write down as many words as they can from a table of letters against the clock.
The player with the highest number of words wins the round.
Once again, every word must first exist and be spelt correctly.
The nature of boggle means that you must be quick to spot words amid a sea of letters, and you can pick out useful combinations of letters to form other words.
For example, if you see the word ‘can’, you may look for a ‘T’ nearby which would give you ‘tan’, or an ‘F’ to give you ‘fan’.
If you’re not in the mood for competition and need to relax, great news! You can also learn whilst you’re sat in front of the TV.
If, like many people who study English as a foreign language, you enjoy English TV series and films, you can also turn this into a learning exercise.
Just like reading English literature, this is also a more passive yet effective method of learning, and will benefit your listening skills as well as your spelling.
All you need to do is turn the English subtitles on.
And that’s it!
Watching your favourite shows with the subtitles will expose you to new words in English literacy and help you get used to the look and sound of the English language.
Being able to spell is a more important part of language learning than people think.
It shows skill in your written communication and brings it up to par with your spoken English.
So read, write, quiz and enjoy!