top of page
  • Writer's pictureDr. V.S. Gayathri

Spelling Is Not A Matter of Memorization- Part 1!

Updated: Jul 1, 2022

When we learn a language, we tend to use it both for spoken and written purposes. The same goes for English, and it being one of the most used languages, both forms are very important. Often, we have seen that spoken form is easier to pick up than the written form. Mostly, we face difficulty in with spellings, and feel that the only way to learn them is to memorize them. However, that is not the case. In this article, we will briefly discuss about spellings can be learnt naturally and not through memorization.

In 1773, Noah Webster stated that “spelling is the foundation of reading and the greatest ornament of writing.” Spellings are an integral part of any language and are critical for literacy. To convey any thought or idea through writing, we need to know the correct and proper spellings because even one letter here and there makes a difference.

As children learn to spell, their knowledge of words improves and reading becomes easier. However, spelling in the elementary grades is usually taught as an isolated skill, often as a visual task. So, we have to understand that it is not a matter of memorization and cannot be taught in separation.

Many studies do not support the fact that visual memory is the key to good spelling. Several researchers have found that rote visual memory for letter strings is limited to two or three letters in a word. In addition, studies of the errors children make indicate that something other than visual memory is at work.

Many young readers are puzzled by the rules and exceptions of spelling. Research shows that learning to spell and learning to read rely on much of the same underlying knowledge - such as the relationships between letters and sounds. Spelling instructions can be designed to help children better understand that key knowledge, resulting in better reading. The correlation between spelling and reading comprehension is high because both depend on a common thing that is the proficiency with the language. The more thoroughly a student knows a word, the more likely he or she is to recognize it, spell it, define it, and use it appropriately in speech and writing.

Many teachers teach spelling by writing words on flashcards and making students go over them many times or by having students write words 5 to 10 times. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of such methods is not well established. In contrast, studies show that spelling instruction based on the sounds of language produces good results.

How to teach spellings?

The spellings of English words are influenced by the positions of the letters within the words, meaningful word parts, and the history of English. Hence, learning about words and about the language will improve spelling skills. The ability to read words “by sight”, automatically is linked to the ability to map letters and letter combinations to sounds. Research indicates that that the spellings of nearly 50% of English words are predictable based on sound-letter correspondences that can be taught. And another 34% of words are predictable except for one sound.

So, there should be a proper pattern to teach spellings in each grade moving as step ahead and not in insolation.

- In kindergarten, one should focus on activities to heighten students’ awareness of the sounds that make up language and that develop their letter-name and letter-sound knowledge to form a foundation for spelling. By the end of kindergarten, students should be able to quickly name letters on a chart as the teacher points to each letter, and quickly give the sounds of letters with one frequent sound (e.g., b, d, f). In addition, there should be many opportunities to write that will help students connect speaking and writing.

- Anglo-Saxon words with regular consonant and vowel sound-letter correspondences are introduced in grade 1. Students learn to spell one-syllable words with one-to-one correspondences such as the short vowels and the consonant sounds /b/, /d/, /f/, /g/, /h/, /l/, /m/, /n/, /p/, /s/, and /t/. Other common patterns to teach in first grade include (a) the fact that when a long vowel sound in the initial or medial position is followed by one consonant sound, e is added to the end of the word (e.g., name, these, five, rope, cube), and (b) the “floss rule,” which helps students remember that after a short vowel, a final /f/ is spelled ff, final /l/ is spelled ll, and final /s/ is spelled ss (as in stiff, well, and grass).

- By grade 2, students should be ready for more complex Anglo-Saxon letter patterns and common inflectional endings. Students learn to spell one-syllable words. Students also learn to spell words with endings, such as -ing and -ed.

- Latin-based prefixes, suffixes, and roots are introduced in grade 4. Students spell words with meaningful word parts such as vis (television), audi (auditorium), duc (conductor), port (transportation), and spect (spectacular).

- Greek combining forms are introduced in grades 5 to 7. Students spell words with meaningful word parts such as photo (photography), phono (symphony), logy (biology), philo (philosophy), tele (telescope), and thermo (thermodynamic), and so on.

Hence, educators need to design a proper framework, for both fast learners and those who might be facing learning difficulty.

In our next article, we will continue the topic and focus on language-based programs and computer-based spell checks.


bottom of page