Confused by English spelling?
If so, that’s understandable!
Plenty of native speakers find it confusing, too.
A lot of the English language is “borrowed” from other languages.
That’s why we get a lot of weirdly-spelled words in English.
“Zucchini,” for example, is actually an Italian word.
In ancient Greece, a “gymnasium” was a place where men exercised naked!
With so many words from different cultures and languages, learning to spell in English can sometimes seem too difficult!
Don’t worry, though. It is possible to improve your English spelling.
You just have to know where to start.
Why English Spelling Is Important
If you’re learning English, you need to learn to spell in English.
You might think writing and spelling aren’t so important for everyday communication.
But if you think you only need to write in school, think again!
Today, people are writing more than ever.
We’re updating our Facebook statuses. We’re texting each other. We’re writing reviews of things we bought on Amazon.
We write emails to friends and at work. We send out invitations. We write reports. We do many other things that require (need) writing.
Writing is a big part of your life, even if you don’t realize it.
That’s why spelling is so important! Knowing how to spell correctly helps others understand you. It also helps you understand more of what you read: The more you learn about spelling, the more you know about how words work. This knowledge can help you figure out what new words mean, and how to pronounce them.
What Country Is Your Spelling From?
Before you learn spelling for English words, figure out which country’s spelling you want to use. American, British, Canadian and Australian English have slightly different spellings for some words. For example, the word “color” in American would be spelled “colour” in British.
Which country’s spelling you choose should depend on why you’re learning English. Are you planning to study in Great Britain? Work in the U.S.? Are you learning just for fun? Decide before you learn, so you don’t have to re-learn the correct country’s spelling later!
How to Improve Your English Spelling: 9 Painless Methods
1. Use mnemonics
Remembering information can be difficult. But when you give that information more meaning, it becomes easier to memorize. Mnemonic devices turn information into a picture, a sentence, a rhyme or anything else that’s easier to remember.
Here are three types of mnemonic devices you can use to remember difficult spelling:
- Rhymes and songs make words and information easier to remember. One of the best-known spelling rhymes is “i before e except after c or when sounding like a as in neighbor and weigh.” This rhyme tells you when to write “ie” and when to write “ei.” You can listen to another rhyming song about spelling from Between the Lions. You can also make up your own!
- An acronym takes the first letter of a few words and puts them together. You might already use acronyms online or in texts. LOL, for example, stands for “Laughing Out Loud.” BRB is “Be Right Back.” One way to remember some tricky spellings is by turning each letter into a word. For example, to remember “rhythm” just remember “Rhythm Helps Your Two Hips Move.” Turn difficult words into silly sentences and you will remember them in no time.
- Some mnemonics use sentences to explain the difficult part of spelling a word. Having trouble spelling the word “island”? Just remember that “An island is land surrounded by water.” Is “separate” spelled with an e or an a in the middle? “There’s a rat in separate!” You can find more useful sentences on About.com, or make up your own.
2. Learn a few rules
Sometimes the best way to learn is to know the rules. Start by learning a few. Then, as you learn new words, you can add more and more rules. Before you know it, you’ll be able to spell most words!
You can find short lists of basic spelling rules at smc.edu, YourDictionary and About.com. Don’t try to learn them all at once! Instead, learn and practice one or two at a time until you understand them.
The next time you find a word that you can’t spell, try finding out if it follows a rule.
For example, why does the y in “friendly” turn into an i in “friendliness”?
Well, when you add a suffix (a word ending like “-ness”) to a word that ends in the letter y, that y is changed to an i. But that’s not the case if the suffix starts with an i (like “-ing”).
So someone can be “trying” but that same person “tries.” You can be “partying” or go to many “parties.” Thanks to knowing one word, you can learn how to spell many others that follow the same rule!
3. Learn commonly misspelled words
Many commonly misspelled words are not words you need to use too often. But here are ten commonly misspelled words you might actually need to know how to spell:
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should memorize all these words at once! Learn them one at a time, starting with the ones you use the most often. Or you can just…
4. Make a list of the words you have trouble spelling
Maybe you already know how to spell most commonly misspelled words (great for you!). Or maybe you just don’t use the word “vacuum” too often when you’re writing.
Instead of studying a list of words made by someone else, why not make your own? Write down words that you have trouble spelling, even if they seem simple. Then learn their spelling rules or memorize them with mnemonics.
You might find that you have trouble with certain groups of words. For example: “percent,” “preview,” “presentation”… when do you write “pre” and when is it “per”? Knowing what you need to learn is an important part of learning!
5. Check word origins in the dictionary
Many English words have Greek and Roman roots. This means they have Greek or Latin words in them. Knowing common roots can help you spell (and understand) more words.
When you look up a word in the dictionary, you might check the meaning and part of speech. But it can also be useful to check the origin (where something comes from). Many dictionaries include the origin of the words.
For example, have you ever wondered why “bicycle” is spelled the way it is? It comes from the Greek word cycl, which means “circle.” This is easy to remember because a wheel has the shape of a circle. The bi in “bicycle” is from Latin, and means “two.” So a bicycle is something that has two wheels.
Now, the next time you see cycl in a word, you can use it to guess the meaning. It will also help you remember how to spell the word. If a unicycle is like a bicycle but with just one wheel, what do you think uni means?
6. Chunk it
Sometimes words are difficult to spell just because they are long. In these cases, you can use the chunking method. Chunking is when you separate the word into “chunks,” or shorter parts. This way, you’re not memorizing the spelling for one long word, but just a few short ones!
The word “embarrassed,” for example, can be chunked like this:
Just remember the spelling for these four short “words,” and you’ll spell “embarrassed” correctly every time.
You can do this with any word you have trouble spelling—it makes them much easier to remember!
7. Sound it out
This is a spelling trick that is often taught to little kids, because it’s so simple. If you’re not sure how to spell a word, say it out loud, very slowly. Then write down what you hear.
Of course, this won’t work with every word. The word “friend,” for example, doesn’t sound the way it’s written. For words that don’t sound the way they’re spelled, you will need to use a different method.
In many simpler words, you should be able to get the correct spelling (or very close to it) by sounding the word out. So if you’re getting similar words like “blink” and “blank” confused, sound them out, letter by letter. This will help you spell and improve your pronunciation.
8. Draw a picture
You can use drawing as another mnemonic device. Have you ever noticed that the word “bed” actually looks like a bed? Using pictures is a great way to remember spellings.
Turn words that are difficult to spell into pictures. For example, “balloon” looks like it has two balloons in the middle. Maybe they’re being held up by the double l next to them, which is really two kids.
Draw any word you’re having trouble with, making the letters into a picture. The words will stop being just letters, and turn into an image.
9. Play word games
Playing word games is a fun way to test your new spelling skills. It’s also a good way to learn new words.
Now that you know how to improve your English spelling, you just need to work on it.
Before you know it, spelling will become much easier for you!
Oh, and One More Thing…
If you like learning real English, you should also check out the FluentU app. Like the website, the FluentU app lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word “brought,” you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It recommends you examples and videos based on the words you’ve already learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.