With its international status and easy conjugation, English is a brilliant language to learn, whether you learn english online or face to face. Gaining reading and writing skills with the possibility of achieving fluency in any language is highly beneficial for the future prospects of the learners, as acquiring valuable language skills is a small step in promoting healthy intercultural relations. However, there is one particularly tricky aspect of the English language, which causes all manner of problems for those learning English as a second language, as well as native English speakers.

The offender is English spelling. With its silent letters making new words difficult to pronounce, and several different pronunciations for words ending in o-u-g-h, English spelling is anything but phonetic. The way that ‘tough’ rhymes with ‘rough’, but it doesn’t rhyme with ‘though’ is enough to make anyone dizzy. English also features silent letters, which appear in the spelling of a word but are not said aloud. Some examples of silent letters include the letter ‘K’ in ‘knife’ and ‘knead’, as well as the ‘G’ in ‘gnarl’ and ‘gnat’.

Even the many English dictionaries on the market can’t seem to completely agree when it comes to the spelling of certain words, and whether compound words like ‘makeup’ should feature a hyphen to become ‘make-up’.

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The international status of English means that it opens up a lot of doors to its speakers
From Westminster to Washington DC and beyond - English is an international language ¦ source: Pixabay - derwiki

The interestingness of English spelling is largely due to the early origins of the English language, as well as more recent variations that have surfaced with English being spoken in North America. English started life as, and still technically is, a part of the Germanic family of languages. But the Norman invasion of 1066 brought a Latin influence across the channel, which had a lasting impact on English language and how language was used within society at that time.

When you learn to speak English as a foreign language, it is about more than your conversational English skills, listening comprehension and getting the hang of the latest slang to make an impression in your English lessons.

Being able to speak English fluently isn't the be-all and end-all of acing your English course. As a non native English learner, knowing how to read and write in good English is an essential part of using English in every aspect of communication, and will stand you in good stead if you take any written exams in English. Its rich yet somewhat rocky history is what makes some aspects of English challenging, but it is nevertheless a truly unique language and a joy to learn!

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The Logic of English Spelling Rules

English grammar rules such as pluralization and conjugation, as well as tenses, are just a few things that can pose problems when it comes to improving English spelling. However, overcoming these grammatical obstacles is all part of learning a language. Regardless of whether or not you are a native English speaker, there are many different methods and grammar exercises and worksheets out there to help you with your spelling. When studying English, you need to be motivated to constantly improve your communication skills. a large part of this is knowing yourself as a learner and finding out what revision methods work best for you. In order to succeed in your English language learning, you must first learn how to learn English confidently and effectively.

For example, you could keep a list of the words you struggle with, and test yourself on them until you can spell them perfectly, ticking them off as you go. This will target any problem areas and prevent you from getting into the habit of misspelling certain words, whilst helping you keep track of your progress.

You can use songs, rhymes or mnemonics to remember difficult spellings.

Ironically, 'mnemonic' is itself a tricky word to spell with its silent ‘M’ at the beginning, but mnemonics are an incredibly helpful method for remembering letter orders. ‘Mnemonic’ is an umbrella term for methods used to assist the memory. For instance, you could use phrases, tongue twisters or sentences in which the first letters of each word come together to form the word you want to spell. An example of this is ‘Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants’, which is a good way of remembering the spelling of ‘because’.

A large part of learning to spell is practice. For this reason, playing word games where your success is down to your ability to consider letter combinations, such as Scrabble, can help you take a less academic approach to spelling. Having fun in your learning is often the secret ingredient to academic success. This is exactly why watch English language films with subtitles is also a great way to link the sounds of spoken English to its letters! Learning through thinking critically about the inner workings of the English alphabet will not only help you get into the habit of avoiding spelling mistakes, but it will also help you gain confidence in your English proficiency.

The 10 Most Common Spelling Mistakes in English

There is a whole collection of words which people struggle to spell. Sometimes English pronunciation, which, as well as being one of these commonly misspelt words, is actually part of the greater issue.

Work on your spelling so you're never caught out on a crossword
Don't be caught out by English spelling ¦ source: Visualhunt - stevepb

English is neither a phonetic language nor is it very consistent when it comes to the link between pronunciation and spelling. For example, why should ‘colonel’ represent a rank of officer in the armed forces which is pronounced ‘ker-nul’, when it looks nothing like its pronunciation? And to confuse matters even further, why is this exact same pronunciation attributed to the edible part of a nut or seed, which is spelt phonetically as ‘kernel’?

The same goes for ‘knows’ and ‘nose’, or ‘mist’ and ‘missed’. There is a logical reason for the odd orthography of the English language, and it is to do with its turbulent past (or is it spelt ‘passed’?). To use the example above, the word ‘colonel’ is derived from the Middle French equivalent, which, at one time, had two spellings. The first was ‘coronel’, which is somewhat closer to the actual pronunciation, however, it was the older spelling of the word which triumphed, harking back to its Italian roots in ‘colonello’. English words with silent letters are usually of a foreign origin and have been adapted by English speakers over time. A recent example of this phenomenon is the Japanese word ‘tsunami’. The ‘ts’ sound at the beginning of a word is not native to the English language, so many native English speakers drop the ‘T’ and say ‘sunami’ instead.

With the UK being an island nation, English vocabulary has become a true melting pot of other languages, however, this does make it difficult to apply any kind of spelling rules. But don’t worry! There are plenty of tricks you can use to remember awkward spellings, such as the mnemonics we have already mentioned. Other causes of common spelling mistakes include double letters.

For example, in the word ‘unnecessary’, people are often unsure about how many N’s, C’s and S’s they should use. There is a simple trick for this one – your Nearly New shirt has one Collar and two Sleeves. So, ‘unnecessary’ – two 'N's, one 'C' and two 'S's. It is helpful to think of conquering English spelling as being fluent in English writing.

Where knowing a language fluently is often associated with having a high level of speaking skills and being able to use common English phrases and idiomatic expressions to in English conversation as naturally as possible, working on your English spelling can bridge the gap between your written and spoken English.

Rules of English Spelling

So, as we know, the English language is a melting pot, and this is what makes it so difficult to apply any sort of rule which doesn’t have any exceptions. However, there are patterns in how words work, and since so much of the English language is closely related to French and Germanic languages, these patterns apply to large groups of vocabulary. For instance, one of the simplest English spelling rules concerns pluralization. To pluralize a noun in English, as a general rule you add an ‘S’ to the end of the word.

Shoe → Shoes

Photograph → Photographs

Angel → Angels

However, this rule is only general, and there is a whole host of exceptions. Thankfully, since most of these exceptions follow the same pattern, you can easily learn how they work.

It's hard to make rules for English spelling that don't have a lot of exceptions
Rules are made to be broken, and they definitely are in English spelling! ¦ source: Pixabay - MoneyforCoffee

Let’s start with words ending in ‘Y’. For words ending in a consonant followed by ‘Y’, you remove the Y and add ‘i-e-s’:

Pony → Ponies

Company → Companies

Parties → Parties

The exception to this rule is the less common words which end with a vowel before the Y follow the usual rule or simply adding an ‘S’.

Bay → Bays

Key → Keys

Play → Plays

So, even though, as a speaker of another language, English spelling may seem to make people bend over backwards with its traps and inconsistencies, they’re not always too difficult to get the hang of. Another exception to standard pluralization is words which already end in ‘S’, like ‘bus’, for example. The rule for pluralizing these words is that you add ‘es’ instead of just ‘S’, and it applies to words ending in ‘s-s’, ‘Z’, ‘c-h’, ‘s-h’ and ‘X’, too.

Bus → Buses

Kiss → Kisses

Waltz → Waltzes

Match → Matches

Brush → Brushes

Tax → Taxes

This part of the pluralization rule isn’t so difficult to remember since these words are nearly impossible to pronounce without the additional ‘E’ to facilitate a consonant.

Choosing the Right English Dictionary for You

When you’re learning to speak English, you’ll undoubtedly need some kind of dictionary to help with practicing your literacy, vocab and spelling. But dictionaries come in all shapes and sizes: monolingual, bilingual, rhyming, prescriptive, descriptive, electronic, comprehensive or pocket. However, being spoilt for choice can sometimes be overwhelming. So how do you choose the right English dictionary for you?

Since each type of dictionary serves a different purpose, the one you choose will depend on your needs as a learner.

Some dictionaries are simply for looking up the spellings of words, and may only have a simple definition, whereas others will have definitions accompanied by related words and their usage. It may surprise you that the dictionaries we know today started life as bilingual glossaries in medieval Europe, which were used by churchgoers to translate biblical texts between Latin and their native language.

Similarly, the earliest English dictionaries in Great Britain were used to define Latin, French and Spanish words in English, and later developed to only contain English words with detailed definitions. The alphabetical dictionaries we know today came about in the year 1755, with the publication of ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ by Samuel Johnson. Dictionaries, glossaries and word lists offered a standardization of English spelling at a time when there were few reference resources.

This made the dictionary a powerful tool when it came to influencing the way in which the English language developed, as Noah Webster, as American compiler, realised. Webster began making subtle changes to the spellings used by the Brits to make words better reflect their pronunciation, and these changes subsequently became responsible for what we know today as ‘US English’.

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4 Common Causes of Spelling Mistakes

The inconsistency of the English language doesn't make it easy to keep track of spelling and grammar rules, and for every rule of the English language, there is an exception. When you are not conversant with these rules, or in some cases, the exception to the rules, you fall into the trap of spelling errors.

Here are the most common culprits which are behind spelling errors in the English language:

Unusual letter sequences

This occurrence results from the misplacing of the order of characters in words, especially when those characters are silent when pronounced. Examples are maneuver, thought, foreign. For inexperienced students of English, the concept of silent consonants might be challenging to grasp, and this difficulty reflects in their spelling skills.

In addition, the three underlined characters are usually mixed and reordered, resulting in spelling errors. For example, when you can't seem to remember if "e" comes before "o" or vice versa in "maneuver," or if the sequence is "i-n-g" instead of "i-g-n" in "foreign" or can't pick the right sequence between "g-h-t" and "g-t-h" in "thought," the probability of a spelling error occurring in any of these scenarios is relatively high.

Silent consonant sounds

Silent consonants are not a rare phenomenon in the English language, but this doesn't make the error that results from them rare. Most spelling errors are a result of unpronounced characters in a word. When we spell words, we sometimes spell as we pronounce, and unwary spellers fall victim to spelling an unpronounced character by omitting that character.

Most of the offending sounds may not be silent when pronounced alone. Still, when combined with other sounds, these consonants lose their sounds and become silent, thereby confusing unsuspecting spellers to make the error of omission when spelling.

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If you accept corrections often, your English will improve drastically. Source: Pexels

Examples of spelling errors resulting from silent consonants are; caracter for character, boming for bombing, wether for whether, rite for write, rong for wrong, etc.

Words that break spelling rules

The English language comes with many rules, one of which is the spelling rule "I before E, except after C." This rule states that in words where the vowel sounds 'I' and 'e' appear together, 'I' always comes before 'e' as in piece, belief, field, but if they appear after 'c,' then 'e' comes before 'I' as in receive ceiling, deceive, etc.

But the problem with this rule is that it comes with so many exceptions. One exception states that if it sounds like 'a', that rule doesn't apply as in neighbors, beige, or weight. These exceptions cause a lot of confusion and are often misspelled, and most times, the exception is made the rule. Some of the problem words are foreign, height, counterfeit, weird, conscience and seize, etc.

Double consonants in long words

Double consonants in a word are pretty easy to notice, especially when it's a short word, like sitting. It's even easier to figure out or remember where the double consonant should have its position. But when the word is long with up to eight characters or more, it's easy to forget where the double consonant has its rightful position.

We might omit one of those consonants, make an entirely different consonant a double one in the same word, or make two sets of double consonants, with one set being correct and the other being wrong. First, some examples of words that fall into this category are listed.

Next, the words most likely to be erroneously doubled are capitalized: beGinning, reFerred, reCommend,  neCessary, occaSion, proFessor, and diSappear.

On the other hand, some words have two sets of double consonants, which also causes some confusion because we know some words have a double set of double consonants.

Still, because we can't figure out which they are, we end up causing an error of omission by removing one of the letters from one set of the double consonants. Some examples are possession, successful accommodation, reConnaissance, occurred, and embarrass. 

What is the Importance of Spelling in English?

Good spelling is a huge indicator of the depth of one's knowledge and attention to detail. When a writer puts out a book or a piece of writing riddled with spelling errors, it would not be a pleasure to read, and he would fail in his attempt to communicate with his audience. Conversely, correct spelling makes reading a pleasure and helps readers understand the message being passed across. 

Importance of Spelling in Grammar

Correct spelling in grammar is essential as it helps the reader comprehend the text; eliminating spelling errors aids your readers and gives them a rewarding reading experience. Furthermore, putting together a well-written essay depends mainly on one's ability to spell; for a student, this is crucial.

Importance of spelling in business communications

Communication in the workplace is vital to the success and longevity of every business; you want your employees to do exactly what needs to be done for the success of your business. A critical factor for this is how much of your message they comprehend.

For example, if there are spelling errors in office memos and internal emails, or if instructions are interpreted as they ought not to, there would be a lot of confusion and misunderstanding. Poor spelling might also affect the professionalism of the text and create a very poor impression on the receiver, especially when there are multiple errors.

What Are the Benefits of Spelling Correctly?

The benefits of spelling correctly cannot be overemphasized in our day to day lives and business dealings; here are five significant benefits of spelling correctly:

  • Employability

Let's face it; if you submitted a cover letter or your resume filled with spelling errors for a job, no one would be calling you back. Our ability to spell indicates how smart and knowledgeable we are, and every employer only wants smart employees.

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Teaching English at any level requires mastery and competence. Source: Pexels
  • Communication and comprehension

Good spelling facilitates comprehension and avoids confusion which is the key to communication. If you write carefully and intentionally, making sure all your words are correctly put together, then the receiver of that text will have no problem comprehending it.

  • Computer error

There is auto-correct on most computers, which helps with predictions and spellings, so why do we need to learn to spell?' Here's why: Computers might be smart, but sometimes they might be too smart for our good.

What if you need to type a "your," but your computer gives you "you're" instead? If you have no idea how to differentiate both, or you do, but you're just unsure how they are spelled, you might end up making the same mistake as your computer.

  • Literacy

There's no way you'd be good at spelling and not be good at reading; spelling and reading go hand in hand and help with overall literacy. Learning to spell and spelling properly helps with your overall literacy and also helps sharpen your mind.

  • Credibility

Impressions last on people; whether you're an employer, an employee, or a student, people will remember what you wrote, especially if it was filled with errors. You want to be remembered for the right reasons. Spelling correctly helps to achieve this.

It might not matter how interesting. Informative or educative your article is if your target audience didn't enjoy reading because of errors. Also, people won't think so highly of you if your work is filled with mistakes. They might wonder what kind of a person doesn't edit and proofread their work.

Then they'd think, "A lazy and sloppy one, that's who!" Nobody would want that to be said of them, hence the importance of enrolling in an English course that emphasizes spelling.

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How Does Spelling Support Reading?

Reading is impossible without spelling; the ability to read depends on recognizing a word and reconciling the characters with their sounds. The skills of spelling, reading, writing, and understanding all go hand in hand; improved spelling equals improved reading. 

In this day and age of auto spell-check, we might wonder why it's necessary to learn how to spell since the computer does it for us. Still, it is more important now than ever to learn to spell, especially in this age of mass communication, where more words reach more people within a short period.

This is why it's critical to work on our spelling skills. Learning to spell a word naturally follows reading it, and vice versa. So when we hear new strange words, we will be able to spell them correctly because our spelling skills have improved. 

How to Find the Right Spelling Tutor

Even though learning to spell might prove challenging at times, it doesn't have to be. Learning to spell can be fun if you're learning with the right spelling tutor. Spelling and reading are a part of everyday life on all fronts, and we need to get it right. Once you get started, you'll discover that the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. 

Find a reputable English tutor to help you with your spelling lessons here.

Consider enrolling in an English class or find the best places to learn English online here to improve your spelling. Find the right online teacher here on superprof.ca to help you with your spelling lessons and language courses.

The world of dictionaries is far richer and more interesting than anyone ever imagines, and every publication is much more than a simple book of words. The pros and cons of learning English as a native speaker of a foreign language are mainly due to the expanse of the English speaking world, but rest assured that help is never far away and from day one, you can reap the rewards.

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Marvis

Marvis Osarhenrhen is a freelance SEO writer focused on helping businesses reach their target audience, get leads and increase revenue using optimized content.