1. English is a mish-mash of foreign languages and cultures that have heavily influenced the development of English words. (Please refer to ‘ENGLISH IS A FOREIGN LANGUAGE: ENGLISH WORDS BORROWED FROM OTHER LANGUAGES (1) for examples.

2. One English sound can be spelled in more than one way. Words may have the same sound, but are spelled differently. Consider the words door, sore, board and lord. They all have the same / ɔ: / sound, but you can see the words have different spelling: ‘oor’, ‘ore’, ‘oar’ and ‘or’.

3. Heterographs are words that sound the same yet have different spellings and meanings. For example, there, their and they’re all sound the same, yet are spelled differently.

4. Homonyms are words that look and sound the same, but have different meanings. A good example of homonyms is bank: it can mean a building where you put your hard earned savings, or the land on either side of a river, or it can mean ‘to rely on’.

5. Heteronyms are words that have the same spelling, but different pronunciation, and different meanings. Desert /’dezət / is a dry arid place, like the Sahara, while desert /di’zɜ:t / means to abandon. (Neither of these words should be confused with dessert /di’zɜ:t /, which is that delicious part of the meal that involves pie, cake or ice cream.

With such complexities of the English language, how does a Teacher of English to Speakers of Other Languages help students learning English learn the correct spelling of words? I’m sure we can all remember pouring over long vocabulary lists in our second language, mechanically writing down each word again and again, until the spelling became automatic. But this is time consuming, and requires a lot of writing.

Instead, there is a quick and easy procedure to learn the spelling of any English word, using 9 simple steps. It is important to tell students to follow each one of these steps in the process of learning how to spell new words:

1. Say the word out loud to yourself. This allows you to hear the sounds in the words, in relation to the letters used to spell it. (This is called the sound-symbol relationship). You are using both listening and speaking skills here, and gives you a chance to ‘taste’ the word in your mouth.

2. Analyse the word. Look at the word in print. Either break the word into its syllables, or see if you can break it into its prefix, root and suffix. This will help with the later spelling of the word. Here you are using the reading skill.

3. Spell the word out loud. While you are looking at the word, spell the word syllable by syllable, or by its prefix, root, then suffix. This breaks the word up into chunks, and makes it easier to spell, especially if the word is long. Here you combine reading, speaking and listening.

4. Close your eyes and spell with word out loud. Visualize the word in your mind’s eye, and spell it syllable by syllable, or again by its grammatical parts. You are reinforcing the listening and speaking skills, and you are engaging the mind in the learning process.

5. Do a spell check. Did you spell the word correctly?

6. Now, write the word down. As you did in step 4, spell the word by its syllables, or by its grammatical parts. Now you are engaging the writing skill.

7. Do another spell check. Did you write the word correctly?

8. If you spelled the word wrong, go back to step 1 and repeat the process until you’ve written the word down correctly.

9. (The most important step) USE the word as often as you can. The more you write the word, the more familiar you will become with the spelling, and over time, you will begin to spell the word without thinking about the spelling.

And this method works. Try it on something simple, like antidisestablishmentarianism, or Superkalifragilisticexpialidocious. If your students can learn how to spell these two words, they can learn to spell any word in English.

Michael Bunyak

English Teacher at Canadian Education College, Singapore