Deep Dive: Spelling

Like reading, we once had the misconception that spelling relied primarily on visual memory skills. Today, we know that, like reading, language skills play an important role in spelling. And contrary to the myth that the English language is too unpredictable and therefore spelling rules are nonexistent, English can be quite predictable.

It has been noted that a large majority of English spellings are predictable based on sound-letter correspondences, word origin, and word meaning.

Spelling is a linguistic skill. One needs to have good phoneme (sound) and word awareness skills. Children must learn that words are made up of sounds (phonemes). This is referred to as phonemic awareness. Children must also learn that the speech sounds (phonemes) of the language correspond to the letters (graphemes) that make up words. This is termed the “alphabetic principle.” These two skills are essential to learning to read and spell.

Spelling competency also depends on one’s ability to find the meaningful roots in words (e.g., suffixes and prefixes), know word origins, and remember letters and words. This skill is referred to as orthographic memory. Rather than rote memorization of spelling lists, teaching spelling requires direct instruction in the language forms (i.e., morphology), sound structures, word meanings, and origins.

You can see that many elements come into play to learn to spell the words of our language. These include the sounds, letters, word parts, word meaning, and word history. Spelling is a reflection of one’s word knowledge. The more your child knows about words and the more words he knows how to spell, the better equipped he’ll be to tackle new and challenging words.


Learn More

How Spelling Supports Reading and Why It Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think
By Louisa C. Moats, American Educator, Winter 2005/2006