Language skills important for spelling

We once held the misconception that spelling, like reading, relied primarily on visual memory skills. Today we know that language skills play an important role in spelling. Contrary to the myth that the English language is too unpredictable, and that spelling rules are therefore 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.

We need to help dyslexics and their parents understand that spelling is a linguistic skill. We need to help them understand that children need to have good phoneme and word awareness skills. Children must learn that words are made up of phonemes. Children must also learn the “alphabetic principle" -- that phonemes correspond to the graphemes that make up words. This is a skill 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.

Many elements are engaged when learning to spell the words of our language. These include the phonemes, letters, phonics, word parts, word meanings, and word history. Spelling is a reflection of one’s word knowledge. The more one knows about words and the more words he/she knows how to spell, the better equipped the student will be to tackle new and challenging words.