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Language Arts

Misspelling & How to Improve



Misspelling is a problem that plagues many people, even those who try hard to overcome it. If you are serious about addressing the issue of misspelling, this article will give you some hints about approaches that you might find productive in helping you improve.


Where to Start

People can have trouble with misspelling for different reasons and in different situations, and sometimes the problem itself can suggest a solution. People with special situations, such as a learning disability or dyslexia, may need different types of solutions than people who frequently make mistakes in having single or double consonants. So, it’s a good idea to start with a little self analysis. What types of spelling mistakes do you make?

I’ve Got a Little List

If you know, or discover as you do your self-assessment, any patterns of frequently misspelled words, make a list. But don’t make just any list: go to your computer and in your word processing program, make a table with three columns and 27 rows and with the letters of the alphabet in the left-most column. In the middle top column write “Correct Spelling.” In the right top column write “My Misspelling(s).”

As you review your spelling and in the future, when you come across a word that you’re not sure about, enter it into your chart. Then choose one or more of the following to follow up.

Next Steps

  1. Set-up and use the spell check in your word processing program. What do I mean by set-up? If you have Microsoft Word, you would go to Preferences > Spelling and Grammar and create settings that work for the type(s) of writing you do.
  2. Periodically go to the automatic spelling correction set-up in your word processor (in Microsoft Word it is in Tools > AutoCorrect), and add your own personal misspellings and the correct spellings from your list. If you are diligent about tracking yourself, this will help eliminate your particular errors, even if the spell checker doesn’t recognize them. This is especially helpful for people who need to use specialized vocabulary of any kind in their writing, because spell checkers may fall down on jargon.
  3. If you really want to learn the proper spelling or if you need to because you create a lot of documents for which you are using pen or pencil and paper and not computer, try one or more of these approaches:

  • Make flashcards of your misspellings with the proper spelling on the back. Look at the misspelling side and try to spell each word correctly.
  • Write or type (depending on your goals) each word a bunch of times to get in practice for spelling it properly.
  • Check the pronunciation of each of your problem words and make sure you’re pronouncing it accurately (there may be more than one choice for accurate pronunciation). Incorrect pronunciation can lead to incorrect spelling.
  • Look for spelling patterns: noticing how spelling changes when prefixes and suffixes are added, when plurals are formed, and when verbs are conjugated, will help you in every individual case to which the larger pattern applies. When this is applicable, it is more effective than learning to spell word-by-word.
  • Visualize the proper spelling of words. If you are a visual learner, this may be a helpful method.
  • Use mnemonics. Many people know the rhyme “I before e except after c or when sounded like /ay/ as in neighbor or weigh.” You can make up your own to help you with the particular words that trouble you. The best mnemonics relate the word’s meaning to its spelling and/or its sound. This type of approach gives you the greatest possible number of clues. If you look at the article on “Eminent, Imminent, and Immanent,” for example, you will find at the end the mnemonic I made up about imminent involving the sword of Damocles. I’m not likely to ever forget the spelling now, and that’s the measure of a successful mnemonic.
  • Consider purchasing a book that teaches spelling. My book Painless Spelling (available at amazon.com) is used by adults as well as in school settings.
  • Purchase a misspeller’s dictionary or a Franklin spelling device or similar product. For various reasons, including a disability, some people cannot master spelling. A reference that you can have with you at all times can help make spelling less of a hassle in cases where trying harder is not an appropriate answer.