Why Spelling in English Is a Minefield and How You Can Learn to Spell Easily, Even So

Excerpt from Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in Middle English, circa 1400 A.D.

Yet spelling in English is far from easy!

When asked why English was so hard to spell and why bother, anyway, the American humorist Mark Twain said he could invent his own words and would that help? So he wrote this, a phonetic version. It makes perfect sense read aloud: “Fainali, xen, aafte sam 20 iers ov orxogrefkl riform, wi wud hev a lojikl, kohirnt speling in ius xrewawt xe Ingliy-spiking werld.”

BUT…when it comes to spelling words the right way in English, there are some twists and turns along the way! Why is that?

Long ago in the British Isles, English evolved as a language shaped by many other languages, the legacy of one invader after another. The power of English to survive over the centuries lay in how it could absorb words from those languages and re-fashion them into its own. It is a fascinating subject where you can trace how words have morphed into being written like the ones we use today. The journey of doing that is like following clues in an intricate mystery.

So What CAN You Do?

The standard answers given by professionals on how to improve spelling are good ones, rightful ones, for if followed they do bring awareness of spelling correctly to a high level of skill. You are encouraged to:

  • Keep a dictionary near and use it constantly to look up every word you don’t recognize.
  • Make a list every day of words new to you that you want to spell correctly.
  • Create mnemonics — which means to create a verse or memory to associate with a spelling rule. A popular one for hear/here, for example, is “You hEAR with your EAR.” Another one reminds you “Your princiPAL is your PAL; a principLE is a ruLE.”

But what is the most effective thing you can do? This:

  • Write the word slowly five times in a row in a vertical column. Look at the column when you are done and say one word loudly: “YES!”
  • Write down that word just once in a sentence below the column.
  • Say that sentence aloud three times.

Storyteller and dreamer. I write about the English language, being human, the magic of life, and metaphysics. Ph.D. in English Literature. www.regina-clarke.com

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