Unit 2: How to learn individual words

Tips, help learning English spellingSpellzone will teach you the rules of English spelling and will also show you which words break those rules. But, with English, however many rules and rule-breakers you learn, you are still going to find some odd words that need extra care.

Another problem with English is that there are often many ways of spelling the same sound. Look at this example from Unit 11:



Unit 11 Spelling the sound /er/: ur, ir, ear, or ?

Tips, help learning English spelling There are 4 main ways of spelling this vowel sound. There are no rules to help you decide which spelling to use -you have to remember what the word looks like.    

Say the words aloud and listen to the vowel sound:

Tips, help learning English spelling Tips, help learning English spelling Tips, help learning English spelling Tips, help learning English spelling
ur as in burger ir as in shirt ear as in earth er as in person


To go to a more advanced unit with a similar example, click here.

Each of the words above has the same vowel sound. How do you know which to choose from ur  ir  ear  er ? The sounds in a word are only the starting point in learning to spell it. It is also important to know what the word looks like. If you have seen it before, you may be able to remember what it looks like. If not, one of the best ways to learn is to use this method:

Look  Say  Cover  Write  Check

Tips, help learning English spelling LOOK at the word carefully.
What letter patterns can you see?
Does it have a prefix or a suffix? ***see below
Are there any small words within the word?
Tips, help learning English spelling SAY the word aloud and listen to the sounds in it.
How many syllables?
Can you hear the vowel sound in each syllable?
Tips, help learning English spelling When you think you know the word, COVER it.
Tips, help learning English spelling WRITE the word from memory.
Tips, help learning English spelling Look back and CHECK if you are correct.
If yes - do it twice more to fix it in your memory.
If not - go back to step one.

*** Suffixes and prefixes are covered in detail in Units 9, 23 and 34.

If you keep making mistakes with the same word, try this way of learning it:

  • Write the whole word
    (make sure it is correct - check in a dictionary if necessary)
  • Write it again with the first letter missing
  • Write it again, this time missing the second letter - and so on.
  • Finally, write the complete word again
anxious
nxious
a xious
an ious
anx ous
anxi us
anxio s
anxiou
anxious

Some people find making up anagrams can help them - use Scrabble tiles, or make your own by writing and cutting out the letters. Try it this way:

  • Look at the correct spelling and pick out
    the letters you need.
  • Muddle up the letters.
  • Look back at the correct word then hide it.
  • Arrange the letters to make the word.
  • Check you are correct, muddle them again and repeat.
  • Follow up with written practice
Tips, help learning English spelling

Tips, help learning English spelling If a word keeps causing you problems, it calls for more action. You need to think of a memory trigger - a mnemonic. (The word mnemonic starts with a silent m. It comes from an ancient Greek word mnemonikos, meaning 'mindful').

Work on the part of the word causing problems. Look at this example:
accommodation (a word said to be spelled wrongly by over 50% of adults)

To remember double cc and double mm:
Think of two people with the initials CC and MM sharing accommodation:
Cheerful Charlie and Mad Mick

When you invent a mnemonic, draw it also. This helps to fix it in your memory. Make cc into Cheerful Charlie's eyes and mm into Mad Mick's eyebrows. You will never again forget to put cc and mm in accommodation.
Tips, help learning English spelling

Some more ideas for mnemonics (memory triggers):

1. Look for small words within a word. For example:

what busy separate Parliament terrible vegetable

 

2. Acronyms are words made from the initial letters of a phrase, for example:

radar - radio detection and ranging
laser - light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation

Try this in reverse: make up phrases or short sentences for words you find hard to remember. For example, see how many sentences you can make up for said:

Tips, help learning English spelling Tips, help learning English spelling Tips, help learning English spelling
Smelly Albert is dirty. Sarah Ann is dancing. Sam ate ice-cream daily.

By the time you have made up ten different sentences, you should have the spelling of said fixed firmly in your mind. If not, choose your favourite sentence and write said many times, saying your sentence as you write each letter.


3. Think of other words that have the same letter pattern as the one you want to learn. Put the words in a sentence, for example:

The guy with the guitar drinks fruit juice Tips, help learning English spellingTips, help learning English spelling


4. Invent your own spelling language: pronounce words as they are spelled.
This works well for:

  • words with silent letters
  • words with a weak vowel sound in one syllable

For example, see this extract from Unit 22:

    knife   knees

.... and from Unit 33:

    contestant   ornament

Put the words in sentences and read them aloud them to a friend - using your spelling language.

5. How to track down tricky letters: Tips, help learning English spelling

Sometimes you can link tricky words with others that have the same root.
For example:

All these words are linked in some waywith the word sign Tips, help learning English spelling
In these words the g is silent: In these words you can hear the g :
sign
design
resign
consign
assign
ensign
signal
signature
signet (ring)
insignia
designate
assignation
resignation

To remember a word with silent g, put it in a sentence with one from the other set, e.g.
a) A sign is a kind of signal
b) Put your signature on your design.
c) To resign from your job, hand in your resignation.

Some more examples of how to track down tricky letters: Tips, help learning English spelling
medicine : remember the c in medical, medication
receipt : remember the p in reception, receptacle
muscles : remember the c in muscular

You'll find many more tips like these throughout the Spellzone course.

Look for the logo: Learning Tip for English spelling

To see some more examples, click here.

Use the mnemonics in the Spellzone course as examples but, wherever possible, make up your own - you will remember them better. (And the ones you will remember the most will be the silly or vulgar ones!)

next part of the spelling course Go to the next page:
Tips on how to learn groups of similar words

Find out how to get the full Spellzone course - around 450 web pages of teaching tips and practice exercises.

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Unit 2: Learning tips, how to improve your spelling

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