ESL: The Importance Of Spelling Correctly

Misspelling is cute! (If you are a 5-year-old typist!)

Title: Letter to Aunt Cathrine, 1984 Attribution License: Photographer: Caitlinator
Title: Letter to Aunt Cathrine, 1984 Attribution License: Photographer: Caitlinator

The Difference of a Letter Grade

When I was in school, misspelled words could bring grades down dramatically. An A+ paper could become a B- because of one or two misspelled words. The reason teachers always gave was, "There is no excuse for misspelled words. You can always look it up." Back then, looking it up involved hauling out a big thick dictionary and paging through it to find the word in question and then choosing among words with similar meanings and spellings. This could mean reading several definitions and making a decision as to which word was the correct choice. The result of this training was that many generations of Americans learned to use the dictionary effectively. We increased our vocabularies and learned which words sound alike and are spelled similarly but have different meanings, and learned how to spell well in general. Anyone who did not, clearly was not considered very smart. After all, all you had to do to know how to spell was consult your dictionary.

That was then. This is now.

Now, there is even less excuse for misspelled words. Virtually every word processing application available on every computer has some kind of spellchecking system. There are also many online spell checkers available, and just about every website that allows you to leave comments includes spell checking ability in their comments function.

While these systems can cause you to choose the wrong word (because they do not check to see if you have the right word or not, just that the words you have are correctly spelled) they do, generally, make it much, much easier to turn out a well-spelled document. If a spell-checking system gives you several options for spelling a word, and you are unsure which is correct, you can always look it up, either online or in an actual dictionary.

There are no EXCEPTIONS to the places you will find misspellings.

Misspelling is everywhere!
Misspelling is everywhere!

Why Should You Go To the Trouble?

These days we see misspelled words even in books from fine publishing houses. We see them in the newspaper, on signs by the roadside, and surely articles and comments on the internet are rife with misspellings. That is why it is even more important to take the time and the care to spell correctly. People who do take the time to spell correctly stand out as being careful, respectful of the language and their readers, and intelligent. Although there are several schools of thought on whether or not the ability to spell is an indication of intelligence, the fact of the matter is, when you spell correctly, you make a better impression. When you take the time and care to be sure you have chosen the right word and spelled it correctly, your viewpoints and requests are more likely to be taken seriously.

How Can I Be Sure My Spelling is Correct?

When you write a document of any kind, first, simply write it. Go through quickly and get your thoughts on paper (or committed to some sort of word processing program) as quickly as possible. If you don’t know a word in English, write it in your own language, then improve your spelling and increase your vocabulary by looking it up later. In that way, you will be sure you have said what you have to say without worrying about spelling in your first draft.

Second: Run a spell check. When you run the spell check, make sure that you know the definitions of the options offered. Take the time to look them up in the dictionary or online before you choose which word you want to use.

Third: Proofread the entire document yourself. Double-check any word you are unsure of. Look it up. Check all of the words with similar spellings to be sure you have chosen the right word. Check the different forms of the word to be sure you have chosen the correct form. For example, if you write: "I going to the store today." your spelling is all correct; however, the form of the word "go" is not. Read all of the examples given in your dictionary or in your online program to help you choose, "I am going to the store today." or "I will go to the store today."

Fourth: Everybody needs a proofreader . Ask a native speaker to proofread your document. Pay close attention to the corrections that person suggests, then check them out yourself. Consult your favorite grammar book or online program and double-check the spelling and grammar.

Fifth: Run a final spell check and proofread the document yourself one more time. I cannot tell you how many times I have done all of these things only to see a tiny error in my published article. Some examples of errors that are likely to slip past you are:

"Check you spelling."
"He cant understand it."
"I am going too the store."

Your spellchecker will not tell you that you have accidentally used YOU, CANT , and TOO, when you actually mean YOUR, CAN'T, and TO. Nothing is misspelled. This is why it is very important to look up all of the possible spellings of any word you are unsure of and also to simply browse through your dictionary reading new words from time to time. The more you look up words, the more you compare them, the more you familiarize yourself with them, the better proofreader you will be and the more fluent your English will be.

Do I Need a Traditional Dictionary?

I recommend it. I believe you should get the best quality printed dictionary you can afford. Certainly, you can look up any word you like online, and there are lots of wonderful programs you can use to help you perfect your document. However, there is nothing like a book. A book can be your friend. There are aspects of learning from a book that a computer simply cannot match. Holding a book and turning the pages is a tactile experience. When you touch the book and feel the texture of the cover and the weight of the pages, the experience reinforces your learning. The smell of the pages reinforces your learning. The fact that you are seeing with your eyes, touching with your fingertips and inhaling the scent of a book all join forces to help you remember what you are learning with your mind. A high quality dictionary can become a prized possession that you will turn to for assistance all your life. Even when it is technically "out of date" it will still be helpful to you. And as I said, the  more you use it, the more you will think of your dictionary as a good friend.

How Else Can I Learn to Spell?

Read, read, read! Read in English as much as you can. Read for pleasure. Read about things that interest you and make you laugh or cry or feel angry, joyful or inspired. Read lots of books, magazines, and articles about your favorite subjects so that you can become very fluent in the things you love to talk about most. When you read about the things that are important to you, you are engaging your heart, and you are more likely to remember every aspect of what you read - including spelling.

Listen to books on tape and read along in the book. This is another example of engaging your senses to help you learn and remember more. The more words you see and hear in context, the better your spelling will become and the more your vocabulary will grow. This is how I read Shakespeare in college, and it was extremely helpful. It gave me a much deeper understanding of the stories than I would have had otherwise, and of course, it increased my vocabulary and helped me to speak knowledgeably about the plays in class because I had heard trained, educated, experienced actors saying the lines. It also helped me to become familiar with old English spelling. While this knowledge not an everyday necessity, it actually comes in handy from time to time!

More Ways to Improve Your Spelling Skills

Become Multi-Lingual

Learn how to fingerspell and fingerspell each new word you learn. This is another way to engage your senses. Learning American Sign Language (ASL) is also a good way to improve your vocabulary. When you sign or fingerspell a word, you are experiencing it with another sense - the sense of touch. Say, hear, see, touch, and spell a word, and you will not forget it. As an added bonus, when you learn ASL, you are learning another language! ASL is accepted as a foreign language in American schools, so knowing it will improve your English and make you multi-lingual.

Watch Movies in English With Subtitles

Watch with subtitles in your own language first to get a good idea of what the story is about and to hear the words in English while reading them in your native language. Then watch with English subtitles or with the Closed-Captions option turned on. This will help you see how the spoken word is spelled. Even though the subtitles or captions occasionally don't match exactly with the spoken word, it is still helpful because you will see different ways of expressing the same thought.

By the way, when you watch movies in English, don't study them. Choose movies you will enjoy, and watch them for fun. Sit back and enjoy the story. Your eyes will see the subtitles. Your ears will hear the spoken word. You will remember a lot better if you enjoy what you are doing than if you make it difficult for yourself.

Take Advantage of Classic Materials for Children

Read classic nursery rhymes: Rhymes are easy to remember, and when you become familiar with common rhyming words, you will gain a deeper understanding of which words tend to sound alike (even when spelled differently) and why.

Read all of Dr. Seuss' books: These books have many, many rhymes and plays on words that will reinforce your spelling and improve your vocabulary.

Even though these are children's stories, rhymes, and songs, they are also a classic part of the English speaking culture. Having a familiarity with classic children's materials will make it easier for you to make appropriate word choices when writing. It will also help you to speak like a native because you will be able to refer to common parts of the English speaking culture with ease.

Be Ready to Learn Anywhere!

  1. Play online spelling games.
  2. Play spelling games like Scrabble.
  3. Carry a crossword puzzle book with you
  4. Get an old fashioned typing drill book and type and type and type!
  5. Retype poetry and prose and articles. (Typing is tactile practice!)

Do You Know All These Words?

Look at these vocabulary words in context in the paragraphs of this article. Write a short definition of each word, then look each one up in a dictionary or online to see how closely your understanding of the word in context matches the complete definition of the word. If you take the time to do this, you are very likely to remember how to spell and use these words from now on!


Copyright:SuzanneBennett:September 25, 2010

More by this Author

Comments 25 comments

Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks

Suzanne, I enjoyed reading this hub, and I think it will be a great help to ESL students. It's also helpful to put yourself in the foreign student's shoes, and try to see what may be of help. When I was studying Chinese, I was often surprised that I recognized a word when I encountered it for the first time in my textbook. Even though Chinese writing is not phonetic, the more words you learn, the more you can know about other words you have not learned yet. Many names are also common words, and that can be a help, too.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 6 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Aya! Yes, it is the same in ASL. When you understand the concept of groups of signs, you begin to recognize signs you have never seen before. It is also the same in English, which is why I recommend using a traditional dictionary. When you do this, you see entire groups of words with similar spellings and (sometimes) similar meanings.

CanadianInvestor profile image

CanadianInvestor 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Good hub Suzanne. I'm a french-speaking person, and can't believe at the problems that native-english people have writing properly their own language. English is a relatively-easy language to write, I think, when you compare to some other languages (think of the french verbs, for example), but so many people nevertheless struggle so much with it. I've had my mood spoiled so many times when reading "your welcome", "he is a school principal", "condo's for sale!", ...

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks for the comment! Yes indeed! That can be annoying! :)

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 5 years ago from Deep South, USA

Enjoyed this hub very much. Finding misspelled words anywhere is a major pet peeve of mine, but it's an especially flagrant sabatoge of the language when misspelled words are printed in a publication that should have line editors to catch such errors.

I learned to read at age four, and have read so much all my long life (I'm 67) that spelling correctly is easy for me...that is, unless I tackle a totally unfamilar word. Then I use the dictionary. SpellCheck can't help if an actual English word is used in the wrong context (i.e., "your" instead of "you're", which is an oft-made mistake).

People of all ages should take the time and effort to learn to spell accurately. I agree that schools should count off points from the grade when there are misspellings in homework and other school papers. It's best to learn this skill early in life.


justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 5 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks! :)

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

Hello suzanne, I still use my dictionary, it is my second favorite book after my bibles.

This is a very good hub.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Good for you! Many thanks! :)

FlourishAnyway profile image

FlourishAnyway 3 years ago from USA

Awesome hub! I grew up with a mother who loved Shakespeare and playing Scrabble. She also made me look up words in the dictionary (eye roll), even though it would have been quicker if she could have just told me the answer. Now I practice the same lessons with my own daughter.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Good on ya! Spelling is the basis of reading and reading is the basis of learning anything and everything you want to know! :D

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

When I was in elementary school spelling errors were definitely taken into account when the grading of a paper was done. Penmanship also counted! These are all good pointers for people wishing to learn how to properly spell words. Now I understand your focus on writing some of these articles for ESL students. I'll bet that you are an excellent teacher! Up and useful votes.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks Peggy! Yes, I remember the days when spelling and penmanship were important. Wish they still were! :)

Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

Hello again Suzanne, I thought of you today when I opened my grandmother's bible and saw the letter that she had written to me so many years ago.

Mammo (my grandmother) only finished the third grade, but her she read her bible every day from cover to cover then started over. Her penmanship is beautiful.

Thank you for reminding me of her.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

My pleasure! Thanks for commenting! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Hi Suzanne,

I was going to share this hub and I do not see the buttons. Oh well, at least this will show up in the feed and hopefully bring some attention to this hub.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

I know! It's strange! Sometimes the buttons appear, and sometimes they don't. I see them right now, next to this comment box I'm typing in, but that's no guarantee you'll see them if you look again! :D

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Came back and now the share button is consider it done. :)

Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran 3 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

Amen! And amen! A great resource is the Associated Press Stylebook. It will point out when to use words like accept and except instead of just giving the correct spelling for tricky words like these. Great job here.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Many thanks, Peggy and Kathleen! :)

Levertis Steele profile image

Levertis Steele 3 years ago from Southern Clime

You have a good variety of spelling strategies.

The child's letter above tells me that she listens to sounds and would not have much difficulty learning phonics.

Thanks for sharing.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Yes indeed! Thanks for commenting! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I wonder if they are teaching spelling using phonetics in schools these days? They did when I was a student, but quit doing it just a few years later when my brothers followed me in those classes. They seem to change ideas of teaching methods every so often. It worked to the detriment of my brothers. Sharing this again this time by tweeting.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Thanks, no I think they are teaching word recognition, which is just a disaster. It does not empower one to read effectively. Being able to sound out words phonetically and having a basic understanding of Latin is the best way to learn to read English (and recognize quite a bit of other Romance languages) effectively. Thanks for sharing! :)

Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

I just created a new board on Pinterest titled schooling. Will be adding this hub to it.

justmesuzanne profile image

justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas Author

Great! Thanks, Peggy! :)

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article