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ESL: The Importance Of Spelling Correctly

Updated on December 19, 2021

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


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