It’s a fact: English isn’t the most complicated language to pronounce, but it’s a very difficult language to spell. Compared to Spanish, which follows logical spelling rules, English has spelling rules handed down from Latin, French, German, and other languages. Each of those languages has its own set of rules. In fact, only 12 percent of English words are spelled the way they sound! The result is that a lot of English-speaking kids struggle with spelling in their native language.
Of course, this is the era of spellcheck. So that helps when kids (and adults) are typing. Still, accurate spelling is a gateway to real-world success. In a recent study of Fortune 500 companies, some 85 percent of staff reported that they threw away a resume or cover letter with as few as one or two spelling errors.
However, experts say that it’s not helpful to interrupt students’ writing process to correct their spelling. So even if your child’s teacher has told you that your child needs to improve her spelling, don’t try to get your child to think about her spelling when she is writing her first (or even second) draft. Spelling is an important final step in writing. It’s only at the end of the writing process, when your child has expressed her ideas and written what she wants to say, that it’s time to check spelling. Have your child do a first read through of her work to try to correct spelling errors. She can ask for help or — even better — look up the right spelling in an online dictionary. After that, you can do another read-through with your child, stopping to point out words that aren’t quite right yet. Support your child as she figures out the correct spelling. For example, if your child wrote “inportnt,” you can help her by sounding it out slowly to help her catch that the n should be an m and that there’s a vowel missing to spell “important.”
4 ways to help your child with spelling when you don’t read or speak English
Make sure your child reads a lot in English. For most students, just seeing words and saying them aloud will help imprint the spelling of the word on their mind.
Practice makes perfect
If your child comes home with a piece of writing with a lot of spelling errors, have your child write the words correctly and post the list on your fridge. Every day, review one of the words. Gradually, your child will master the words, one by one. Concentrating on the words your child regularly spells wrong will be much more effective than having your child study a random list of spelling words.
Make it fun
Use memory and sound tricks. When my daughter repeatedly struggled to spell “people,” I had her sound the word out as if it were phonetic: PE-O-PLE. She never forgot it again. In the same way, your child can use images and ideas to remember how certain words are spelled. For instance, say your child is struggling with spelling the word “piece.” Can she see that the “pie” hidden inside it? If she would like a piece of pie, it may be easier to remember the first three letters of piece. If you don’t speak English, it can be hard to help make these up for your child. But you can ask your child to look for playful ways to remember how new words are spelled.
Vocabulary first, spelling second
Finally, ask your child if she understands the meaning of new words. It’s much harder to memorize spelling when a word has no meaning. So if your child’s teacher sends home a spelling list, start by making sure your child knows the meaning of each new word.
Learning to spell in English can be the most frustrating and boring part of learning English — or it can be playful and even comical as children look for creative ways to remember crazy English spelling. As much as you can, try to reinforce the fun part!