Teaching Spelling Through Meaning

I was so caught up in the excitement of the book this week, that I didn’t get around to writing an Englisch Macht Spaß post. But that’s okay, because someone else – a Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at the University of Canberra, no less – has written a fantastic article that I am going to share.

When I was at school, I loved spelling. For whatever reason, I could do it very well. My best friend, who is a bona fide brain, was a dreadful speller. I think, to this day, she still is. Spelling in English is one of those things that first appears to bother us when we start scrawling our name, and for many, continues to bother us for the rest of our adult lives. It’s hard. It’s often seemingly nonsensical. Did you know only 12% of English words are spelt how they are pronounced? And one of the main ways we are taught to spell is to ‘sound it out’ – which is completely a redundant technique with 88% of our words.

We have 26 letters, but we have around 44 sounds (it’s not easy to be precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds.

So, while sounds – or phonics – are important in learning to spell, they are insufficient. When the only tool we give young children for spelling is to “sound it out”, we are making a phonological promise to them that English simply cannot keep.

Why Some Kids Can’t Spell and Why Spelling Tests Won’t Help by Misty Adoniou, is a fascinating piece, published on The Conversation, that looks at English spelling and how we should learn it – through etymology. Instead of asking our kids to rote learn ‘strings of letters with no meaning attached’, or to ‘sound it out’, we should be attaching stories and meaning to the words we’re teaching them to spell.

If you’re a teacher, parent or English language learner, I strongly suggest you pour a coffee and read on.

Catch up on other Englisch Macht Spaß posts:

  1. Englisch is Fun
  2. Welcome
  3. A Phrasal What?
  4. Tenses in Pairs Part 1
  5. Tenses in Pairs Part 2
  6. The Future
  7. More Future Possibilities
  8. British & American English
  9. Tricks of the Trade: Idioms
  10. The Bandage was Wound around the Wound
  11. A Short History of the English Language
  12. Root Words and Dirty Etymology
  13. Pesky Prepositions Part 1: Place

What do you think?