The 7 Keys to Spelling

By Sylvester Pues, Contributing Writer
     Correct spelling uses a combination of techniques. The three most common techniques people try when spelling are:
  1. Listening to the sounds of the words and matching letters to the  sounds.
  2. Trying to “see” the words on the “blackboard” in their mind.
  3. Trying to write the words different ways to see which one looks right to them.

     Most people use a combination of these techniques. The techniques used usually depend on the type or length of the word.

     Learning to spell does not begin with spelling whole words. It begins with spelling or writing the letters that represent the individual sounds of the English language.

Here are a seven keys to help you spell correctly.

Key #1

     Begin by memorizing the short, one-syllable words. These words are easily memorized because they are made up of just a few letters and there are only a few of them. Begin with the one-letter words, then move onto the two-letter, three-letter, and then four-letter words.
Start with the ten most common words:











     Then move on to the next 40 most common words, starting with two-letter words, before moving onto the three- and four-letter words:












































Key #2

     A word typically contains a combination of one to three sounds and only extends to four sounds when adding “s” or “ed” to the ends of words. Listen for these ending sounds!

Key #3

     Every word or syllable, must have one, and only one, vowel sound. That vowel sound might be a “short” sound as in “at,” or “long” sound as in “ate,” or a combination as in “toy” or “how.”
  • The vowel letters “a” and “I” are considered • words. However, no consonant letter can be a word.

Key #4

     Know the letters that represent the individual speech sounds. It is extremely important to know what letters are used to represent the individual sounds of speech. Also know the sequence of sounds that are heard in a word.
     In English this presents some problems:
  1. There are only 26 letters in the English alphabet but 43-44 sounds in the English language.
  2. Vowel letters and vowel combinations can represent at least two sounds. For example, vowels can represent both “short” and “long” sounds.
  3. A spoken sound can be spelled with different letter combinations. For example, the long vowel sound of /a/ can be written with the letter “a” in an open syllable as in “ta-ble,” with “a” plus final “e” as in “ate,” “ai” as in “mail,” or “ei” as in “eight.”

Key #5

     Know the vowel rules or vowel patterns.
  • When you hear a “short” vowel sound, use only one vowel. For example, when you spell the word “hat” you hear the short sound of /a/, therefore you will need only one vowel for the “short” sound.
  • When you hear a “long” vowel sound, you will need two vowels. In the word “hate” you hear the long sound of /a/, therefore you will need to have two vowels.

Key #6

     Know the rules for spelling patterns.
  • Know when to double final letters before adding endings. For example, if there is only one consonant following the “short” vowel sound, you need to double the final consonant before adding the ending, as in “pet” to “petting.”
  • Know when to drop the final “e” before adding endings beginning with vowels.
    In one-syllable words containing a “long” vowel sound that ends in “e,” drop the “e” and add the ending, as in “like” to “liking.”

Key #7

     Longer words need to be broken into “chunks” or “syllables” to make them easier to spell. The reason for this is because the brain can only blend three sounds, except when adding “s” or “ed” to the end of words. Then it becomes four sounds. These three or four combined sounds form meaningful pieces of speech. Example: the word “at” is composed of two sounds – /a/ and /t/. The word “work” combines three sounds: /w/ /er/ /k/, and the word “works” combines four sounds: /w/ /er/ /k/ /s/.
     Words of two or more syllables need to be spelled one piece or syllable at a time. Begin by listening for prefixes and suffixes. The word “doing” has two pieces: “do” and “ing.” By listening to those pieces and spelling them separately, you will be able to spell the word. This means you need to know the letter or letters that match the sounds you hear when you speak

 Here are seven more tips to help you spell correctly:

  1. English words cannot end in vowels—except the letter “e.” However, that letter “e” is only pronounced if it is the only vowel in the word, as in “be” or “we.”

  2. If you hear a long /i/ sound at the end of a word, it will almost always be spelled with a “y.” Example: “try,” “fly,” “deny.”

  3.  If you hear a long /e/ sound at the end of a word, it is usually spelled with a “y,” as in “key.”

  4. If you hear a “long” sound at the end of a word, it is usually spelled with an “e” or “y” after the “long” vowel sound, as in “toe” or “day.”

  5. Words we have borrowed from other languages do not need to follow the English spelling rules. For example, the proper names “Nemo” and “Cuba” end in a vowel other than “e.”

  6. An abbreviation, such as “memo” or “photo,” does not follow the rules.

  7. Learn to listen for beginning and ending sounds of words:

  • Begin by listening to the beginning sound you make when you say a word. The beginning sound of “Mom” is “m-m-m.”

  • Listen for the ending sound of words and know the letters that represent those sounds. For example, when you say the word “mask,” identify the ending sound ‘ask’ in order to spell the word correctly. In the word “wash,” identify the ending sound of “sh” in order to spell the word.

  • Then try to identify the middle sound. It will usually be a “short” vowel sound.