There's no quick, easy way to overcome spelling problems. This is true partly because our English spelling system is complex and difficult to explain logically.

Even computer spell-checkers can cause problems for unwary users.

Also, most spelling habits are formed early when we're learning to read. As we grow older, those habits, good or bad, become almost automatic, and often we spell without thinking about whether we're right or wrong. Even computer spell-checkers can cause problems for unwary users.

If you have trouble with spelling, then, you need to do more than learn a few words. You need to form new spelling habits, and the most important is to make spelling a conscious activity. This can be frustrating if you interrupt your writing to look up a word, only to find you knew how to spell it all along. Because spelling improvement is as important as it is difficult, however, you can't afford to let it slide. The suggestions that follow are intended to help you develop good spelling habits.

Suggestions for Spelling Improvement

1. Don't look words up while you're composing. Wait until your thought-flow runs its course. As you write, highlight or mark any words you aren't absolutely sure about. Then later when editing, your attention will go right to these words and you can look them up all at once without interrupting and losing track of your thoughts. By looking up words later, you also can concentrate on learning to spell them correctly so you won't have to look them up again. You might even consider keeping a list of Target Words to concentrate on.

2. Every time you write a word ask yourself whether you know how to spell it. There are only two possible answers to this question: yes and no. Maybe, probably, and I think so all count as no. If the answer is yes, keep on writing, but if the answer is no, mark the word to look up. Most spelling errors come not on words like "cataclysmic," which you know you need to look up, but on words like "front," where you think the odds are with you.

3. Notice what part of the word you've spelled wrong. Hardly ever do you spell a whole word wrong. Usually one or two letters need to be changed. Find the trouble spot by comparing the dictionary version with the version you've already written down. Sometimes a memory prod will help you get those letters right next time. For example, you might learn to spell "environment" by remembering that it has the word "iron" in it.

4. Watch out for words that sound like other ones. Here the problem isn't so much spelling as using the wrong word, as when someone says, "I don't care weather it rains." Besides "whether" and "weather," some other frequently confused words are listed below. These words are especially treacherous because computer spell-checkers won't pick them up.

a — an — and
our — hour — are
accept — except
personal — personnel
cite — site — sight
quiet — quite — quit
cloths — clothes
roll — role
desert — dessert
soul — sole
do — due
than — then
led — lead
there — their — they're
loose — lose
to — too — two
moral — morale
wear — where — were
new — knew
who's — whose
no — know
your — you're
past — passed


4.24 Use each of the above-listed words correctly in a complete sentence. Use a dictionary to check the meaning of any word you aren't sure of. Exchange and compare your sentences with those done by a partner.

4.25 As a partner dictates the following passage, transcribe it onto a sheet of paper. When you've finished, check back over what you've written to see if all sound-alikes have been used correctly. Check your writing slowly. Actually touch each word with your pen or pencil. Examine every part of every word. When you're satisfied, check your version against the version below. Again, actually touch each word with your pencil or pen. Notice which sound-alikes give you problems, look them up in a dictionary, and learn to use them correctly.


The Good Old Days

Folks don't always do what they're supposed to do, not like they used to when I was a kid. Too often these days people think life's just a game, but back then it was more than that. A person knew where he stood. People were kind to each other and honest, but now we're all confused about our values. Our values are too superficial. Our standards are too loose. There aren't many folks around who know their own minds. You're never sure who your friends are anymore. It just keeps on getting worse.

4.26 Make your own Target List of frequently misspelled words. Keep it on your desk or with your writing equipment so you can refer to it easily and work on the words. Mark the part of the word that you tend to spell wrong, focus on that part, and when you've learned the word, check it off as learned.

Target List

My Spelling Correct Spelling Learned
disastrous disastrous x
paralell parallel  
psycology psychology  
reciept receipt  
predjudice prejudice