English spelling might seem very illogical but it
can be learnt
Only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound. With 26 letters, there are around 44 sounds (this is not precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds. As a result, many learners (especially learners whose first language is phonetic, i.e. what you see is what you say) struggle with their spelling of English words.
There have been many attempts to “fix” the language and make words easier to spell (See the initiative of the English Spelling Society in the UK, proposing spellings like “wensday”, “crum”, “cof”, “distres” and “milenium”). But before they “kik the ‘c’ out of the sirkle and the ‘ph’ out of the telefones”, we’ll have to think of ways to make our learners’ life a little bit easier.
Spelling has much to do with how we remember things. One of the ways to help learners recall some tricky words is to use mnemonic strategies.
Mnemonics (/nəˈmɒniks/) are short devices (sayings, poems, etc) used to remember complex ideas.
Here are a few activities that you may try with your students to introduce them to mnemonics and improve their spelling.
Dictate the following words to your students (B1-B2):
4) Currants (berries)
9) Said (as in “he said something”)
10) Hear (as in “I don’t hear you”)
Ask them to share their lists with their partners and try and spot any mistakes.
Ask your students to guess the day:
Get your students to check the spelling of the words you dictated in Step 1 using the following mnemonics:
This will work more effectively if your students create their own mnemonics.
Have you students think of tricky words for spelling (they surely have their ‘most favourite words ever’) (or introduce a few words that are often misspelled by your students) and create their own mnemonics for these words.
E.g. Here are a few mnemonics from my students:
“career” – car and beer
“habit” – a habit is not a rabbit
“island” – is land
“lose” – uh-oh, I’ve lost an ‘o’
I would love to hear your students’ mnemonics!
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Check out Luke’s English Podcast to learn more about mnemonics, memory training and learning English here.