Learning how to spell words that are hard to spell is the bane of students and adults alike. Just when a "rule" is learned, such as "I before E except after C" there are exceptions put in: "or when sounding like A as in 'neighbor' and 'weigh'." Then, some aspiring novelist decides to put in a sentence like "Neither of the foreign sovereigns wanted either of the feisty heifers for protein, and they seized the weird kaleidoscope from the counterfeit poltergeist!" and the rule goes up in a puff of smoke.
Unless the habits of correct spelling are ingrained early on, the incorrect way of writing difficult spelling words will establish itself as a habit well into adulthood.
Tips for Learning Difficult Spelling Words
Unfortunately, the best way to learn hard to spell words is the old-fashioned method of rote memorization. The process of imprinting the actual spellings of unusual words past the short-term memory into long-term storage has thankfully moved beyond the days of sitting at desks and simply repeating the letters over and over.
Several mnemonic training techniques used by champion spellers the world over can be utilized to train anyone to be a master speller. Many of these utilize the concept of kinesthetic learning. Associating a mental concept with a series of movements – almost like a dance – can help hardwire the series of letters into the brain much more quickly and durably than repetition alone.
Trace the Letters
One of the easiest ways to come up with that series of movements is to simply have the learner trace the letters into their hand as they are saying the letters out loud. This will reinforce in three kinesthetic ways:
- with the motions of the mouth and lips
- the fingers of one hand moving
- the feeling of the motion on the other palm
Larger body motions can also be used to learn and remember correct spelling, which makes learning a much more active experience. Among other things, the large motions stimulate the blood flow to the brain, making it more receptive to the learning process.
Vocalize the Letters
Vocalizing the letters of the words as if you were in a spelling bee can be a very effective tool. After saying the letters over and over again, they begin to lose their symbolic meaning and become more of a melody, imprinting on your mind in much the same way that nursery rhymes do with children. This serves as a powerful reminder of the way that correct spelling sounds when the memory of rules fails.
Use Short Study Sessions
Sessions of studying like this will be more effective if they are done in small bursts of time, with breaks to give the mental palate a time to refresh and ready itself to ingest the next set of words. "Cramming," especially before a test can be counterproductive. It can also increase the chance of reinforcing mistakes.
Use Repetitive Drills
Of course, it takes more than one repetition to come close to imprinting the correct spelling. The word should be repeated many times, like a drill, until the motions and the sounds almost lose their symbolic meaning. Divorcing the sounds from the meaning, turning them into a song of sorts, can also work well as a strategy. Saying "Ex-a-cer-bate" syllable by syllable makes the brain identify the sections as individual pieces each of which can be spelled correctly. The repetition of the sounds becomes melodic, triggering auditory learning skills that are developed from childhood through nursery rhymes.
Learn Words in Groups
This leads to another strategy for learning hard to spell words: learn them in groups that follow similar patterns. For example:
- All of the words with "-ei-" combinations follow the same pattern.
- Rules such as "I before E except after C" become quickly ineffective due to the many exceptions to the rule.
If all of the similar words are learned at the same time, they will become associated with each other and reinforce the correct spelling. Whether in a simple list or through a sentence (no matter how nonsensical), rolling all the similar spellings into a group helps to both categorize and memorize.
Increase Your Reading
Even using these tools, memories can fade and become confused or conflated with new vocabulary. One of the best and most-overlooked techniques for learning both grammar and hard to spell words is simply reading – a wide variety and as much as possible. The more times the eye sees words spelled correctly, the more easy it is to spot mistakes. It becomes less a matter of following rules as much as gaining an intuition as to when a word simply feels "wrong."
Parents who take the recommended words for their child's developmental level and turn them into fun games and stories will be adding the most effective ingredient for any kind of learning to their child's education: the ingredient of fun.
List of Hard to Spell Words
Whatever the technique used, you can find words to study at YourDictionary's list of the 100 Most Common Misspelled Words and 150 More Often Misspelled Words in English. Aside from being comprehensive lists, they also have many more mnemonic techniques for learning the correct spelling of specific words.
With these tools, spelling becomes a matter of habit, rather than a puzzle, and writers can concentrate more on the message they are trying to convey.