Jul 4th 2011

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What is up with English spelling?!

Ever wondered why you ‘speak’ but make a ‘speech’? Why the ‘t’ is doubled in ‘letter’? And why on earth do we need the ‘e’ at the end words like ‘have’ and ‘gone’? English spelling is known for being messed up and inconsistent. Sadly, we can only blame history.

English spelling can be weird and confusing. As a child, I started learning English at the age of 9. The thing I mostly remember about my English lessons is the numerous dictations we were forced to take. At least once a week, we would have a dictation quiz. The teacher would read out a list of words and we had to write them down, using the correct spelling of course. We did that for years! When I grew up I realised that the dictations we really thought we could do without, were pretty much the most effective way to learn how to spell in English. But why is that?

Exceptions to the rule

Well, the answer is rather simple. Us humans, we like patterns. Patterns and rules. Not so much exceptions. Unfortunately, English is not so great on the pattern side of things. Just to give you a flavour of it, there are 3,500 words in English that contain exceptions to the spelling ‘rules’. How did that happen?!

Well, as it turns out, back in the old Shakespeare’s days things were much more fluid if you like. Spelling wasn’t formalised and words could be spelled in many ways. For example, only Shakespeare’s name could be spelled in 41 different ways! Later on when spelling was finally formalised, only little thought was given to spelling consistency (hence ‘speak’ and ‘speech’).

But the problem started even earlier, when the first book in English came out. It was the Bible, which was printed in Germany, by Germans who knew no English. For many English people, this Bible was the first book they had ever possessed. They learned to read and write from it, copying the spelling mistakes it contained!  This gradually made many English spellings very weird.

Learning how to spell

This brings us back to the present. We established that English spelling is not easy. How should we cope with it? Well, you might be surprised to know that it takes a native English speaking child 12 years to learn how to spell properly (just for the sake of the comparison, it takes an Italian child 2 years to learn how to spell well). No wonder spelling bees are so popular! So if you’re not a native English speaker you should know that learning how to spell in English takes time.

To improve your spelling you can do a number of things:

  1. Keep lists of words you find difficult to spell and use them to practice your spelling.
  2. Use a dictionary.

What about using spell checkers when learning how to spell?

Professionals say it’s OK to use a spell-checker, but only the kind that helps you learn from your mistakes (not those auto correct tools). Ginger Software does this exactly. Ginger corrects a large range of spelling errors. From simple typos to severe and unusual mistakes. The good thing is, it will not correct anything while you are not aware of it. Your mistakes are well highlighted, you can listen to how the misspelled words are pronounced as well as the correct words. You can also explore other correction alternatives and choose the one that suits your text. At any point in time, you can access the Ginger Learning platform to check your progress and review your past mistakes. You can use that to make word lists for yourself and even have your own dictations. Try it for free and see for yourself!

Adios for now -

Sharon and the Ginger team

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5 Responses to “What is up with English spelling?!”

  1. Ice on August 4th, 2011

    That’s really thinking out of the box. Thanks!

    Reply
  2. google on September 2nd, 2011

    I liked your article is an interesting technology
    thanks to google I found you

    Reply
  3. Donal Finn on April 15th, 2013

    Interesting thing. When i was a child i used to score lowest marks in English due to wrong spellings. Now i am a proofreader but i also do mistakes sometimes. This is the reason that i use spellchecker to catch my mistakes.

    Reply
    • Efratk on April 17th, 2013

      Thanks for the comment! Definitely check out Ginger!

      Reply

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