Can I Help My Adult Students with Spelling?

Can I Help My Adult Students with Spelling?

Adults facing spelling issues is not something new! Have you ever wondered why? Well, it is not pure ignorance that leads many of us to make spelling mistakes. Rather, the problem is that, often, many of us know a little bit too much. So, how can you help your adult students with spelling?

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing–in spelling, too!

Ask ten-year-olds to spell supersede, and there is a good chance they will get it right (or at least they will correctly put an ‘s’ in the middle) because they will spell it phonetically.

But ask adults, and it is likely that they will come up with supercede, based on their knowledge of the words intercede, precede or cede (from the Latin cedere–to yield). In truth, supersede comes from the Latin supersedere, meaning to cease from.

How can we help students avoid spelling mistakes: Teach Etymology.

Instead of simply teaching phonics, work on word families and ask your students to draw connections between the words they encounter. This will also help them contextualise new vocabulary, which ultimately leads to better retention.

Spelling assumption gone wrong

Although a misinterpretation of Latin often lies at the heart of the problem, more often people make wrong assumptions based on their knowledge of the correct spelling of other, similar words. Many are tempted to spell liquefy as liquify, simply because they know the correct spelling of liquid. The same goes for inoculate, which is often misspelt by those who know that innocuous has a double “n”.

Ian Brookes, the managing editor of dictionaries at Collins, said: “The real spelling problems occur when people have learnt the rules or have a bit of knowledge, but then make mistakes in how they apply this.”

How can we help students avoid spelling mistakes: Know the rules.

Of course, exceptions abound in English—we can address that by introducing the rule and its diversions. Try asking your students to underline all the words in a text that comply with the general rule and then ask them to spot the ones that break it!

Find here some common writing mistakes!

Phonetics is part of the issue

Another common reason for adults facing spelling issues is that words are spelt differently than the way they are pronounced. Words as such are: conscience, indict, foreign, mortgage and phlegm.

The ee-sound, for example, can be spelt in more than ten ways: seem, team, convene, sardine, protein, fiend, people, he, key, ski, debris and quay. Then there are all the spelling “rules”, which exist only to be broken. Think of all the words that break the i before e except after c rule: weird, seize, leisure, neighbour, foreign.

How can we help students avoid spelling mistakes: Improve muscle memory.

When a word’s sound and spelling differ, we use our short-term memory to write it properly. However, the more we encounter the word, the more we establish its spelling in our memory. Additionally, going multi-sensorial helps; encourage your students to write, repeat, and use the word often once they learn it—by developing muscle memory, learners will manage to retrieve the word without hesitating much.

Will a change solve our spelling problems?

Researchers at Collins compiled their list of misspelt words by running thousands of documents on the internet through a software program designed to pick up spelling mistakes. They included published books and articles, as well as blogs, to ensure that they covered a wide range of writing styles and media. Supersede was by far the most commonly misspelt word, being wrong on one in ten occasions.

These problems have led the Spelling Society to campaign for the past 100 years for a new simplified and phonetic form of spelling. The same desire for reform prompted Ken Smith, a lecturer at Bucks New University, to begin a campaign for ‘variant spellings’ to be fully accepted into common usage, such as arguement for argument and occured for occurred.

Learn how to develop student’s critical thinking in ELT

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