Children of both native and non-native speakers of English have a hard time learning to spell, because more often than not, pronunciation is misleading.
The key is to understand the interconnections of spelling and pronunciation and how these relationships facilitate the learning of each other. Rather than seeing one aspect as the enemy of the other, it’s best to consider them as two sides of the same coin.
Pronunciation can give you clues and offer you tactics in how you teach spelling, and vice versa. Using pronunciation-based activities and games when teaching spelling will help your students understand spelling patterns easier and faster, and minimize misspellings in the future by drawing on their knowledge of pronunciation.
Try These 5 Ways To Use Pronunciation in Teaching Spelling
Raise Awareness of the Pronunciation-spelling Relationship
Children are never too young to learn that pronunciation and spelling are closely interrelated. Students should know that spelling is rarely faithfully reflected in pronunciation. For instance, Wednesday is pronounced ˈwenz-(ˌ)dā, where the first ‘d’ is silent. This lack of complete letter-to-sound matching is the case for many more words than we would like to admit, such as Worcester, the name of an English city which, to many students’ surprise, is pronounced ˈwu̇s-tər.
It’s important to make students aware of how differences in spelling affect pronunciation. For instance, moral and morale are stressed differently when spoken out loud, and this is a clue they can use to learn to understand which spelling to use for which concept.
Moral - /ˈmȯr-əl/, the stress is on the first syllable
Morale - /mə-ˈral/, the stress is on the second syllable
Other words worth paying attention to are word pairs like cube/cub and pan/pane. It’s best to pair such words when teaching them to ensure that for each word, spelling and pronunciation are learned together.
Another way to reinforce spelling and pronunciation is to teach similarly spelled words in sets. For instance, the sentence "The farmer’s crop didn’t yield as expected and he feared the King’s Knights would wield their swords to collect the tax" help students memorize the letter patterns as well as the sounds. You can also choose to contrast the pronunciation of words that are spelled with the same letter groupings, as with the sentence "Adding too much flour will make the dough too tough to work with. Such sentences emphasize that even if these words eye-rhyme, (seem as though they have the same sound) they don’t.
In this manner, even if the student forgets say how to spell morale, knowing its pronunciation will more likely help the student retrieve/recall the correct spelling form.
Another spelling-pronunciation challenge is the many silent letters children are expected to omit when pronouncing certain words, but write when spelling them. Examples include:
B - debt, doubt ,dumb, subtle
K – know, knee, knob, knock
N – column, autumn, solemn
T - castle, moisten, wrestle
W – wrinkle, wrap, wrong
Using spelling lists and silent-letter word exercises will allow students to better process the idea that even when a letter is not pronounced it should still be included in the word’s spelling. On top of teaching silent letter words, you have to teach the exceptions where the silent letter is not silent, such as with the word sandwich.
Words with –ough, -ent/-ant and Other Troublesome Letter Clusters
Teach notoriously idiosyncratic words in isolation, to ensure children are paying attention to their complexities.
Enough / cough / through / although / plough have the same spelling –ough, but are pronounced differently nonetheless.
Making children aware of this linguistic feature will ensure they learn it and never misspell these words. Create spelling lists for words that are commonly misspelled or hard to learn. Focus on spelling forms such as –tial and –cial (as in substantial and crucial), or endings such as –ence and –ance (as in pretence and significance).
Teaching Spelling Through Pronunciation
This is a fun activity that teaches students how a single sound can take different spelling forms. Such activities can be particularly helpful when teaching common English sounds such as the schwa (/ə/) as in sofa, supply, incredible, gallop, enemy. All these words spell the schwa sound differently. In fact, any vowel can be pronounced as the schwa sound.
A great exercise is to take any grade-appropriate text and omit all /ə/ sounds and ask students to retrieve the right schwa spelling. This is an effective exercise to make students aware of how flexible and common the /ə/ sound is in English.
Other eye rhymes such as heard/beard are not pronounced the same and might often cause confusion because despite similarities in spelling, their pronunciation is a lot different. For instance, lore and love have different vowel sounds, even using the same vowel. The pair of words dear/pear also visually deceive the speaker making a student believe they would be pronounced the same, although they are actually not.
Eye-rhyming exercises will make students conscious of how deceitful spelling can be and how important it is to resort to pronunciation and other linguistic parameters to figure out the correct spelling of words.
Exaggerated pronunciation can help students visually represent a word's spelling and so avoid misspelling it. Students’ writing often suffers from unaccented syllable misspellings, where you see words such as libary, probly and Wensday.
To help your students spell these words correctly you can have them exaggerate the pronunciation of the word. This will ensure they’ve learned the correct correspondence between spelling and pronunciation and whenever they suspect a misspelling, they can “pronounce for spelling” to get it right.
An indispensable teaching aid for spelling is to use poems. In view of their rhyming features, poems can help you teach spelling through pronunciation.
Again, find or create your own rhyming poems and omit the last word. You can provide the words in brackets if the words are hard to guess. Here’s a fun except from the poem, “Our Strange Lingo,” which in all its grandeur expresses the absurdities that torment English spellers and speakers,
Doll and roll or home and some.
Since pay is rhymed with say
Why not paid with said I pray?
Think of blood, food and good.
Mould is not pronounced like could.
Wherefore done, but gone and lone -
Is there any reason known?
To sum up all, it seems to me
Sound and letters don't agree
Written by Lord Cromer, published in the Spectator (August 9, 1902)
Teaching spelling is an admittedly arduous process that requires persistence and patience.
Children are often befuddled by the absurdities of the English language and your sustained support and guidance will help them use pronunciation to learn or improve their spelling skills.
This is a guest article by Jovell Alingod. Jovell is a Project Manager for eReflect, maker of Ultimate Spelling, a spelling improvement software for all ages. It’s currently one of their products being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.