English spelling can be equally challenging to master for speakers of English as an additional language and native speakers. Part of the reason could be that pronunciation of words in English is not a reliable guide to spelling. English has a number of different ways to spell the same sound and a number of different ways to pronounce the same spelling. Despite its complexities, spelling is important. There is nothing worse than getting a lower mark on an assignment or not getting a job interview because of spelling errors. Below are a few useful tips and techniques that can help you improve your spelling.
1. Use a dictionary.
One of the best ways to ensure you spell a word correctly is to use a dictionary. Nowadays, many dictionaries are available in hard copy and online (e.g., Macquarie Dictionary, the Australian National Dictionary). For speakers of English as an additional language, Oxford or Cambridge Advanced Leaner’s Dictionary will be quite useful because they have more examples of words in different contexts.
2. Follow Australian English spelling conventions.
The subtle spelling differences between Australian English and American English are often difficult for students to spot. It is important, however, to use the appropriate spelling conventions and to remain consistent.
3. Create your own word list.
Make a list of words you find difficult to spell and keep it next to your computer or on your desktop. This will help you eliminate some of the spelling errors and will also save time.
Check out Online Macquarie Dictionary Word Cloud for most searched words each week.
4. Learn homonyms.
A large number of English words have identical or similar pronunciation but different spelling, for example boarder-border and threw-through. These words are called homonyms. View the section Commonly Confused Words (under one of the tabs on this page) to familiarise yourself with those words.
5. Learn commonly misspelled words.
Oxford Dictionaries Common Misspellings
6. Use computer spellcheck BUT use it with caution.
One of the most common mistakes students make is not using a computer spellcheck. Make a habit of ending your writing with a spelling check in Microsoft Word. Keep in mind that an automatic spellchecker
7. Proofread your writing.
Because automatic spellcheckers are not always reliable, it is important to proofread your writing. Proofreading is more or less a mechanical task, and should be done after the document has been edited and fine-tuned. For best results,
8. Learn patterns and spelling rules.
Despite many exceptions and inconsistencies, English spelling follows certain rules. Learning a few general rules will help you avoid making the same errors and will make you much better at English spelling.
Go to the next page to familiarise yourself with some spelling rules.
1. Distinguishing between ie and ei
One of the most common spelling errors is the use of ie instead of ei and vice versa. Words like believe and receive, for example, have the same pronunciation of the vowel in the second syllable but differ in spelling.
Write i before e, except after letter c.
believe thief friend
perceive receive deceit
Write ei when the pronunciation is “ay” as in eight or vein.
weight neighbour freight
Exceptions: either, neither, foreign, height, leisure, weird, seize, forfeit, seizure
2. Doubling final consonants
Sometimes, words ending in a consonant double the consonant when an ending or a suffix is added to a word. Double the final consonant in one-syllable words when a single vowel precedes the final consonant.
map - mapped flat - flatter
In words with more than one syllable, double the final consonant only when the final consonant is preceded by a single vowel and the stress (marked in bold font) falls on the last syllable of the stem once the ending is added.
submit - submitted begin - beginning
refer – reference benefit - benefited
3. Keeping or dropping a final e
Drop final e when adding suffixes or endings that begin with a vowel (e.g. -able, -ible, -ous, -ance).
advise + able = advisable
guide + ance = guidance
argue + ing = arguing
Keep the final e when adding suffixes or endings that begin with a consonant (e.g. -ment, -ly, -ness).
advance + ment = advancement
like + ness = likeness
Keep the final e when a word ends with -ce and -ge (e.g. noticeable, manageable). This spelling ensures a soft pronunciation of c and g.
courage + ous = courageous
change + able = changeable
The following pairs and groups of words are often confused and misspelled in English:
View an extended list of English homonyms and frequently confused words:
1. Ron had no idea weather whether to speak first or let the guest address the audience first.
2. Since it is now 3pm, he maybe may be in a lecture.
3. The slides in the lecture complimented complemented the content.
4. The secondhand bookshop said that they would take all of the books accept except those that were damaged.
5. The change in timetable will not affect effect third year students.
6. Mary found an alternate alternative way to solve the problem.
7. Medical students learn all about the effects affects of injuries.
8. The new departments are putting their there own logos on their materials.