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How to Improve Spelling with Correct Pronunciation

Pronouncing Words for Spelling: library or libary?Let’s say your student writes a sentence like this:

“Tommy will probly go to a difrent libary on Wensday.”

When viewed on paper, the sentence obviously contains a number of misspelled words. And yet when you read the sentence aloud, exactly as written, you realize that the words actually reflect the way that your student pronounces them, and he has spelled them in accordance with his pronunciation.

If a student typically mispronounces a word, or fails to fully enunciate each syllable in everyday speech, it can make it difficult for him to correctly spell the word. On the other hand, if a student learns to pronounce a word clearly and correctly, he has a much greater chance of being able to spell it correctly, too. Many words are commonly mispronounced and misspelled, including probably (probly), secretary (secertary), because (becuz), and library (libary).

Who's to blame? Unaccented syllables, that's who!

Some words are not pronounced clearly in everyday speech. For example, most Americans pronounce the word button as butn. The vowel sound in the unaccented syllable gets lost in the normal rhythm of speech, something that is particularly noticeable in words like different (difrent), separate (seprit), jewelry (jewlry), February (Febary), and Wednesday (Wensday).

The problem begins when a student's habit of pronouncing a word in a particular way—like probly—becomes ingrained, leaving him with no basis to determine the correct spelling. How can a student be expected to sound out the proper spelling of the word probably if some of the letters are not pronounced?

Regional accents can also cause trouble.

The variance of regional accents can also make certain words more challenging to spell. For instance, in some regions, these word pairs are pronounced alike:

than/then        we’re/were        cot/caught        don/dawn        collar/caller        wok/walk
feel/fill              stock/stalk        sense/since      been/bean       trail/trial             marry/merry

The “pin-pen merger” is a prime example of regional pronunciation that causes different words to sound the same. In many areas of the southern United States—generally ranging from the southern half of Indiana to the western edge of Texas—the words pin and pen are pronounced identically. This can cause confusion for children who are learning to spell; the words represent two completely different vowel sounds, but they are not pronounced to reflect that. Other similar word pairs include him-hem and kin-Ken

“Pronounce for spelling” to the rescue!

The top technique for preventing spelling errors caused by pronunciation issues is to “pronounce for spelling.” Simply have your student:

1. Exaggerate the pronunciation of the word.
2. Spell each sound he hears.

When your student exaggerates the pronunciation of words like library and separate ("li-brar-y" and “sep-ar-ate”), he'll be able to hear each sound clearly, making it much easier for him to spell the word. 

If your student isn’t aware of the correct pronunciation—often, students don’t even realize they are mispronouncing a word—then model it for him. For example, if he regularly pronounces the second month of the year as Febary, carefully pronounce the word for him: “Feb-ru-ar-y.” When he can hear each syllable, it’s easier to spell each sound, and he will be less likely to gloss over the unaccented syllables.

Any time your student fergets how to spell a word, simply remind him not to forget to “pronounce for spelling.” By taking the time to thoughtfully consider every part of the word, he will be able to clearly enunciate each syllable, thus increasing his chances of spelling the word correctly!