How to Spell Well

Picture the word in your mind's eye.

All good spellers rely on the look of words.

They do not waste time on the sound the word makes. English sounds and English spellings have each gone their own way for the last 1,000 years. Two different words—look at there and their, or at wood and would—may even have the same sound as one another. You can see they are spelt differently.

Good spellers never rely on spelling being related to sound.

How do I get there?

Build up a collection of the words you need, spelt correctly. Write each of them separately on index cards, and file them (in a box) in strict alphabetical order.

The box and the index cards are essential. Notebooks will not do, nor will loose-leaf folders. You have to be able to take a visual snapshot of each individual word, and then relate it, letter by letter, to other individual words.

How do I build up the collection?

  1. Ask people to point out mistakes in your spelling. Every time someone points out a word, add it to your collection, correctly spelt.
  2. Every time you find yourself hesitating over a word you are about to use, add it to your collection, correctly spelt.

How do I find the correct spelling?

  1. Look it up in a spelling dictionary. (The Oxford Colour Spelling Dictionary is the best.)

    Forget the sound of the word when looking it up. Rely on your memory of what the beginning of the word looks like.

  2. If you have no clue what the beginning of the word looks like, ask a friend.

And then?

  1. When you are about to write a word, picture it in your mind's eye. If you can't see it clearly, look it up in your word collection.
  2. If it is not yet in your collection, look it up in a spelling dictionary, and then add it to your collection.
  3. Go through your collection every now and then, noticing what the words look like (i.e. how they are spelt).

Give this index-card method a few months, and you will find you are using your collection less. In a year or two, you will have forgotten that you were once anxious about spelling. You will simply see all your words in your mind's eye.

Copyright © 2006 Michael Scannell

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