Try to conquer the spelling demon
Learning to spell is an active language skill, closely related to the skill of listening.
A lady who had no children went to see a doctor about an imaginary ailment. After examination the doctor said, "Madam, what you need is sun and air." The lady replied, "Unfortunately, I don't have both." She meant `son' and `heir'.
What confused her are the sets of words in English known as homophones words that have different spellings and meanings but the same sound.
Then there are the homonyms words that are spelt and pronounced alike but mean different things according to the context in which they are used words like hand, bill, bowl, cricket and so on.
Added to this is the irrational and idiosyncratic nature of English spelling. It bears no logical relation to speech. The problem arises because the number of graphemes (written symbols) does not correlate with the number of phonemes (sounds) in the English language. The 26 letters of the alphabet cover 47 phonemes (according to COD). Sometimes one phoneme can be represented by more than one grapheme. Hence Bernard Shaw's famous analogy that the word `fish' can be written as `ghoti' and still be pronounced `fish'! (For `gh' in words like rough and laugh has the `f' sound. The `o' in women has the `i' sound and the `ti' in nation and ration has the `sh' sound.)
Besides these inconsistencies there are the silent letters which complicate English spelling `h' as in hour and honour, psychology and pneumonia, or debt and doubt, or calm and palm.
Skill worth learning
Learning to spell is an active language skill. It is closely related to the skill of listening. The first step for the learner is to identify the simple sounds and recognise the corresponding letters to represent them. Once the relation between the sounds and their corresponding visual symbols are established clearly in the learner's mind, he finds it easy to spell.
Picture cards are of great help at this stage when they can play games like `Spot the Sound'. Slowly blends and diphthongs can be introduced with appropriate supporting activities.
Try rhyming games and simple decoding units. Once the child gains confidence in recognising the different spellings of simple printed words, introduce other spelling variations that are quite irregular. Reading as a process does not have any impact on spelling skill.
An excellent reader may be a poor speller. Gandhi was a poor speller and Churchill at Harrow made more blotches than structured words on his test paper.
To teach spelling, the common practice of dictation of words per se should be avoided. A good method is to give different contextual clues for the words. Syllabication is helpful in spelling longer words. Teach `spelling demons' a list of common words which children at all levels find difficult to master, words like remember, forty, address, receive and so on. Periodic drilling of such words in context can reinforce their spellings in the child's mind.
Competitions like `Spelling Bees' can also be helpful if the difficulty level of the word list is age-appropriate. There has been much criticism against these competitions where the child is required to spell words that he will probably never use or even hear in the course of his life. The moot point is that the ability to spell is just a skill to be acquired so that he/she can tackle other skills like reading and writing. Every child much be enabled to acquire this essential ability as it helps in reading and writing in a coherent and meaningful way. The child will slowly but surely understand that each word in English has a total configuration of its own its spelling.
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