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No Wonder My Spelling is Shaky

Last updated 3 years ago

Being able to spell well is a good thing. It gives us confidence and earns us respect from people who read our writing. But it is estimated that nearly half of Americans really struggle with spelling.

Even some famous people, like George Washington, Winston Churchill, Jane Austen, and Albert Einstein, had trouble getting the letters right.

It came from all over the world
English is made up of words from at least six different languages, and we use borrowed words from at least 27 others. Most of these languages have different spelling patterns. Also, since it is a "living" language, the spelling of English words continues to change over time.

Sounds are often misleading
With some words, we can say, "Spell it just like it sounds," but sound is seldom a reliable indicator of spelling. According to the English Spelling Society, there are 69 spellings (letter groups) in English that have more than one pronunciation.

Words that have the same sounds but different spelling and meaning are everywhere, especially in words we commonly use. We have to depend on context to know how to spell this sentence correctly: "I rode my bike down the road." If you don't know a word like discreet has a homonym discrete, spelling becomes an even bigger problem.

Words are pronounced differently
What you heard when growing up probably determined your spelling of many words. In your home, the word "center" may have been pronounced center or it may have sounded more like centuh. In those cases, we must rely on our eyes - and spelling rules - to avoid mistakes.

Silent letters
Some letters can't be heard at all. The "i before e rule" was created to help us notice the differences between words like believe and deceive, but your eight foreign neighbors will tell you there are many exceptions to this rule.

These are just some of the ways English spelling challenges us. But keep in mind that poor spellers do get better. Next week, we'll give you suggestions for overcoming the "bad speller" label.

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