Learned or learnt? Spelled or spelt? - A Google Ngram analysis

 Learned or learnt? Spelled or spelt? Burned or burnt? Which spelling do you use? If you speak American English, probably the ed version, if you speak British English, you probably just write what you feel like on the day. I know I use both, but I also know I need to be consistent in my forthcoming book, Teaching English Spelling. So time for some research and I found this extraordinary and very new tool from GoogleLabs (still in Beta) called Google Ngram. You write two or more (up to five) words or phrases into the Ngram search box and it searches a corpus of 500 billion words from 5.2 million books on Google Books. Then it turns out a graph of how often the word or phrase occurred in books in the years you have specified. You can search all English books, British English books, or American English books. Look, rather than explain, I'll show you what my Ngram results were:

British English 1800 - 2000: learnt (blue) vs learned (red)

We can see learned is more common but declining. The worrying thing is that we just seem to be talking about both of them less! Let's see if the same is happening in American English:

American English 1800 - 2000: learnt (blue) vs learned (red)

Ah, less of a decline there! And a very clear and consistent preference for the ed ending.

Now burnt and burned:

British English 1800 - 2000: burnt (blue) vs burned (red)

Oh, interesting! As the years have passed British English speakers have burned about the same but burnt a lot less. No idea why! And American English?

American English 1800 - 2000: burnt (blue) vs burned (red)

Oh, wow! Completely different. Preference swapped over mid-18th century. No coincidence I suppose that Noah Webster's American Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1828.

What about my big question: spelt or spelled

British English 1800 - 2000: spelt (blue) vs spelled (red)

So traditionally spelt in British English but the American English has gained ground over the past 60 years and now spelled has taken over. But in American English:
American English 1800 - 2000: spelt (blue) vs spelled (red)

No competition!

So which should I use in my book? You may think spelled wins hands down, but I wonder if I should support the underdog? I'm planning to bring out a British version first, closely followed by an American version. Perhaps spelt needs a little boost from me in the British version, then spelled in the American one. But then again ...

Which will I do? There's only one way to find out ...send me your email address and I'll let you know when the book's out (soon)!

And which should you use? What do you think? Let me know in the comments. 
What do you think of Google Ngram?
How could you use it?


'i before e' rule - Stephen Fry and friends

Stephen Fry claims there are over 900 exceptions to the 'i before e' rule. You could argue with his figures. Some of his guests do, but ... well, watch for yourself:


The cat that spells its name

If only everything was naturally labelled like this cat, I wonder if we'd have less trouble with spelling!

Anyone seen any other pictures of things that accidentally spell their name?


Animated alphabets

I've written before about Bembo's Zoo and make no apologies for mentioning it again because I love it. Though to be honest, I'm not sure how I would ever use it for teaching spelling.
From Bembo's Zoo at http://www.bemboszoo.com/

But I've just discovered another site. It may not compete with the design and beauty of Bembo's Zoo, but it has some lovely surprises. In the Poisson Rouge animated alphabet you can hover over the letters to see a word and image for that letter.
From Poisson Rouge at http://www.poissonrouge.com/abc/index.htm

That's OK, but the fun starts when you click on an image. Sometimes there's just a little animation, sometimes there's a game. In this one you match the cake ingredients to their silhouettes and then they pour into the cake tin. Finally your cake gets baked. Mind you, I've always had a problem with virtual cake - it's only virtual!
From Poisson Rouge at http://www.poissonrouge.com/abc/index.htm

I guess they would make nice little starters or rewards in primary classes if your have an interactive whiteboard or computer and projector. But I do think interactive whiteboard activities need to stimulate learners to do a bit more than that. Perhaps it's just fun for kids to play with on their own - to develop a love of letters.

Any primary teachers or homeschoolers out there - tell us what you think. Useful or not for helping with spelling? How?


Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy

You may have seen this at some time:

    Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

Did it indeed come from Cambridge University? Matt Davis of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit there has written a response at
http://www.mrc-cbu.cam.ac.uk/people/matt.davis/Cmabrigde/ . It makes for very interesting reading and explores whether you can do the same thing in other languages.

If you haven't got time to read that, you might like to watch this video instead:

How to correct spelling - 12 ways

Most teachers would prefer to do less marking and have more time for their family and life. 

Maybe in fact that is what we should be doing. Before we correct spelling errors in our learners’ work we should ask ourselves why we are doing it. There is no point in correcting an error unless the learner can learn from it. The teacher should ask herself whether this error is a learning opportunity, or just something that is wrong. In many situations it is just the learning opportunities that are worth correcting. If we correct the spelling of a word that we have already corrected several times before, this shows us that the correction technique is not working for this word for this student and we need to try something different. It is not a learning opportunity. However, if a student has tried to spell something but made a mistake because there was a pattern that he did not know, then we have a good reason to correct him – in other words we are helping him, not just nagging!

A teacher sets some writing and when she collects it in, she finds some students’ work full of spelling mistakes. What should she do? Here are some options – what do you think about them?
1.      Ignore the spelling errors and comment on the content only.
2.      Do not mark the individual errors but tell the student he must work harder to improve his spelling.
3.      Do not mark the errors in the text, but write a list at the bottom of the page of the most important words (in your opinion) for the student to learn.
4.      Refuse to mark the work. Give it back to the student and tell him to proofread it and correct the spelling before handing it in again.
5.      Attach a few practice activities for the learners that deal with some of the spelling errors he has made.
6.      Write the correct spelling above some of the misspelt words.
7.      Write the correct spelling above all of the misspelt words
8.      Write the correct letters above incorrect ones in misspelt words.
9.      Underline misspellings and ask students to correct them.
10.  Give everyone’s work back unmarked and guide them all to check their work carefully in class. For example, you could ask “Do we change a base word before we add a prefix?” (no) OK, so check all your words that have prefixes – have you added them to the whole word?
11.  Use individual tutorials to guide students to the correct spelling.
12.  Note down the most common and important spelling errors across the class and work on these in subsequent lessons.

So which would you choose? Almost too many options? That is because there are so many different contexts and learners. Most of them have some validity. Let us look first at the ones that probably do not.

“2. Do not mark the individual errors but tell the student he must work harder to improve his spelling.” There is no point in saying this unless you can do something to help the learner help himself. Otherwise you are likely to either find the learner ‘forgets’ to do future assignments or takes no risks and uses only simple words he  knows. Saying this will probably knock somebody’s confidence without giving any real help.

“8. Write the correct letters above incorrect ones in misspelt words.” It is more beneficial for the learner to see the whole correct word. You can highlight or overwrite the letters in the correct spelling which replace the incorrect ones in the misspelling.

“1.  Ignore the spelling errors and comment on the content only.”
With certain very reluctant writers, they can be encouraged to write a little daily, perhaps in the form of a diary. This just gets them putting pen to paper and it may be inappropriate to correct their errors in spelling or grammar. Here we just want to show them that writing is a means of communication and so a valuable skill in its own right. However, in most situations many would say that we were abdicating our responsibility as teachers if we never helped our learners to improve their spelling. I have known native-speaker trainee teachers who have completed university education not knowing (as opposed to just making a slip) when they should use an apostrophe in it’s and when they should not (its) or who spell a lot as one word *alot. They have claimed that nobody has ever corrected them or explained. Have their teachers, whatever the subject, not felt it was their job to correct spelling (seeing it as somebody else’s job), were they embarrassed to correct such elementary mistakes from native speakers or were they unsure of the rules themselves?

“3. Do not mark the errors in the text, but write a list at the bottom of the page of the most important words (in your opinion) for the student to learn.”
This is a useful approach as long as you have taught your learners how to learn spellings. And you need to consider if you are going to test these. With motivated and mature adults this should not be necessary – they should recognise that you have just pointed them in the right direction. However, when it comes to learning many of us are not as mature and independent as we should be! Especially if we are used to the teacher checking everything we are asked to do. So if you ask a learner to learn some spellings, he may expect you to check these – to test him. If you think this is the case, work out beforehand if you will have time to do this.

“4. Refuse to mark the work. Give it back to the student and tell him to proofread it and correct the spelling before handing it in again.”
This very much depends on the context and the learner. It is a response that very occasionally may be appropriate if you have received some work from a student who usually spells well, but has made many errors in this piece of work because he has not given it enough attention. But you need to be sure the errors are not due to him risk-taking in terms of language. We certainly would not want to be dismissive about this. If you do give the work back to be proof-read, you could suggest that the student ‘forgot’ to proofread it!

“5. Attach a few practice activities for the learners that deal with some of the spelling errors he has made.”
It is very useful for the teacher to have a bank of such activities ready to use in this situation. However, the ‘practice’ activities must include some kind of input ensuring that the learner knows the pattern or has the strategy. Otherwise it is just a test of something that you already know the learner doesn’t know! And don’t forget you’ll need to mark it or give him the key.

“6. Write the correct spelling above all or some of the misspelt words.” This is perhaps the most common kind of feedback. But is it really feedback? A learner who is a bit lacking in motivation, or just busy, may look at the returned assignment, take a mental note of how many spelling errors were marked and ‘file’ the paper, never looking at it again. More motivated students may learn from these corrections however. So this is another case where we need to know our students well. If in doubt, give a short task along with the corrections.

The other important point here is the “all or some”. The answer probably depends on how many errors there are in the piece of work and what its purpose is. If it is full of errors it probably means the task was too difficult for the learner and there is little point in discouraging him by marking every error. However, if this is a first draft, especially if it is for a real task, such as a letter that will be sent to a company, then it may be necessary to correct everything. The student can then copy your corrections, but would it not be better if he had to think as well?

Just marking a selection of errors is often more appropriate and more encouraging. Limiting yourself to perhaps five or six spelling corrections in one piece of writing, is probably more effective than marking many. It is more manageable for learners and it forces you, the teacher, to really consider carefully which ones you should choose. This may depend on factors such as:
           Does the misspelling make it unclear or confusing for the reader?
           Does it involve a spelling pattern recently studied?
           Is this a word the learner is likely to need again soon?
           And have I corrected this error several times before? (if so, it is not worth correcting it again – some other measure is needed)

If you decide to just correct a few spelling errors, learners should be aware of this, especially if they are going to redraft it. Otherwise they may think everything else was correct and copy all the other errors (thus reinforcing them).

“7. Underline misspellings and ask students to correct them.”
Here we see the learners doing more work and you ‘spoonfeeding’ less. If you think your learners are able to correct their own spelling, this is an effective method as it involves some deeper mental processing and therefore more likelihood of remembering. However, without strategies or resources, learners may not be able to correct the words themselves. Underlining the letters that are wrong may help, but sometimes this becomes very complicated if, for example there are missing or transposed letters. A more effective way is to write the word as the student has written it but with gaps for the letters that are wrong or missing. So for example, if a learner writes *wich, you write w_ich above it. Or for *bueatyfull, you write b_ _ _ t_ful. This means that students should not get wrong what they have previously got right. And it also allows them to search for a spelling in an electronic dictionary.

"10. Give everyone’s work back unmarked and guide them all to check their work carefully in class. For example, you could ask “Do we change a base word before we add a prefix?” (no) OK, so check all your words that have prefixes – have you added them to the whole word?”
This is a very useful strategy. Even before you collect work from a group, ask them to check their own writing (or each other’s if you think it is appropriate). Guide them with prompts to correct the most common types of spelling errors. At a low level this could involve giving out a list of the 100 most common words for them to check against. Or maybe you have encouraged them to keep a list of their most common errors that they can consult. Or it could be more direct questions, “Have you got any nouns or verbs that end in ‘y’, if you’ve added ‘s’ what changes do you need to make?”. It is very valuable for learners to take this responsibility for ‘surface’ editing themselves as it fosters independence

“11. Use individual tutorials to guide students to the correct spelling.”
This is possibly the ideal situation, but a luxury that many teachers do not have. If individual tutorials happen, they often need to focus on other matters too. Teaching a student one-to-one is perfect as you can spend as little or as much time as you see fit on each item that is difficult for him.

12. Note down the most common and important spelling errors across the class and work on these in subsequent lessons.
This is also an excellent strategy if a significant proportion of the class have spelling difficulties. The spelling ‘syllabus’ is determined by the difficulties that members of the class have.

Which ways do you use?
Which ways don't you use, but might try?
Which ways wouldn't you use?
Any others I've missed?

Look Say Cover Write Check Template

There's more than one way to crack a nut. And there's more than one way to learn the spelling of a word. It depends on the word and it depends on the person (And it may depend on a load of other things too.) People often learn spellings using the Look Say Cover Write and Check method. Here I've made a template that, though I say it myself, seems much more useful than others I've seen because it offers different ways to learn.

It looks like this:

But you can download a better copy from here.

Before you download the LSCWC template though, let me explain how it works.

In the first column, the learner copies the word very carefully (spending a lot of time learning the wrong spelling would be rather a disaster!). They also say the word and spell it aloud letter by letter. This helps them to notice differences in pronunciation and spelling.

They count the number of letters and write this figure in the second column. This helps them to see they've written it correctly (not left any letters out or doubled one that should be single, for example) and also helps when they are learning the word.

 Next they look at the word and see if there is anything unusual about the spelling or anything they think might be difficult to remember. They can either write it in the third column or overwrite the 'hard spot' in the word in the first column with a different colour pen. This should make it stand out and therefore be easier to memorise visually.

In the fourth column learners make any notes about ways to remember. It could be a mnemonic, something about the etymology, a related or similar word or part of a word, broken down into morphemes, etc.

Their final job before they cover the word is to establish the word shape. They write the word on the middle horizontal line in column five, using the squares to show where there are sticks (tall letters) and tails (letters that drop below the line). Then they draw around the outline of the word. This helps to fix the image of the word-shape in the mind. They look away and try to 'see' the word in their mind's eye.

Then they cover the word and the first five columns. They try to 'see' the word again and then write it in the first WRITE column. They check and if it's correct they tick in the next Check column. Then they write it again, to make sure they weren't just lucky the first time! Later they test themselves again in the final column.

If they get the spelling wrong, they cross out the bit that was wrong and try to work out why they made that mistake. Then try again.

You can also print out the cover card for your students to use to cover the words. The card has reminders and hints about what to write in each column. You can laminate the card, so it can be reused.

You are very welcome to use the template with your learners (or for yourself). If the little boxes in column five have distorted when I converted it to a PDF, sorry about that. The chart will also be in my book, Teaching Spelling to English language Learners due out spring 2011, and I'll make sure it's perfect in that.

I'd be very grateful for any feedback on the chart when you've used it.

In case you missed them, you might like to look at these postings on The Spelling Blog:
Look Say Cover Write and Check:
Visual spelling:
 Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners:

and the link to the  Look Say Cover Write Check template on GoogleDocs is:


Do Spelling Mistakes Matter? - Stephen Fry on Language Nazis

Do you get annoyed when you see spelling or punctuation errors? Do you go round correcting misspellings with a red pen? Or do you just tut? Do you write comments on blogs and in forums about people's misspellings?

People assume that I do because I'm interested in spelling, but I don't. Really, I don't! True, it makes me angry if I receive a sloppy letter from someone who is meant to be providing a service for me - like an estate agent or bank  - because it makes me think they may be sloppy in other ways too. Oh, and I do think teachers should edit their writing carefully too.

We all make mistakes sometimes and we don't always see them when editing. Yes, yes, we should use a spell-check but, hey, sometimes life's a bit short for that. And, really, there are worse crimes in the world than misspelling a word that seem to get a lot less aggressive criticism. It really is pitiful to read vicious attacks on other people's spelling - attacks so badly written that they are full of spelling mistakes of the aggressor's own.

Anyway, this is a preamble to this wonderful video I have just come across of Stephen Fry agreeing with me! And it's a beautiful example of 'kinetic typography' by Matthew Rogers.

As Fry says, sometimes people DO need to spell and grammar (there, I've verbified a noun!) properly and that's why I do what I do. If you lack spelling knowledge or strategies and this creates an obstacle in job applications or exams then something needs to be done.

So watch, enjoy and comment below! Do you agree with Stephen Fry? And me?

Stephen Fry Kinetic Typography - Language from Matthew Rogers on Vimeo.
I originally found this here.


Remember if you buy any of these products (or anything else) from amazon.com or amazon.co.uk via the links here or above, the small commission I earn will be sent to The Afghan Reading Project.

The Language Show - Full-Body Spelling Workout

For a Full-Body Spelling Workout, come along to The Language Show in London on Sunday 17th October 2010.

Details about The Language Show.

So what is a Full-Body Spelling Workout? The Spelling Blog regulars will know that I favour multi-sensory methods of improving spelling. This session will be wall-to-wall multi-sensory activities for all ages. It will include:
  • Ways to help students write similar-sounding words
  • Ways to help weaker spellers visualise words (as good spellers seem to do naturally)
  • Things to do with your hands (that help to remember spellings)
  • Things to do with your brain (that help you to remember too)
  • A spelling gym  - been meaning to do some exercise? Learn spelling at the same time!
  • A chance for your feet to get in on the act too.
In fact, participants will go away with a brainful of short, fun, effective spelling activities that are great for warmers and energisers.

My session, (whole title: Hands-On, Eyes-On Feet-On! Full-Body Spelling Workout) is on at 13.15 (till 14.00) on Sunday 17th Oct.

By the way, volunteers will be invited to participate in a great game that you need to take your shoes off for, so make sure there are no embarrassing holes in your socks ;-)

Hope to see you there. 


Most difficult aspect of English spelling?

What's the most difficult aspect of English spelling? Tell everyone your thoughts on this. And it will also help me know what's most useful to address on The Spelling Blog.

We'd love to know. Tell us in the AnswerGarden word cloud below by either clicking on an existing word or phrase that you agree with or writing something new in the box. You can only contribute once every 24 hours. And you have to keep it short. (If you want to say more please leave a Comment in the usual way.)

Trickiest thing about English spelling... at AnswerGarden.ch.


Article on Spelling in EFL - a Tagxedo cloud

Just discovered this lovely tool - Tagxedo . Here is a cloud of words from my article on spelling on The English Language Garden at http://www.elgweb.net/spelling_article.html .

Word cloud of Remedial Spelling in EFL by Johanna Stirling at http://www.elgweb.net/spelling_article.html
And here is an interactive version if you have Microsoft Silverlight (or want to get it).  Mouse over the words to highlight them. Click on them to look them up in a search engine (but not sure why you'd want to!).

Hope the spelling article's useful and you enjoy the Tagxedo.

How do texting and tweeting affect spelling? According to David Crystal.

I've just been watching this great video of David Crystal, English language expert, talking about the myths surrounding text messaging and tweeting (communicating via Twitter). It's well worth 30 minutes of your time. Particularly interesting points:
  • he says the more people text the better their literacy scores - you need to be able to spell well to be able to abbreviate that spelling,
  • he claims dyslexics are not good at texting,
  • teachers and examiners report that texting abbreviations are very rarely found in children's and young people's examination answers.

David Crystal - Texts and Tweets: Myths and realities

Or if you want to read more, see David Crystal's book Txting: the gr8 db8

Buy this book or anything else from Amazon.co.uk  or Amazon.com via these links (or any other link on the blog) and I receive a small commission which will be passed on to the Afghan Reading Project . 

New look for The Spelling Blog

If you've been to The Spelling Blog before, you might think you've come to the wrong place. You haven't. The Spelling Blog has had a facelift! Please let me know if anything is looking odd or isn't very readable on your screen.

Hope you like it.

Anagrams for spelling - A sponger flings alarm

What do these have in common?
  • Challenging Spite
  • Angelic Penlights
  • Glistening Chapel
  • Lightening Places
They are all anagrams of the same pair of words that are related to this blog. But which words?

And can you work out these anagrams? Again all on the same theme, but this time anagrams of three different words or phrases.
  • Clean lips
  • Holographic Rat
  • Legible pens
Put your answers in the Comments.

I really like this phrase made out of two anagrams of each other:

Create fluidly, edit carefully.

Good advice, I’d say.

Should we use anagrams to teach spelling?

It depends. People who spell quite well often enjoy the challenge of them. It encourages them to look at words carefully and to think about the spelling. So this may be helpful in moderation.

People who have big problems with spelling usually don’t enjoy them. They have enough trouble with spelling – they just don’t need someone to go messing up the letters deliberately, thank you very much! Those with serious spelling problems may feel that every written word is like a puzzle to be solved anyway.

Much more useful for these learners is finding letter sequences in words that make new words. Finding ‘a rat’ in ‘separate’ really helps with the spelling. I wrote a post about this (with activities) at http://thespellingblog.blogspot.com/2009/03/spelling-long-words-1.html

Did it take ages to make those anagrams?

No, I cheated! Just go to http://wordsmith.org/anagram/ , which is an internet anagram server (I, rearrangement servant), put in your word or phrase, and a list of anagrams, mostly meaningless, is offered up. Great fun ... if you can spell. But, be careful, it's addictive!

Bye for now
Alright, no Ninjas.

Spelling mistakes - public and embarrassing ones

Let's be honest - we all make spelling mistakes sometimes. It may be because we don't know the spelling, or we think we know it but we are wrong. Often it's just a typo or lack of concentration and editing. Sometimes the spelling mistake doesn't matter too much, but other times - it really does!

Here are some very public and very embarrassing spelling errors:

A very public mistake was made by the Chilean mint. Thousands of coins were issued with a misspelling of the country's own name - the word 'Chiie' was stamped on them instead of 'Chile'. Incredibly, nobody noticed the error for a year. The Chilean mint decided not to take them out of circulation and now they are becoming collectors' items. So if you've got any Chilean coins lying around, take a close look to see if they are in fact 'Chiiean'.

In the recent British general election, UKIP (UK Independence Party) candidates made a number of spelling gaffes. One sent out a leaflet from the 'UK Independance Party'. And another published a poster saying he was 'fighting for Britian'. This candidate later claimed that it had been a deliberate error to create interest and discussion. Of course we believe him!

The most recent one I've seen is not IN English but BY the English and it is rather embarrassing because of where it is rather than what it is. The new glass doors to the Classics building at Cambridge University needed some kind of decor to make sure people saw them and didn't walk through the glass. So the University decided on a quotation from Aristotle: “All men by nature desiring to know” written in Greek, but unfortunately the Greek “Σ” in ΦYΣEI – or phusei, “by nature” – has been written as an English “S”. There is also a mechanical problem with these automatic doors and they are very slow - which gives each student plenty of time to contemplate the spelling while they wait for the doors to open.

In March 2009 The Daily Telegraph reported on the spelling mistakes found on the blog belonging to John Knight who was then the Schools Minister. They found the following: "maintainence", "convicned", "curently", "similiar", "foce", "pernsioners", "reccess" and "archeaological". Most of these look like typing errors to me and Mr Knight himself is quoted as saying, "When I was at school the teachers told me to always check my work. While my spelling is generally pretty good, I need to focus more on checking." Yes, you do Mr Knight. But wait a minute, the Telegraph should also check its work carefully when it complains about his 'mispellings' - in other words his 'pelling mistakes'. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/4522525/Education-ministers-blog-littered-with-spelling-mistakes.html

The unfortunate Mr Brown, when he was Prime Minister, made a small spelling mistake which caused offence. He personally wrote, by hand, to every family who had a member killed in battle in Afghanistan. Mr Brown is partially blind and has to use a thick pen to make the letters clear for himself. It is said that he has a 'unique' handwriting style and it is at times difficult to read. However, he had clearly misspelled the surname of Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes, who had been killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, as Jamie James. The bereaved mother, on reading the letter, was so angry about it that she sold the story to a newspaper. http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/campaigns/our_boys/2720283/Prime-Minister-Gordon-Brown-couldnt-even-get-our-name-right.html .

And here is a flyer I received a few years ago and just had to keep (sorry Collins!). I'm not sure it's such a good advert for their 'dicationary':

Finally, this is not really about spelling but has to be my favourite blunder. In Wales road signs have to be in Welsh as well as English. So when a road sign was made saying "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only", the local authority emailed their in-house translation service to ask for the Welsh translation. They got a very quick reply, copied it onto the sign below the English and installed the road signs. Only those who spoke Welsh knew that the translation of 'Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i'w gyfieithu" is "I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated". Love it!!! http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/7702913.stm

Any mistakes you find in this article, or in the blog as a whole, are of course entirely deliberate and just to create interest and discussion!

Do you know of any other public or embarrassing spelling mistakes? Any of your own?
How carefully do you check your spelling?
If you're a teacher, how do you encourage your students to edit?

World Cup Spelling - noticing vowels

Often vowels (a,e,i,o,u) cause more spelling problems than consonants, especially for English language learners. This may be partly because we tend to notice them less. It’s easier to read:
_ f__tb_ll t__m h__s _l_v_n pl_y_rs
A _oo__a__ _ea_ _a_ e_e_e_ __a_e__ .

So by paying careful attention to vowels in words, spelling may improve. Here’s an activity to help. It’s based on the 2010 World Cup, but could be used at any time.

1. Look at these football scores – do you think they are likely?
Brazil 2-5 South Africa
Argentina 4–3 Greece
USA 2–4 Algeria
2. Why do you think they have been given those scores? (Hint: vowels).
3. Think of two other matches that could be played in the World Cup. What are the ‘scores’ (from the number of vowels in the country names)?
4. Print off the worksheet below. Look at Part A only, not Part B. Write in the ‘scores’ in Part A. Do as many as you want.
5. Decide how likely you think each score is in the real World Cup. Highlight the ones that you predict might be true. When the World Cup gets going, see how many you got right.
6. But before that, look at the spelling of the countries. Learn the spelling of any you don’t know. If there are a lot you don’t know, just choose the most important ones to learn. Concentrate on the vowels. Use Look Say Cover Write and Check to learn the spellings (See http://thespellingblog.blogspot.com/2009/06/look-say-cover-write-and-check-lscwc.html )
7. Now look at Part B but don’t look at Part A (or any notes you made while learning the spellings). Don’t cheat!! Identify the countries and fill in the vowels.
8. Check your answers in Part A.
9. Enjoy the World Cup!

World Cup Spelling

Spelling loanwords in English and other languages

There are lots of reasons why English spelling is like it is (see previous post: http://thespellingblog.blogspot.com/2008/12/5-reasons-why-english-is-so-difficult.html ) but one of them is that when words are borrowed from other languages the English usually retain the spelling.

I have just returned from a trip to Malaysia and was interested to see many English loanwords in Bahasa Malaysian (the Malay language) where the spelling has been changed to reflect their own spelling conventions and in some cases their pronunciation too. So you might ...
• ... go to work by bas
• ... nibble on a biskut
• ...put your car in the garaj
• ... buy a ticket at the kaunter
• ... be late for your English kelas
• ... buy a new komputer
• ... take a mesej for someone
• ... try to understand a sistem
• ... take a teksi
• ... watch televisyen, or
• ... visit a ...

In English, we try to keep the original pronunciation (often failing miserably!) and the original spelling. We even keep accents that we don’t usually use; at least we try, though they do sometimes find themselves sitting on the wrong letter.

I am writing this from a trip around the some Balkan countries and my host informs me that in Slovene and Croatian when English words are used the original spelling is retained, whereas Serbia prefers to keep true to its own spelling conventions so loanword spellings are changed to reflect that.

What about in another language that you know? When words are ‘borrowed’ from other languages, is the spelling altered?

Interesting? You might like these previous posts:

Spelling links

I've started collecting links to great spelling resources on the web.

What you can do:
  1. Browse the great links here in my Diigo Spelling Group.
  2. Join the Spelling Group and add your own links .

10 commonly misspelled words -and how to remember them (1)

Which words do you find difficult to spell?

Here we're going to look at 10 words native speakers find most difficult to spell and ways to remember the spelling. Next time (or very soon) we'll look at the words that non-native speakers have most trouble with and how to remember those spellings.
(Photo from vancouverfilmschool at Flickr)

This word comes from minute (tiny), not mini, so there's a u after the min not i.

We can remember it has double l because it's like million, but what about the double n? I just think of the year 2000 and remember there are 2 n's.

If you are embarrassed you have two red cheeks, so there is a double r.

If a word ends with a consonant, vowel, consonant (CVC) pattern we double the final consonant before adding a suffix beginning with a vowel. However, if the CVC syllable is unstressed we don't double the consonant, eg open > opening. Here the stress is on the final syllable ocCUR, so we double the r.

The most misspelled word! Just remember: "The best accommodation has two double beds" (double c and double m).
(Photo from toddwight1 at Flickr)

If you have perseverance you are willing to do something several times before you get it right.

This word literally means to sit on top of something (to replace it). So super is 'on top of' and sede is 'sit' (think of sedentary).

Normally we drop a final e before a suffix beginning with a vowel (like > likable, persevere > perseverance). However, if the letter before the final e is a c or g with a soft sound (as in notice or outrage) we need to keep the e before a suffix that begins with a, o or u, because c and g are only usually soft before e and i. So we write notice + able = noticeable and outrage + ous = outrageous.

The word harhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/daveynin/ass (and harassment) may come from an Old French word meaning 'to set a dog on' (to get a dog to attack somebody or something). Whether this is true or not, we can remember that a dog harasses a hare, so just one r. If you have trouble remembering how many s's you might like to think about which part of the hare the dog bites first! (Photo of Hare by Daveynin at Flickr)

When you have an inoculation they only use one needle. Just one n. In fact there are no double doses (no double letters) in the word.


Without looking at the words above, on a piece of paper, write the words according to the clues below:
1. A hotel, hostel or apartment, for example.
2. To annoy or repeatedly attack somebody.
3. 1000 years.
4. Very, very small.
5. Replace something with a newer type.
6. A feeling of shyness or shame.
7. You can see something easily, obvious.
8. The quality of continuing with something although it is difficult.
9. Something that happens, an event.
10. An injection which prevents you from getting a disease.

Other related posts on The Spelling Blog:
How do you spell...
5 reasons why English spelling is difficult
Mnemonics for tricky spellings
-able or -ible?

Prefixes and suffixes - online activities

I've just come across this little spelling activity from the BBC which I can put directly into my blog. It's a gizmo for practising prefixes and suffixes. Have a go:

What I like about it is that it teaches about prefixes and suffixes rather than just tests. There are loads of spelling activities on the web that are great if you just want to test your spelling. Most of the people I work with have problems with spelling and so they need help, not just something that reconfirms that their spelling is poor.

Let us know if you have other sites that have teaching rather than testing activities for spelling.

By the way, thanks to the award-winning teachertrainingvideos.com for leading me to this. There are other spelling sites examined there too, but most of them do test rather than teach. The notable exception is the wonderful Spelling City which I've written about before here.

Other related posts on The Spelling Blog:
Spelling Long Words - Prefixes
Confusing Prefixes - dis and dys
Confusing Prefixes - anti and ante
Look Say Cover Write and Check

' wa '

(Update: I've just updated this post for two reasons: a) The Blixy Zoom Words isn't working so I've used plain old writing; b) I needed to make it clear this post was about British English pronunciation)

Look at these words. What do you notice about the sound and the spelling?
wander, want, watch, wash, swallow, warrior, swap, wannna

And now these:
walk, wall, war, warm, water, wardrobe, warning, towards, dwarf

Hopefully you noticed that all the words begin with, or contain, the letters wa.

In British English in the first lot, the wa sounds like it should be spelled wo - we hear the sounds /wɒ/ : watch, swallow, was, etc.

In the second graphic, the wa sounds more like 'wor' (war) or /wɔ:/ walk, warning, award. But if you look carefully, you'll see that the wa in these words is mostly followed by r or l (except in water).


Are these rules? No, they can't be rules because they are not definite enough. There are exceptions such as water and also a very few words where the wa makes a more phonetically regular sound of /wæ/ like in wax (and another word that's not polite enough for The Spelling Blog!) and a few other pronunciations. But there are patterns to be seen.

Are these patterns useful? Yes, I think it's worth raising awareness of this. Nobody ever pointed this out to me and I just thought a lot of these words were phoneticaly irregular, but it's reassuring to see a pattern.

However I would feel happier if I could find an etymological reason for this pattern - believe me, I've searched. Any ideas, anyone?

By the way, when I finally finish my Teaching English Spelling book (before summer 2010, I hope), there will be an awareness-raising exercise about the wa spellings.

Code word activity

I've always thought interactive text reconstruction activities (eg http://www.cict.co.uk/software/textoys/examples/example2.htm) were really useful for spelling improvement, but they're not easy to do on paper. A good alternative is a code words exercise, in which you see some letters in the text and have to guess others to reconstruct it. Doing the puzzle really makes you think about spelling, as well as meaning and grammar - a full workout really!

And for learners who find writing difficult, this can make a great model for their own writing.

Here's one I made. This is a guided one: there are hints to help learners solve the puzzle and think about spelling. Feel free to print it out and use it. The second page is the key. If it's too difficult learners could read the full text first or the teacher could read it out.

This is the first one of these I've ever made, so feedback welcomed. Especially if there are any mistakes!!
Code Word Nouri

The the Impotence of Proofreading - very funny

Here's a video clip that a friend (thanks, Shaz!) showed me. It's a poem written by Taylor Mali about someone who can't spell. Very clever, very funny and rather rude in parts! So if you're easily offended, best not to watch!

If you want to read the words, they're on Taylor Mali's website

Spelling names - does it matter?

Darren Elliott ( @livesofteachers ) had this little outburst on Twitter this morning! And it made me think: how important is it to spell names right? It seems it's not very important if it's someone else's name but very important if it's yours!

My own name is a bit of a spelling nightmare. Johanna is not usually spelled with an h in English (the h is completely silent), so people often write Joanna or even Joanne, which is a more common name. To a lot of people I'm Jo, but I'm definitely not Joe (same pronunciation but that's a man's name). My Stirling is spelled with an i not an e (Stirling not Sterling, same pronunciation), so I always have to say 'like the Scottish city not the money'.

So people often spell my name wrong. Do I mind? Yes! Well, no! But yes! And no! Intellectually, of course not: my name isn't easy, people are busy, life is short, what does it matter? But my gut feeling is: 'that's not me!'

Perhaps the spelling of our name is part of our identity.

And of course sometimes it really does matter, because if someone types my misspelled name into Google they might find somebody far more interesting than me! Or emails offering me an all-expenses paid trip to the Seychelles may never get to me (not the spam kind- they always get through).

What about you? How important is it that people spell your name right?

When two vowels go walking - Is it the truth we're talking?

There's an English spelling rule that native-speaker children are taught:

"When two vowels go walking, the first one does the talking - it says its name."

It means in a word like bean, the e is pronounced (with the long sound like the name of the letter E) and the a is silent. Here are some more examples:


And here is a video about it for kids. Beautifully made, cute and convincing ...


BUT ...

... I was going to write about this 'rule' in my book (Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners). First thing that happened was that I was a bit stuck for examples. Then I got suspicious and decided to check it out. I wrote all the possible vowel digraphs (two written vowels together that make one sound), such as ae, ai, ao, au, ea, ei, etc and I put them into a concordancer at http://www.lextutor.ca/concordancers/concord_e.html

And what did I find? I found this rule was just not true. It only works for a few digraphs and then not always. Look, these ones generally do work:

oa - coat, load, approach, goal, etc (most words with oa make the o sound and the a is silent, except if it's followed by an r: board, coarse)

ai - rain, paint, rail, failure, etc (this one is pretty good too but some common words don't follow the rule: said, pair, etc)

ea - sea, beans, easy, please, beach, etc (this one sometimes behaves according to the rule but look at all these exceptions (and there are lots more) : leather, already, early, appear, break, bread, etc)

Some pairs have a few examples
ui - juice, fruit, suit (but not liquid, build, guide, biscuit and many more

ei - ceiling, receive but not height, eight,

oe - toe, woe, goes, potatoes but not in shoes, does, poem, foetid or canoe

ue - blue, true but not in guest, league, queen, affluence and any more.

And the others really do not follow this rule at all. At best there are two or three words that follow the rule for these combinations, but generally none,
ae, ao, au, eo, eu, ia, ie, io, iu, ou, ua, uo.

Now those of you who follow my work know that I don't give a fig for 'rules' in spellings. We can only look at patterns, or precedents, and make guesses. But it does annoy me to think that children are taught 'rules' like this when they're just not true.

Do you agree? Are you a teacher who has taught this 'rule'? Can you justify it? Do you know any other 'rules' that are not true? Is a 'rule' that's partly right better than no rule at all?

Visualising words - starring a young Tony Buzan

There are several differences that we often find between good spellers and weak spellers. One of these is the ability to visualise words. Ask a good speller the spelling of a word and you will probably see them look away from you and 'read' the word. Often people look up and to their left as they do this. They may be able to 'see' the word projected onto a wall or surface there.

Ask a weak speller and they'll probably just look worried!

Here is a (very old) video of a (very young) Tony Buzan talking about just this.

(Note: I've got the video to start in the right place but for some reason not finish where I want it to. If anyone can tell me how to do this I'd be grateful. I suggest finishing at 3.17. In fact the video freezes at 3.46 anyway)

So to help weak spellers, we need to help them to 'see' words too.

Some techniques for doing this coming soon.

Thanks, by the way, to Tim Kenning for the video link.

Oh and ... a very happy 2010 to you all.