Proofreaders and copy-editors have a reputation for being pretty proficient spellers – it’s an essential skill for the role. However, due to the enormity of the English lexicon, which according to AskOxford.com contains at the very least a quarter of a million words, it would be impossible for any one person to be able to spell every single English word accurately. It’s not just obscure words that can trip us up – even within frequently used vocabulary there will always be one or two spellings that cause us problems.
So what can be done to raise our spelling skills? I’ve just come across an excellent resource by Johanna Stirling, an EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher with a particular interest in teaching spelling. Put simply, Johanna is a spelling guru and her aptly-named ‘Spelling Blog’ is a fascinating read for editors, educationalists and anyone with a love of English.
Johanna has some very interesting ideas about how people learn spellings, and what it is that enables good spellers to remember how words are written. Here’s a summary of her ideas about the ways in which spellings are remembered:
- Sight – the ability to see the word in your head
- Sound – sounding the word out helps, although sometimes you have to distort the sound of the word to remember the spelling (I always used to do this with ‘Wed-nes-day’)
- Patterns – We know that ‘q’ is always followed by ‘u’ for example, and how to spell ‘bits’ of words, like the suffix ‘able’
- Kinesthetics – Sometimes you can’t think how a word should be spelt unless you physically write it
- Lexical spelling – Thinking of a semantically-linked word. For example, once you’ve mastered ‘necessary’, it’s not a large jump to get to ‘necessarily’
Bearing these methods in mind, Johanna concludes that:
- Visual methods of spelling should be encouraged
- You should try to notice patterns in how words are spelled
- It helps to break down longer words into their component parts
- The more we write, the better our spelling gets – it just becomes automatic
And finally… to introduce a bit of fun into learning spelling, you should definitely have a go at the Times’ online spelling bee. But be warned… it could seriously eat into your proofreading time.
If you struggle with spelling and need an expert pair of eyes to run over your work, The Proofreading Agency can help!
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