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Effective Help for Spelling Problems

Children with reading difficulties usually have problems in spelling as well, and oftentimes have more severe deficits in spelling than in reading, according to Hallahan et al. in Introduction to Learning Disabilities. In reading, context and other cues help one to decode a word, but in spelling, one must produce the word after hearing or thinking it. As a consequence of their difficulties with spelling, children find writing tasks both laborious and aversive.

Spelling requires that a person produce in written or oral form the correct sequence of letters that form a particular word. To do this, a person converts phonemes (sounds) into graphemes (written letters). There is only one correct way to spell any particular word with a given meaning. Thus, spelling does not allow any room for "creative" answers or "style"; a word is either spelled correctly or it is misspelt.

English spelling is particularly difficult. Over the centuries the pronunciation of English has deviated ever further away from the spelling. Many languages have reformed their spelling to adjust to such changes, but English has not. It teems with spelling and pronunciation challenges… words like buffet, cousin, canyon, cough, and mosquito.

What makes spelling even more difficult is that the written form of the English language has an inconsistent pattern. It would be much easier if each phoneme had one and only one grapheme. But that is not the case. There are 251 different spellings for the 44 sounds of English and the language contains many irregularly spelt words. Only approximately 50% of spellings follow regular phonetic rules.

What Causes Spelling Problems?

Successful intervention is dependent on finding the cause or causes of a problem. A disease such as scurvy claimed the lives of thousands of seamen during their long sea voyages. The disease was cured fairly quickly once the cause was discovered, viz. a vitamin C deficiency. A viable point of departure in this case would thus be to ask the question, "What causes spelling problems?"

To understand the cause of spelling problems it is important to take note of the fact that learning is a stratified process. One has to learn to count before it becomes possible to learn to add and subtract. Suppose one tried to teach a child, who had not learnt to count yet, to add and subtract. This would be quite impossible and no amount of effort would ever succeed in teaching the child these skills. In the same way, there are also certain skills and knowledge that a child must have acquired first, before it becomes possible for him to benefit from a course in spelling.

The skill of spelling embraces many subskills. Subskills of particular importance are

  • the ability to analyse, i.e. to perceive the whole in its individual parts,
  • auditory perception of letter sounds,
  • auditory memory,
  • decoding skills, and
  • visual memory for sequences.

Although learning to spell correctly is a difficult task to master for most children, it is especially difficult — and sometimes impossible — if there are underlying shortcomings.

At Edublox we help learners overcome spelling problems by addressing these underlying shortcomings.