Thanks to spell check, we are in an era of poor spellers.
“People tend to think they don’t need to learn how to spell because the computer will do it for them,” says Dr. J. Richard Gentry, literary expert and best-selling author.
INSIDER spoke with Dr. Gentry, who has spent over four decades specializing in education, including writing, spelling, reading, and dyslexia. He has also written 12 books, including “Spelling Connections,” an extensive spelling program used for students to become proficient spellers.
Gentry revealed that spelling is critical to learn in kindergarten and first grade, but that you can hone your skills as an adult too.
Read a lot
Reading is probably one of the best ways to familiarize yourself with words and their spelling, but Gentry says to take it one step further: “If you see a word you don’t recognize, try to figure out what it means,” he suggests.
However, becoming a good speller can also make you a better reader. “Spelling is connected to the architecture of the reading brain, and is a lot more important than we recognize,” he said.
Use spell check — but don’t rely on it
Gentry says that one of the best ways to learn how to spell as an adult is to use spell check – to a degree.
While spell check is a great way to check yourself and see if you are spelling words correctly, the computer isn’t always right.
For example, if you are trying to spell homophones, two words that sound the same but have different meanings, the computer doesn’t always catch it. Gentry shows a video to his students which plays the sentence “If someone told me I would not need to learn how to spell, computers do it for me.”
If you don’t know how to spell correctly, you might type the sentence as “If sum one tolled me I wood knot knead two learn how too spell, computers dew it four me.” Since computers don’t get the context, they may present you with the wrong homophones.
Quiz yourself frequently
Gentry says, “Self-testing has been found to be one of the best techniques for adults and anyone who is learning how to spell – or learning anything.”
Try quizzing yourself daily on some of the more difficult words you are having trouble with.
Practice for 15 minutes a day
Gentry suggests practicing spelling for 15 minutes a day, and advises people to mix up their exercises – whether it’s coming up with a list of words you’re having trouble with, looking them up, practicing their spelling, or simply saying them out loud.
Create mnemonic devices
Sometimes it’s hard to remember how to spell a word, like “separate.” Most people spell it with an “e” instead of an “a.”
Gentry suggests using a mnemonic device to remember how to spell a tricky word like separate. “A good way to remember it is that there is ‘a rat’ in ‘separate,'” he explains.
Look up a words’ etymology
Looking up the history or origin of a word can help break down its spelling. For example, sometimes words that all begin a certain way are related. Also, knowing its language of origin can help with remembering certain rules for spelling it, and understanding its root can help give it meaning and context.
Play word games
If you’re looking to become a better speller, you can play games like Scrabble or Words With Friends. These games allow you to analyze and think about the spelling of words.