How to Learn the Words You Can’t Sound Out

1.Look; cover; write; check. This classic teaching method will effectively help you ingrain difficult-to-spell words in your mind. The process goes exactly as it sounds: you look at a word (for instance, in a dictionary) to see what it looks like, you hide the word from view and try to write it down from memory, and then you check to see if you got it right. Repeat this process until you can confidently and accurately reproduce the word at least three times in a row.

  • To make this an even more sensory activity that connects the pronunciation of a word with its spelling, slowly sound out the word aloud as you are writing it down. That way, you’re activating your senses of sight, hearing, and touch, which will help with your recall and all-around understanding of a word

2.Identify common misspellings. Because of its mix of linguistic origins, English spellings are not always consistent or rule-based. “Weird,” for instance, is a notable exception to the aforementioned “i before e” rule. That means it won’t always be possible to accurately spell difficult words just by sounding them out. Watch out for words that you consistently misspell and memorize the accurate spellings.

  • Be sure to familiarize yourself with those words that are tough for everyone.
  • Try creating your own crib sheet of words that you find difficult to spell. Keep it on hand when you’re writing to look up the ones that commonly trip you up.

3.Use mnemonic devices. It’s easier to remember difficult spellings if you associate it with a vivid sentence that gives you a way to recall the right letters.

  • For example, if you have trouble spelling a word like “rhythm,” come up with a related sentence in which the beginning of each word matches the correct order of the letters: “Rhythm helps you to hear music.”
  • If you have trouble with a specific letter, think of a sentence that will help you remember the part that you frequently mess up. For instance, “separate” is one of the most commonly misspelled words, but if you associate it with a sentence like, “There’s a ‘par’ in separate,” then you’ll remember that the second vowel should be an “a,” not an “e.”

4.Consider the word’s linguistic origin. Many English words are imported from other languages. If you know which language a word is derived from, it can help you make sense of surprising letter combinations that don’t match how a word sounds. The more you familiarize yourself with patterns that are common to the languages that have influenced English, like Latin, French, and German, the more likely you are to be able to figure out the spellings of words that have foreign origins.

  • For instance, words like “bureaucracy” and “connoisseur” seem like they would be spelled “burocracy” and “connosewer” in English. However, if you know their origin, you can recognize the vowel and consonant patterns as foreign spellings that are standard in French.
  • You can look up word origins in a dictionary to familiarize yourself with common patterns, roots, prefixes, and suffixes that derive from other languages. If you know that “pneu” comes from the Greek word for “breathe,” it will help you recognize that prefix in other places that it’s likely to occur, such as “pneumonia” or “pneumatic.”
  • Download an etymology app like WordBook or Etymology Explorer to help you look up the foreign roots of tough words.


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