ESL spelling strategies and common spelling mistakes

Common ESL Spelling Mistakes by Andrew Howe
(with memory tricks and suggestions from Joanne at How to Spell)

English spelling is puzzling for native speakers, and
challenging for ESL students too!
How to Spell ESL Spelling Strategies Course.

We all know how difficult spelling can be so let's get straight into the 10 words that most ESL students, and native speakers, often misspell.

To help you remember the spelling, or the "tricky" bits, of these you can either learn them by heart, or use memory tricks and spelling strategies

We'll look at the letters that are often misspelled or left out, and then look at strategies to help remember the letters. Can you think of a memory trick, a saying, or see a word within a word to help you remember the spelling? Or can you relate it to a word in your language that can help you remember the spelling in English?

believe – a letter I goes before E, therefore –IE (Can you see the word within believe that can help remember the -ie- pattern? Never believe a lie. or Do you belleve eve?)
colleague – EA in the middle. col + league
government – NM in this word. govern + ment
necessary – double S and just one C. (Check this lesson for some memory tricks)
occasion – double C and just one S. Syllable breakdown might help oc /ca/ sion - or use a memory trick. Can you think of one?
pronunciation – don't put O before U pro + nun + ci + ation
Be careful we have pronounce but pronunciation
schedule is one of the most difficult words for ESL students. You can just learn it, or use a memory trick, or see the letter pattern sch - The schedule for the school scholarship scheme.(You can't rely on the pronunciation of letter patterns to help you spell because they can be pronounced differently, for example, schedule in British English is "shed ule" but in American English "sked ule". For the pronunciation of words go to Macmillan Dictionary)
success – double C and S's. Can you think of a memory trick to help?
tomorrow – double R and just one M. to + morrow “Good morrow" was the old way of saying "good day".
wherever – just one E wher + ever


What are homophones? (Check out the video)

Homophones are the words that sound the same but have absolutely different meaning and spelling. Sometimes you can understand the word depending on the context. However, it's important not to use the wrong word while writing.

Top tip about homophones from Joanne from How to Spell is to just work on the words you have problems with and don’t worry about words you’re OK with because many ESL students can spell/use these homophone words okay because they're learnt separately. But when you have problems with a word then using memory tricks and spelling strategies are very useful.

Read the most typical misused examples below, plus some tips from How to Spell to remember which is which.

Their/They're/There (Check out the video)
Their – the possessive pronoun. Their house is big. Their children are young.
They're – means they are. They’re happy = They are happy.
There – it refers to a place. See the word within there here there where

Right – means correct, acceptable. I'm right - he's wrong.
Wright – a maker or a builder. Harold Pinter was a playwright.
Write – mark letters/sentences somewhere Write Words

To/Too/Two ( Check out the video)
To – preposition. Let's go to the park. Do you want to go?
Too – means 'also' or 'excessively'. Exaggerate the 'too' Toooooo big, tooooo small...
Two = 2 a number.
There are only two of us going to the pub and I was hoping Jon and Lisa would come too.

Quit/Quite/Quiet (Check out the video )
Quit – means to stop doing something. I quit smoking let month.
Quite – means 'truly' I'm quite sure he's coming too.
Quiet – as a noun means silence, as an adjective - calm. Please be quiet.

Flew – a verb 'fly' in past tense. I flew by Virgin Atlantic.
Flu – a short version of influenza. I've got flu.
Flue – a metal tube that takes smoke and heat from a fire to the outside of a building. It's important to make sure that the flue isn't blocked.

Than – a comparative conjunction. Use rhyming than – an, can, tan, flan, ban. It's much bigger than, and more expensive than I thought.
Then – means 'next' or 'afterward'. then Ken ten Len Ben pen. Then this happened, then this happened = extra information

Here – shows the location or place. We're here.
Hear – a verb that shows the ability to perceive sounds. Can you see the ear in hear? This helps you with using the right here/hear. You hear with your ear.

The top tip to avoid misspelling/misusing the above-mentioned words is to reread and proofread your writing and ask yourself questions about whether you have used the right spelling for the exact meaning. Native speakers and ESL students (everyone) needs to proofread their work for these notoriously tricky words.

Final Thoughts
English spelling is difficult for ESL students as their native language can interfere with the spelling, or they get frustrated because it isn't like their 'phonetic' spelling system. To improve spelling you need to roll up your sleeves and keep on studying it, and write. Also enjoy using spelling strategies and memory tricks to help you remember spellings.

The Author:
Andrew Howe is fond of languages and writing, so he keeps improving his skills. He has developed a tool Adverbless that helps to highlight the adverbs so that people can remove them to strengthen their writing. Contact Andrew at

For the Top 8 ESL Spelling Strategies click here

For the online ESL Spelling Strategies video course click here

ESL Spelling Strategies Course

To really get to grips with the 20 most commonly misspelled words then click here
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