Top 8 Spelling Strategies
(for ESL students and native speakers)

If you're interested in the Spelling Strategies Course mentioned in the video then you can get 20% off unlimited learning (and that includes: my Spelling Rules Course and the Beginner's Guide to Punctuation too) click here

English spelling is puzzling for native speakers, and challenging for ESL students too! Especially if your language is written phonetically - that is all the letters relate to a sound - you probably find English spelling crazy and irritating. But the good news is English spelling isn't all irregular and chaotic - it's just complex and there are patterns, rules, regularities and reasons why English spelling is the way it is.

Yes, some words are tricky to spell, so good spellers use a combination of strategies to help spell and recall words:

1. Strategy 1 is see a word within a word

believe is a tricky spelling with the ie or ei pattern.

Can you see the word in believe that means to not tell the truth?

spelling strategies

The word within believe is lie, so use this in a sentence to remember it: "Never believe a lie."

young has the tricky 'ou' pattern. Can you see a word in young?

There's 'you' in young. Make a sentence to remember it - "You are so young".

ESL spelling strategies.You can relate memory tricks and words within words to your language.

Use anything to help you remember tricky words.

Use pictures, photos, drawings. Write sentences. 

2. Strategy 2 is use sayings to help with tricky letters.  

Native speakers find necessaryhard to remember, especially how many c's and s's there are. So we use a saying to help: "It's necessary to cut some services."

This helps us remember there is 1 x c and 2 x s's.  
We can also use another saying: "It's necessary to have 1 collar and 2 sleeves."

spelling necessary

3. Strategy 3 is noticing how words are built with root words, prefixes and suffixes.
This is a very important strategy, especially if your language doesn't build words this way.

uncomfortable = not comfortable = un + comfort + able.
irregularly = ir + regular + ly,

prefixes and suffixes

unhappily = un + happy (using our knowledge of spelling rules we change the 'y' to 'i') + ly 

4. Strategy 4 is know common spelling rules and exceptions

Knowing spelling rules is great to help you figure out why spelling is the way it is. For example, we add 'es' to words ending in x, ch, sh, s, z to make plurals and third person verbs: box - boxes, mess - messes, he teaches. We have the 'y' to 'i' rule when adding some suffixes: happy - happiness, happily; crazy - crazily, craziness.  We drop the 'e' with -ing:  write - writing, have - having, believe - believing.

drop the e with ing

5. Strategy 5 see letter patterns.
Letter patterns are a reliable way to learn spellings.


-ight- light, bright, tight, might, flight, fight, uptight, lighter, sightseeing...

-tch- match, hutch, butch, notch, catch, watch...

pl- play, plan, plastic, plenty, plain, plonk...

sprspring, sprung,  spritz,  sprat, spray, sprinkle... 

Good spellers know letter patterns and use them to help recall spellings or guess the spelling. Knowing common letter patterns is a fantastic strategy to help you improve your spelling and to spell well. So make a letter pattern dictionary.

The -ight- words are some of the most common words in English and tricky to spell.
-ight- light, bright, delight, fight, flight, night, might, right, tight, eyesight, sightseeing...
Write sentences to help remember the patterns: It's good to have a bright light at night or your
eyesight might not be right.
My friend took a flight to New York and went sightseeing and was delighted to see the bright lights.

6. Strategy 6 is know word families that are linked by meaning and pattern.

This is a very interesting strategy and can help spelling by helping you love words and taking in interest in them.


 -ject- (from Latin- throw) reject (throw away!), rejection,
 projection, (to throw light on something), projectile, dejection, objection, adjective (to throw light on nouns!), injection
terr- (from Latin terra for earth, land, ground) terrain, territory, 
subterranean, Mediterranean extraterrestrial,terrier (a dog that digs in the earth!)
-rupt (from Latin for broken) rupture,
 disruption, eruption, bankrupt, corrupt, abrupt...

7. Strategy 7 is use syllable breakdown
We can break words into little spoken chunks with a vowel sound to help spell long words:Wednesday
un/com/for/table, ex/tra/va/gant. Or break them into words - un/comfort/able, extra/va/gant. 

8. Strategy 8 is know the history of words and spelling.

Knowing why words are spelt the way they are helps you stop getting frustrated with spelling.

For example, most silent letters used to be pronounced, but are left in the spelling because the pronunciation changed and the  spelling remained fixed. This is the trouble with a lot of English spelling - pronunciation is always changing but spelling is left as it is.  And that's why we have so many "strange" spellings, and silent letters!

What are the silent letters in knee, knock, sword, answer?

Silent 'k' in knee, knock. Silent 'w' in answer and sword. The silent letters all used to be pronounced! So most spelling shows the history of how words used to be said/pronounced centuries ago. They are the ghosts of past pronunciations, showing us a once spoken letter but now they're there to show us the history and origins of words.

If you're interested in learning more about ESL spellings strategies then click here

ESL Spelling Strategies Course