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The “Pronounce for Spelling” Technique

A great technique for preventing spelling errors is called “Pronounce for Spelling.”

When you pronounce for spelling, you exaggerate the pronunciation of a word to make it easier to spell. For example, in casual speech we often pronounce the word different as difrent, leaving out the second syllable. When we pronounce for spelling, we carefully enunciate each syllable (dif-fer-ent), making it much easier to spell. Watch this video for a demonstration.

Let’s dive deeper. Let’s say your child writes a sentence like this:

a sentence with misspelled words

When viewed on paper, the sentence obviously contains several misspelled words. And yet when you read the sentence aloud, exactly as written, you realize your child has spelled the words exactly the way she pronounces them.

Pronouncing Words Incorrectly Makes Spelling More Difficult

If your child mispronounces a word, it can make it difficult for her to correctly spell the word. On the other hand, if she learns to pronounce a word clearly and correctly, she has a much greater chance of being able to spell it correctly, too. Many words are commonly mispronounced and misspelled, including probably (probly), secretary (secertary), because (becuz), and library (libary).

Here are three things that cause pronunciation pitfalls.

  1. Unaccented Syllables

    Some words are not pronounced clearly in everyday speech. For example, most Americans pronounce the word button as butn. The vowel sound in the unaccented syllable gets lost in the normal rhythm of speech, something that is particularly noticeable in words like different (difrent), separate (seprit), and jewelry (jewlry).

header for common word with unaccented syllables
How It’s Spelled How It’s Often Pronounced
different dif-rent
separate sep-rit
jewelry jewl-ry
chocolate choc-lit
camera cam-ra
interest in-trest
several sev-ral
  1. Regional Accents

    The variance of regional accents can also make certain words more challenging to spell. For instance, these word pairs are pronounced alike in some regions:

    than/then     we’re/were       cot/caught       don/dawn       collar/caller      wok/walk
    feel/fill        stock/stalk      sense/since    been/bean     trail/trial      marry/merry

    The “pin-pen merger” is a prime example of regional pronunciation that causes different words to sound the same. In many areas of the southern United States, the words pin and pen are pronounced identically. This can cause confusion for children who are learning to spell; the words represent two completely different vowel sounds, but they are not pronounced to reflect that. Other similar word pairs include him-hem and kin-Ken. For specific help with these words, be sure to check out 6 Tips to Help Distinguish Between Short I and Short E.

  1. Silent Letters

    Many words in the English language are derived from Latin or Greek root words or have been borrowed from other languages. This has resulted in many English words with letters that we no longer pronounce.

    Hover over or click the words below to see the unpronounced letters.

header for 10 words with silent letters
honest Wednesday
muscle knuckle
handkerchief lamb
scissors design
friend thistle

So between unaccented syllables, regional accents, and silent letters, what’s a spelling teacher to do?

download our pronounce for spelling quick guide

“Pronounce for Spelling” Technique to the Rescue!

As our emu friend demonstrated in the video, there are two simple steps to the Pronounce for Spelling technique.

  1. Exaggerate the pronunciation of the word.
  2. Spell each sound you hear.

Exaggerating the pronunciation of hard-to-spell words allows you to hear each sound clearly, making it much easier to spell the words.

ostrich spelling "camera" with the pronounce for spelling technique

If your student isn’t aware of the correct pronunciation, model it for him. For example, if he regularly pronounces camera as camra, carefully pronounce the word for him: cam-er-a. When he can hear each syllable, he’ll be less likely to gloss over the unaccented syllables.

Notice that the first step in this technique is to exaggerate the pronunciation of the word. We’re not advocating that your child go around saying camera with ultraprecision—just during spelling lessons.

Now there will be times that “pronounce for spelling” won’t work. Take the word could, for example, where the silent L can’t be pronounced. In these cases, we throw the word in jail. Curious what that means? Read this post to find out exactly how we throw words in jail and to get your own jail for spelling words!

What about Little Kids?

It can be endearing when children mispronounce words—aminals for animals or pasghetti for spaghetti. Their early attempts can make us smile.

At this stage, it isn’t necessary to interrupt a child to correct his pronunciation. It’s more important to keep a positive environment for speaking and communicating.

The best method for helping a child’s pronunciation is through purposeful modeling. If your child says, “I’d like some more pasgetti,” you could respond, “More spaghetti, coming up!” If your child talks about an ambliance whizzing past your car, you could say, “The ambulance must be headed to the hospital.” These are gentle, almost invisible, corrections.

But young children aren’t the only ones who pronounce words incorrectly.

Older Kids Often Pronounce These Words Wrong

Check out this list of common words that are easier to spell when they are pronounced correctly. Click the audio icons below to hear the correct pronunciation of each word. (Note: if a word has more than one accepted pronunciation, the most common pronunciation is given.)

header graphic for 25 Words Mispronounced by older kids list
“perscription” prescription
“goverment” government
“artic” arctic
“athelete” athlete
“excape” escape
“expresso” espresso
“canidate” candidate
“pacific” specific
“triathalon” triathlon
“bob wire” barbed wire
“crect” correct
“probly” or “prolly” probably
“close” clothes
“dialate” dilate
“excetera” et cetera
“Febry” February
“fedral” federal
“foilage” or “foe-lage” foliage
“heighth” height
“jewlery” jewelry
“histry” history
“mannaise” mayonnaise
“pronounciation” pronunciation
“realator” realtor
“supposably” supposedly

And then there is the issue of relaxed pronunciation, where we blend two or more words together in casual speech.

header for examples of relaxed pronunciation
Blended phrase Interpretation
acoupla (as in, I’d love to have acoupla goats.) a couple of
algo (as in, Algo if you go.) I’ll go
a lotta (as in, I ate a lotta spaghetti.) a lot of
betcha (as in, I’ll betcha a dollar.) bet you
awayzaway (as in, Our vacation is awayzaway.) a ways away
c’mere (as in, Can you c’mere for a minute?) come here
‘cuz (as in, I dropped it ‘cuz it was hot.) because
d’wanna (as in, D’wanna go to the park?) do you want to
hafta (as in, I hafta go to the store.) have to
howzat (as in, Howzat book you’re reading?) how is that
kinda (as in, We stayed up kinda late.) kind of
omina (as in, Omina show you something.) I’m going to
sko (as in, Sko to the beach!) let’s go
toldja (as in, Toldja he wouldn’t like it!) told you
don’tcha (as in, Don’tcha want to come with me?) don’t you
whaddya (as in, Whaddya mean?) what do you
yoosta (as in, I yoosta be good at playing piano.) used to
spozed-ta (as in, You’re spozed-ta be there early.) supposed to

Here are technical words to describe how words can change in casual speech:

  • Haplology is the dropping of similar sounds or syllables (probably becomes prolly or probly; candidate becomes canidate)
  • Epenthesis is the addition of sounds to the middle of the word (hamster becomes hampster; else becomes elts; picnic becomes picanic; athlete becomes athelete.)
  • Syncope is the blending of words together (come here becomes c’mere)

Most of us do change words when we speak, but in spelling class it is helpful to slow down and pronounce the words clearly to reduce the chances of misspelling them.

Here’s the Bottom Line

Any time your student fergets how to spell a word, simply remind him not to forget to “pronounce for spelling.”

By taking the time to thoughtfully consider every part of the word, he will be able to clearly enunciate each syllable, thus increasing his chances of spelling the word correctly.

Is there a word that your child has trouble spelling because of a pronunciation problem? Let me know in the comments below.

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Sheila Wilkins

says:

My daughter has challenging time knowing how to pronounce words like archive. Are there programs that teach her words and then she can hear correct annunciation of the word?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Sheila,
The easiest way to hear words pronounced correctly is to look them up in an online dictionary. Dictionary.com is a good one, but there are many others. Next to the word will be a speaker icon and when you click on it you will hear the word pronounced. The dictionary will also have the definition of the word so your daughter can know what it means as well.

On the other hand, if you wanted a program that will help your daughter sound out unfamiliar words while reading, then I recommend All About Reading. The higher levels of All About Reading specifically focus on teaching children to sound out advanced words like archive.

Amanda Capps

says:

This was helpful for college students too, thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amanda!

Charlie

says:

I’m ESL student and struggling so heavy on pronunciation, is this technique applicable to people like me? I’ve been studying English for a long time but right now I’m stuck (sos)

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Charlie,
This technique can help any English learner, but their vocabulary has to be full enough that they know the typical pronunciation of a word (such as problum) and how to pronounce it for spelling (problem). This technique is not as helpful for those still developing the ability to speak and read well in English.

Margaret McHale

says:

How about ENL students? Any different techniques to help these students.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

That is a great question, Margaret.

The most important thing for English learners is building their vocabulary. It is frustratingly hard to learn to spell words you don’t understand and can’t use. It becomes an exercise in memorization, and English is just too vast for that to be effective.

Our How to Build Your Child’s Vocabulary blog post works with English learners as well as native speakers.

Words are learned best in context and with discussion. That is why listening to a variety of English being read is so important for building vocabulary. The book (or magazine, or recipe, or other sources of writing) provides the context and the person reading can explain to the learner any words they don’t know. And whatever was read becomes a source of discussion which builds conversation and vocabulary skills in the learner.

So, those learning English as a second language will “pronounce for spelling” as other students do. They just need to bring the word into their speaking vocabularies first.

I hope this helps, but let me know if you have further questions.

Elijah

says:

great piece for all.

Ndi basil

says:

Somebody like me I don’t even know we’re to start, so I can’t right very well much latter cost me problem by writing an pronounce word correctly

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry you are having difficulties, Ndi. The “pronounce for spelling” technique is used mostly to teach good spelling to another. As you have said, it isn’t as helpful for someone trying to learn English by themself. When learning English, it is important to consider the same progression that a child learns his or her native language. First listening, then speaking, then reading, then spelling and writing.

Cindy

says:

This is interesting to me because I’ve been doing this in my head my whole life! When writing Wednesday, I think Wed-nes-day every time. I’ll be sure to share this with my kids. Thank you!

Merry

says: Customer Service

Good for you, Cindy! I have too–I think I had an elementary teacher who taught us to do this, and I just kept on. It’s helpful for so many words. I hope your kids find the strategy as beneficial as you have!

Dauda

says:

This is really good

Amanda W.

says:

This is awesome and so helpful!!

Jill

says:

This is even more “fun” when your child’s native language isn’t English.

Lisa

says:

I do the exaggerated pronunciation with my two I homeschool all the time! I’ve never heard of anyone else doing it. Makes me feel better! 😂 We still have trouble spelling words with silent e’s in my house. It’s a work in progress!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Silent Es can be tricky, Lisa. Have you seen our Silent E: Teaching Kids the Whole Truth blog post? It may help.

Colleen

says:

Definitely needed. Thank you.

Jocelyn Conradie

says:

Thank you very much, this is going to help a lot!

Ellen Johnson

says:

Very good points! Wish I would have read this when I was a kid in school!

rebecca

says:

This resource is beyond AWESOME. Thank you for training us so that we can better teach our children.

Kimberly Franz

says:

Thank you this is an area we struggle with!

Maggie B.

says:

This is very helpful!

Dolores

says:

Thanks for this. I never really thought about the way I pronounce words compared to the actual way they should be pronounced.

Tina

says:

I love using All About Reading with my DD girl. The repetition of the phonagram cards and word cards is exactly what she needs.

Gyorgyi

says:

It is very helpful not only to use it with my kids, but for my hubby too, who teaches English abroad

Katerina

says:

This was extremely helpful especially I since I teach English as a second/or third language here in Greece.

Dacia Bergeson

says:

This is very helpful for my child that struggles with spelling.

Lesley Ann Hobbs

says:

Thank you for your curriculum! We love it!

Eselpee

says:

If a child is frequently mispronouncing words to the extent that it sets them apart from the ‘pack’, do you address listening skills?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Eselpee,
If the child is so frequently mispronouncing words that his or her speech really stands out, consider getting the child’s hearing and speech evaluated. Children with partial hearing loss will mispronounce many common words because they have literally not been hearing the word correctly for all or most of their lives. Another cause of frequent mispronouncing of words is problems that require speech therapy to correct. Only addressing the root causes of such mispronunciation issues will help in the long term.

If, after evaluation, the child is found to have no hearing or speech problems, I would still be inclined to look for other sources of the problem. Children develop language naturally without having to focus on listening to do it. Another possible cause of frequent mispronunciations could be that the child’s parents or others he has spent a lot of time with during his early years has a strong accent.

I hope this helps some.

Vashni Seitzer

says:

This was very thorough and educational. Thank you!

edith

says:

My boy is an avid reader and he reads a lot… so you would think spelling is a breeze…. so not true…
HELP,
I am dislexic myself and do not know how to help him… spelling has been my nightmare and it is starting to be his too now. shall I worry about it, shall I let him mature, so he can write his story for now and creative writing flourish.???
I know that I hardly ever leave comments or send emails or letters to anyone because of that… SPELLING problem of mine. how not to pass it on to my kiddos.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Edith,
It’s fairly common for people that read well to still have trouble with spelling. They are different skills and many words that are straight-forward to read can be a bear to spell.

You didn’t mention your boy’s age, but we typically recommend starting spelling once a child is reading pretty well. While it may be best to hold off for young children that are advanced readers, if your son is 6 years old or older it is probably best to start now. If you wait, you run the risk of having to undo bad spelling habits.

All About Spelling is specifically designed to take the struggle out spelling! And many parents have told us that in teaching their children, their own spelling has improved as well.

All About Spelling is multisensory. This means AAS approaches learning through sight, sound, and touch. This helps kids remember what they learn because they take in information in various ways and also interact with it in various ways. It focuses on encoding skills, spelling rules and other strategies that help children become good spellers.

The program is laid out in an orderly form for the teacher so that each day you can simply open and go. It is easy to do at home without special training or previous experience.

Each lesson time is simple and explicit, and will include 3 simple steps: review of what was learned the day before, a simple new teaching, and a short practice of that new teaching. The program is designed for you to move at your child’s pace, so you can go as quickly or as slowly as your child needs through each step.

The lessons are incremental. AAS breaks every teaching down into its most basic steps and then teaches the lessons in a logical order, carrying the students from one concept or skill to the next. Each step builds on the one the student has already mastered.

AAS uses specially color-coded letter tiles. Working with the All About Spelling letter tiles can make the difference between understanding or not understanding a concept. The lessons are scripted, so you can concentrate on your child. The script is very clear, without excess verbiage. We also have a Letter Tiles app that can be used in addition to or instead of the physical tiles.

AAS has built-in review in every lesson. Some children need lots of review in order to retain concepts, while others don’t need as much–so you are free to adjust this to your child’s need. Your child will have a Spelling Review Box so you can customize the review. This way, you can concentrate on just the things that your child needs help with, with no time wasted on reviewing things that your child already knows.

I hope this gives you an idea of All About Spelling’s focus and approach. However, I’d love to help you with any further questions you may have.

Nicole W.

says:

This is a great technique, I wish I had learned about this when I was getting my education licensure.

Mary

says:

This is helpful. Thank you!

Lauren Maidment

says:

Thanks so much. This is super helpful information.

shereen

says:

i want to know who suggests this technique because i need to cite this in my dissertation because i have already used it to teach spelling for my students. please tell who is the inventor of this technique

Harry

says:

He has problems how to break words in syllable

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Harry,
I’m sorry your student is having trouble with breaking words into syllables. Check out our blog post on learning Fun Ways to Count Syllables. This post details how to teach children how to break words into syllables and has fun activities for practicing this skill.

Let me know if you have more questions or need more information.

Modoluwamu

says:

This was really amazing. Thank you so much.

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