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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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Jennifer

says:

So here’s the thing with the mergers. I have merged cot-caught. Several times in my life, my merged vowels have wreaked hilarious havoc. Every time, even after I studied linguistics and was aware that the merger was a thing, I did not hear the difference between my pronunciation and the one repeated back to me with a different vowel (or that I’d repeated a word back with what was perceived to be the wrong vowel). It was only because I’d studied linguistics that the more recent interactions stopped sooner than they would have, as I realized before my confused interlocutors did what the root of the problem was (I can, for the record, hear it if a speaker who makes the difference juxtaposes them, but I have to be paying attention). Even if I spent hours looking up which words I’d want to pronounce with a good strong New York diphthongized “aw” to really drive the difference home, I’m not convinced it would be any more effective than using the same strategies we use to teach kids which words are spelled with EE and which with EA (and in fact seems like it could be more confusing, because they can’t hear it/don’t notice it in the first place [unless maybe I really exaggerate it, and even then], and then they can’t rely on native intuition themselves when they want to recall it later).

My son cannot hear my husband (his father) differentiating which-witch, for example. And because we made a game of exaggerating it so he could hear it in the hopes he would remember how to spell some words, he’s adding H to all sorts of words that don’t start with WH. I’m not worried; he’ll get over it. But it’s certainly not been of any help for his spelling.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jennifer,
Great points! Yes, the pronounce for spelling technique is useful for many words, but definitely not all.

Pronouncing for spelling can be very useful for the types of words we tend to lazy about when we speak. For example, most people say “difrent” when they mean “different”. Pronouncing all three syllables when spelling this word is very helpful for many students. (I still say “choc-o-late” every time I write chocolate!) Another example is schwa sounds. We often say “problum” in usual speaking and it can be helpful to pronounce those schwa vowels clearly, “problem”.

But pronouncing for spelling is not effective for telling one spelling of a sound from another. There are nine ways to spell the sound of long E, and no pronunciation tricks are going to make one spelling of long E sound different than another spelling of long E!

Many people pronounce WH and W the same, at least in some words. For which and witch, it is often most useful to teach the two words as homophones.

And I completely understand what you mean about not even hearing the difference between the /aw/ sound and the short O sound! I too am affected by the Cot/Caught Merger, so I simply taught my children that AW and AU were other ways to spell the short O sound. (And for us, also the third sound of A. Caller and collar are homophones for us.) Since my children were already familiar with at least a couple of ways to spell many different sounds, it wasn’t odd for them. It did mean they needed to rely more on the visual strategy of spelling than the phonetic one, but All About Spelling teaches 4 Spelling Strategies for spelling success.

Misty Henry

says:

I hav a problem saying male or dale or pale sseems to be with the long a sounds followed with the L i for some reason say mell dell pell if i itr and say it right it doesnt come eaay

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

This is actually a fairly common issue, Misty. The position of the mouth, tongue, throat, and soft palate are all very similar for short E and long A. Short E is said more to the front of the mouth and the L sound is too, so the back of the mouth sound of long A easily shifts to the front when said before L.

In some parts of North America, short E shifts to long A before G, which is a back of the mouth sound (many say egg as aig, for example). And because of the shift from the back of the mouth to the front when going from long A to L, words like male and pale can sound like two syllables in some accents (pay-el).

All that to say, your difficulties with long A and short E aren’t uncommon, and everyone has some sort of regional accent pronunciation issue that they have to be aware of when spelling or teaching spelling.

We have some tips and ideas for how to work with these sorts of things when teaching spelling; let me know if you would like them.

Gabrielle

says:

I definitely have to pronunciate each sounds for my youngest to understand as he has apraxia.

Tamar

says:

These blog posts and articles are always so helpful. They are inspiring! The free resources are the cherry on top! Thank you!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re so welcome, Tamar! It’s great to hear this was helpful and inspiring for you.

Melissa

says:

Thanks for the great tips!

Tiffany Jackson

says:

This technique has really helped my daughter with her spelling….and we love All About Spelling!

Rebecca C Morgan

says:

This is helpful for ANY spelling program!

Stephanie Torres

says:

Wow what a great resource – this is ideal for all ages .

Lauren

says:

My son says “Aya” instead of “I will” …. like “Aya put on my shoes.”

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

There is a name for this, Lauren. They are called “informal contractions”, and they are very common in English. One of my personal ones is “a dunno” for “I don’t know.” As long as he learns to say “I will” when writing, “aya” fine.

Saif

says:

I still do not understand but it a great example and i love it

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m sorry you don’t understand, Saif. Do you have any questions I can help you with?

Alicia C.

says:

I often say to a child, “sound it out,” but then I follow up with pronounce for spelling. I guess I should just be saying, “pronounce for spelling.” Thank you for this!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Alicia!

Celeste Knoblock

says:

I have been using AAR and AAS with my six year old daughter for a year now and it has been a real blessing. I started homeschooling when Kindergarten didn’t work out on day two and I had no plan and no clue. Now, my daughter is in first grade and she is reading so well because of this program. (Downside, I can’t spell anything in front of her anymore when speaking to other adults.) One learning process for both of us was pronouncing words for spelling. When it came time to spell the word tree she thought it started with CH because of how we pronounce it when speaking on a regular basis. It was the same thing for the DR words, like drawer. She thought they started with a J. Now, we both pronounce for spelling and it has made me very conscious of how I read books with her and to be very thoughtful about speech throughout my day. I am continually impressed with this curriculum (I would love you forever if you created a writing program too!) and I will use this curriculum until we have mastered all levels.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Celeste! This made me laugh a bit because I remember when my first child started to be able to figure out what word my husband was spelling to me faster than I could figure it out! It sure made making surprises for the kids much more difficult!

Many English accents pronounce TR as /ch/-/r/ or DR as /j/-/r/. It may help you and your daughter know that never in English is the /ch/ sound or the /j/ sound followed by an R (all words that are spelled with CHR, like Christmas or chrome, have the CH saying the hard /k/ sound, not the /ch/ sound of chest). So, if you hear /ch/-/r/ or /j/-/r/, it is always TR or DR.

I’m sorry, no, we have no plans for an All About Writing program. ?

Lo Dotwhy

says:

What about a tool/resource for specific syllables to create a pronunciation for a last name or other proper noun? I’m not sure the dictionary site’s tool is helpful for this purpose. Thanks in advance!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Aww, that’s different. With proper names, the rules for English can be thrown right out of the window! I have seen names spelled the same and pronounced two or more different ways. For example, my mother-in-law’s maiden name was Kuykendall. Her family pronounces it KIR-ken-dall (first syllable rhymes with “sir”). However, I have met other people that have the name spelled exactly the same pronounce it “KI-ken-dall” (first syllable rhymes with “eye”).

The only way to know the correct pronunciation for a name is to ask the person that name belongs to. You may be able to google the name for pronunciation suggestions, but that may or may not tell you the less common pronunciations and it won’t tell you which pronunciation the individual uses.

Place-names can be just as confusing, especially since place-names are likely to have come from languages other than English and then someone tried to spell them in English. However, the proper pronunciation of place-names should be easier to find on the internet.

I’m sorry I’m not more help, but names really are troublesome things.

Lo Dotwhy

says:

Thank you for this helpful and well articulated explanation/guide. Is there a good site or resource for plugging in a word to quickly find out the “spelling for pronunciation”?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Most dictionary websites will have a little icon to click on that will pronounce the word for you.

Amy

says:

I am so glad to have found a spelling program that actually addresses this issue.
The public school system (at least from what I remember growing up, and have seen with my own children- in a different state from where I grew up) pushes the “sound it out” approach, spelling words based on what you (the individual) hear) That seemed to be alright in the early writing stages (pre-k, K, and even a little into 1st); however, not in 4th grade, and for people with speech delays/issues “sound it out” is a horrible way to teach spelling.
I was thinking about this recently and realized that with almost all my sons work being done on a computer/laptop that misspellings are often fixed with auto correct, or a colored line appears under the word and with the click of a button spell checker fixes it for you, that is IF the misspelled word is close enough for auto correct and spell checker to pick up.
We recently began homeschooling, and for him I was at a loss as to what to do for spelling (as well as reading/language arts) I am already using AAR for my struggeling reader, with great success. I put him through the AAR placement test, but they were all too easy for him, which made me hesitant about AAS for him but gave him the placement quiz anyway. He just barely passed into level 2, but we are starting at level 1 as I was very surprised to find how much he DOESN’T yet know (and have to admit- a little angry to find spelling wasn’t being taught in school as well as I thought- list on Monday…. test on Friday. My son could hold those words in his head for the week and did FANTASTIC on the Friday quiz, but ask him to spell those same words sometime next week and it couldn’t be done)
Our AAS sets came last night. Today my kids have watched with eagerness as I seperate all the cards and get things set up. They were bored and burned out with the way things were done in traditional school. Now with this set they are excited and looking forward to starting!
Thanks for that!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amy. I love that that your kids are eager to begin spelling! How wonderful to be able to start off with that level of enthusiasm.

Freda Effah

says:

I want to lean how to read and write. Thank U.

Julie Boyce

says:

I’m 63 and boy do I butcher the English language, being dyslexic has not helped. I have very much enjoyed this study, for I am but a child at heart and have always been thirty to learn

Heidi

says:

This is great info! I have noticed that my first grade daughter will misspell a word because she is pronouncing it incorrectly. We will continue to work on it!

Emily

says:

This is helpful. Any suggestions for how to deal with confusing a and e when spelling words with short vowels in AAS1? My son often spells a word with an a that should be a short e. I don’t know if it’s a pronunciation issue or not (we are Midwestern).

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Emily,
Some children do confuse a and e. This can be a rotational reversal (if you rotate the e 180 degrees, it looks fairly similar to the “fancy” a). You might show your child the two types of a‘s by writing them on a white board. Then, show him how the simple or informal a is part of the fancy a by drawing it on top of the fancy a in a different color.

Marie has a wonderful article about reversals with tactile ideas, activities using large arm movements, and analogies. It is specific to b and d, but the tips apply to any letter (or even number) pairs that a student may confuse.

Do these tips (especially the air writing and tactile letters) regularly and try making one letter a focus of the week. Work on that one every day, a few times a day. Put a poster of the letter up, label things around the house that have the short a (or short e), practice making it in different mediums, and so on.

Master one trouble letter at a time. Reviewing both together or one after another can actually increase confusion instead of decreasing it.

Include a hand motion to help the child remember the sound of short a. Cup your hand as if you are holding an apple. “When we say /ă/, let’s pretend that we are holding an apple. Say the sound of A like this: /ă/ – /ă/ – apple.” Student pretends to hold an apple and says /ă/ – /ă/ – apple.

Work on just letter A for a week or so, to help him be very solid on what to say when he sees this letter and what to write when he hears this sound. I would work on it with both the Phonogram Cards and the Letter Tiles, to make sure he’s transferring the info to the tiles.

Next, have a “Sound of the Week” to emphasize the sound of short E. Cup your hand to your ear as if you are listening to an echo. “When we say /ĕ/, let’s pretend that we are listening to an echo. Say the sound of E like this: /ĕ/ – /ĕ/ – echo.” Student pretends to listen for an echo and says /ĕ/ – /ĕ/ – echo.

When he seems solid on the sounds individually, set out the A and E letter tiles, along with a few other tiles. Dictate a sound and have him point to the correct letter tile. Do this for a couple of minutes each day.

For some children, there may also be some auditory confusion. Does he have any trouble pronouncing the sounds correctly in his normal speech? (If the sounds tend to be similar in your region, that could be part of the issue). If he pronounces them incorrectly (or if he doesn’t distinguish between the two sounds), you may find this video from Rachel’s English helpful. This is more for you than for him, though he could watch it if he’s interested. It’s just under 3 minutes long and compares both front and profile views of pronouncing these sounds. The video is designed for students learning English as a second language, but I find that the very direct instruction is often helpful for giving moms tips on how to help their children with making and differentiating certain sounds. Definitely get in front of a mirror with him and practice together how to make the sounds.

Help him to learn to recognize how the sound feels in his mouth. What does his tongue, throat, teeth, and lips do when he says short A? How about short E? Work on the pronunciation of the sounds separately, adding it in with the hand motions and air writing and other things suggested above.

Sometimes students who confuse sounds can have some auditory processing struggles. This article has some tips that can help.

Does this help? Please let me know if you have additional questions.

Brandi Vidrine

says:

I was just talking about this with my oldest daughter (also a homeschool mom) the other day. We are from Southwest Louisiana and our regional accents definitely cause us problems with spelling.

Katy

says:

I love the audio pronunciation of commonly mispronounced words! I’m going to start using this for my older kids (and myself!) to help with modeling in our home.

Kelli

says:

All About Spelling has really helped my kids this year a ton! I have a degree in Early Childhood Education, but still there are so many little helpful tricks that are so easy that I never realized. In today’s world a lot of people think spelling is not as important because there is amazing technology that autocorrects everything. However, I can see my kids confidence and competence increase dramatically just because they’ve improved their spelling. It makes them feel smart instead of embarrassed! It makes them have less resistance to completing writing assignments too because they no longer have the attitude “I don’t know how to spell this!” Overall, it has made them feel better about themselves in multiple aspects!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you so much for sharing this, Kelli! It’s so true; spelling with confidence is still a necessary skill even in this day of technology. I’m so pleased to hear that All About Spelling has helped your kids so much this year.

Kim

says:

Thanks for the great info

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Kim!

Megan Chan

says:

I like the emphasis on slowing down words and pronouncing them correctly. I think that is sometimes lost in our busyness. I have a child who has shortened “come here” to just “‘mere” unfortunately. Also, a trick a speech therapist taught my sister was if a child continually says a word incorrectly, right after they mispronounce a word, say the word in a sentence exactly as they say it. They may not realize they’re saying it wrong.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Interesting technique, Megan. Thank you for sharing it.

Rosemary

says:

All about spelling and All about reading have given some amazing and fail prof ideas on how children learn.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Awww, thank you, Rosemary!

Catherine

says:

Oh my goodness! We live in Australia & some speakers can be very relaxed with their speech. This is spot on! Explains why my child can’t spell certain words….. Thankyou!

Melissa M

says:

Thanks for the great examples

Deborah

says:

I love this! I have been sharing this technique with my students for years!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

It’s a good technique that has been used by great teachers for decades, Deborah!

Dana Turnage Chong

says:

I have been doing this for my four year old without realizing it!

Teresa

says:

This is so helpful! Currently, we’re on level 1 and we love it!

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