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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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Michael

says:

The whole thing is very very helpful

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased that this was helpful, Michael. Thank you.

Hayley

says:

This is very insightful. My son has some trouble pronouncing words correctly, and I can see how it affects his spelling for sure. Most notably, he has a hard time pronouncing /sh/, and it sounds like /s/ instead. Even with practice and correcting and me modeling an exaggerated /sh/, it is still difficult for him. Do you have any further suggestions for helping differentiate these 2 sounds?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

How old is your son, Hayley?

It is generally expected that a child should be able to say the /sh/ sound without difficulty before they are 7. If your child is 7 or older, you may consider having him evaluated for speech therapy.

Check out this video by Rachel’s English on forming the /s/ and /sh/ sounds. Rachel’s English produces videos for those learning English as a second language, but they include great details on how sounds are produced in the mouth that will be helpful for you to help your son.

Once you have a good idea of how the sounds are made, take your son to a mirror and have some fun making sounds and exaggerated faces together! Keep work on the sound lighthearted, but spend a bit of time practicing each day.

I hope this helps some!

Hayley

says:

He is 9. The /sh/ sound is the only one with which he has trouble. I found a video teaching how to form the /sh/ sound, and we have been working on that. It has seemed to already make a difference, so, hopefully, that’s the only tweak we needed there. Thanks for your input.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad to hear that it already seems to be making a difference, Hayley!

Saroj Jondhale

says:

I am remedial facilitator, the posts are very useful for me to help my children.
Thank you so much.

Amanda R.

says:

This was a great and very helpful article! Thank you!!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Amanda! I’m glad this was helpful!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re very welcome, Saroj. I’m glad the posts are useful for you!

Mark H

says:

The reading was very helpful. As an adult who has struggled most of my life in pronunciation of difficult words, I thank you for posting this reading. I’m tired
of not understanding what a syllable is-let alone how important it is to understand the meaning in order to correctly break down a word to ultimately spell that word and to pronounce it correctly.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m pleased this is helpful for you, Mark.

Jimoh

says:

Am adult , poor in pronunciation, poor in spelling and to speak English please I need solutions

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jimoh,
Take a look at Rachel’s English. Her website is full of free videos helping adults learn English as a second language. It is a wonderful resource!

Jonell

says:

This has been frustrating my young speller. While I try to model “for spelling” pronunciations, especially in “school”, the rest of the world doesn’t.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I understand this frustration, Jonell.

The goal is for your student to connect the way we normally saw a word with the pronunciation for spelling in his or her mind. On words that I had my kids pronounce for spelling, I said the word both ways when they are first learning it. “This is how we normally say the word ____. And this is how we pronounce it for spelling: ____.” I had them repeat the pronunciation after me, and then try to spell the word.

Then when reviewing the words, I would say, “I’m going to say this how we normally say it. I want you to pronounce it for spelling, and then spell it.” If they couldn’t pronounce for spelling, I gave them the pronunciation, had them repeat it, and then had them spell it.

I would not move the word to mastered until they could pronounce it for spelling on their own without having to hear me do it first. Even then we occasionally reviewed the word, making sure my kids continued to connect how we normally say the word with the pronunciation for spelling.

Helping your child make this connection will take more time, but it will benefit him or her in the long term. I still find myself occasionally saying, “wed-nes-day,” or “gen-er-al,” for my own spelling!

Jonell

says:

Thanks for the ideas. Yeah, I guess we just need more repetition. Pilgrim and problem were the words recently causing trouble. And yeah…I still say Wednesday *for spelling* before I can spell it. Always have!! :)

Munachimso

says:

How can i pronunce words correctly

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Munachimso,
An online dictionary is your best resource for learning the correct pronunciation of English words. Online dictionaries have a little speaker icon so you can listen to the word be spoken.

Note that there are some words pronounced differently depending on if you are aiming for an American accent or an accent from other English-speaking places (usually shown as British or UK English). For example, see the two pronunciations of the word been.

Collin Veldman

says:

very good for every one to learn

Nick

says:

Expensive

destiny

says:

How Can i know how to pronoun

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Destiny. The pronounce for spelling technique is helpful as students learn and analyze words to learn how to spell them in the future.

Collin Veldman

says:

I neat help thanks

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m happy to help, Collin. What can I help you with?

Helen Betzler

says:

This is so important! Thanks for supplying so many great newsletters; your information is always spot on.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are so welcome, Helen. And thank you for letting us know that you find the newsletters helpful!

Annette

says:

I teach these 3 words in the following way, picked up from various educational resources.
There is over there , or here and there which has the word here in it.
Their is a ‘belonging word’ , as in their house or their ball ,and say to the pupil the dot in the word belongs to the letter i.
They’re has an apostrophe and stands for ‘they are’, so see if you can substitute those words in the sentence and see if it makes sense.
Hope that helps.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you, Annette.

One additional tip for “there” is that it is the most commonly used of the there. If it does not mean “belongs to someone or something” or if you can’t substitute “they are”, then you know it has to be “there.” Students find this tip helpful because there are times when “there” does not mean a location. It can function as a pronoun, such as in “There is only one cookie.”

LAUREN-TAYLOR NAPLES JONES

says:

I do this naturally when I spell, now I know to teach my kids to think about this. It will also help me catch words they are mispronouncing and I may not realize it.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Lauren,
Yes, pronouncing for spelling is a common strategy that many people use naturally or were taught when they were learning. Many students would come up with it independently, but it’s great to explicitly teach it, so all students benefit.

Lauren L

says:

Yes! Would love a list of commonly misspelled words as the previous poster asked :-)

Lauren L

says:

This is one of my most favorite articles! I love how it covers so many parts of communication that don’t follow the rules. I love how we can train children through exposure. At least my children love to find mistakes as funny so this helps motivate for accuracy.

Brenda

says:

Thank you for this post. I’ve learn lots of tips. By the way we’re living in Japan. I’m from Philippines & my 7yo Japanese daughter always misspelled words that have a & e sound with a consonant in between those two vowels like for example late, mate, etc. And the a & i sound with a consonant in the middle of those two vowels like bait, etc. So, she write how the word sounds like, “ey”. For instance, “mate” it would become “meyt” and so on and so forth. It makes me laugh and reminds me of Winnie the Pooh, how they write the words in the Hundred Acre Wood. Even native speakers of English are having difficulty learning how to write & spell words, so sometimes I’m wondering if phonics really serve its purpose when it comes to spelling. When I look back how my daughter spell words, I would like to tell myself, well, my daughter got her point because that’s what I taught her when she’s learning how to sound each letters of the alphabet, the phonics. I can’t blame her. So the same thing happened when she wrote me some letters. I really appreciate it because she can express & write what she wanted to convey & I can understand what she wrote though some of the words were misspelled but that’s what a communication is all about, expressing oneself….hahaha. I find it so funny & giggly but I know in real world & as she grow she would definitely learn how to spell words correctly.

My last question, how can we resolve the gap between phonics & spelling?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Good question, Brenda.

English spelling is complex, so it takes a complex approach to master it. That is why All About Spelling teaches not just the one spelling strategy of phonics, but rather multiple strategies. Check out 4 Spelling Strategies You Won’t Want to Miss.

All About Spelling does teach phonics, often in more depth than expected (did you know that Silent E can have 7 jobs?), but it also teaches rules, visual strategies, morphology, and other tools for spelling success.

Mercy

says:

Hi, thank you for all the important information you are sharing,. It really helps a lot. My question is, how do I help my child differentiate between these three words. He likes writing stories but when it come to these specific words he just mix them up and does exactly what you said, he writes how he pronounces.
There
Their
They’re

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mercy,
The words “there”, “their”, and “they’re” are a whole other issue. They are all pronounced the same and there really isn’t a way to pronounce them differently for spelling. These words are homophones and I think you will find our How to Teach Homophones helpful for them. It includes some great tips on how to approach these kinds of words.

Here are a couple of tips not in the blog post. First, let your child know which one of the homophone pairs or triples is most commonly used. In the case of “there”, “their”, and “they’re”, “there” is used more frequently than the other two. Then, help him make a “clue sheet” or paper that he can refer to when he is unsure. Help him to find a simple definition for “their” and “they’re” and write a sentence using each correctly. “There” is more vague (dictionary.com has 12 definitions for it!), so it is easiest to know that if “their” or “they’re” won’t work, then just use “there”.

I hope this helps some. Many adults have difficulties with homophones, so it is no wonder young writers do too. Let me know if you have additional questions.

Erica

says:

Love this! Is there a pdf of the commonly mispronounced words as listed above with the correct pronunciation?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Erica,
I’m sorry, no. I’m not aware of a list of words beyond what is here.

Dammy

says:

Please, when talking about syllables, can you call English names also?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Are you asking about the pronunciation of names, Dammy? If that is the case, the best approach is simply to ask each person how to correctly pronounce their name. Names break the rules so often! And names spelled exactly the same can be pronounced differently by different people. For example, the girl’s name Andrea. It can be pronounced on-dree-uh, on-dray-uh, an-dree-uh, or an-dray-uh. All are correct; it just depends on the person.

Jenni

says:

My daughter is struggling with ‘dentis’! She leaves out the t when saying it. Got some tips about how to approach on the FB group.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m glad the Facebook group was able to help you, Jenni!

One of my kids had a lot of difficulties with the word dentist too! One thing we did that helped him was to discuss the morphemes of the parts of the word, that is what each syllable means. We discussed “dent” and how that always refers to teeth (dental, dentist, and even al dente). Then we discussed “ist”, a suffix that means “one who does” and discussed other words with “ist” like artist, cartoonist, tourist, stylist, and pianist. So, a dentist is “one who does teeth”. This helped my son remember that final T.

Jennifer

says:

That is really helpful. Thanks.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Jennifer. I’m glad it was helpful.

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!