How to Improve Your Spellings

Spelling can be one of the most difficult skills to master when learning English. Since correct spelling counts on the IELTS test, it can put added stress on the candidate.

spelling

Some words follow certain patterns and rules, while others sound completely different to how they are spelled. Here are some groups of words that can be tricky, even for native English speakers.

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Silent Letters

Silent letters are very tricky because we do not say the letter when we say the word, but it is there when we write it. Some common silent letters are:

K

know/knew

knife

knight

knee

knock

N

autumn

column

condemn

B

climb

debt

doubt

subtle

thumb

D

bridge

fridge

knowledge – also a silent k

handsome

sandwich

H

hour

ghost

what/when/where/why

character

echo

Vowels

Vowels (a,e,i,o,u,y) can be difficult in some words because they can take on different sounds. The most common sound in the English language is the schwa sound /ə/. The schwa sound can be spelled using any of the vowels. This can make it difficult when choosing the correct vowel to spell a word. Here are some examples:

A: company /kəmpənē/

E: system /sistəm/

I: family /faməlē/

O: political /pəlitikəl/

U: product /prädəkt/

Y: analysis /ənaləsis/

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Double Consonants

Double consonants are difficult because some words contain more than one set of double consonants.

accommodate

embarrass

occurrence

successful

possession

Some words only contain one set of double consonants.

harassment

personnel

disappear

recommend

tomorrow

It’s hard to distinguish between the two because some of the words sound similar. There are also words that do not have double consonants, but we want to add them.

preferable

coliseum

labeled

Ough

Learning to spell can become very frustrating when words that have the same group of letters all sound different when pronounced. The sound ‘ough’ is one of these examples. Here are the different pronunciations of ‘ough’:

Ough = /uhf/

Example

rough

Ough = /ou/

Example

plough

Ough = /oo/

Example

through

Ough = /oh/

Example

though

thorough

Ough = /of/

Example

cough

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Homophones and Homographs

Homophones are words that sound the same but have a different meaning or spelling.

Examples

flower/flour = /flouer/

to/too/two = /too/

clothes/Close = /klohz/

Homographs are words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently.

Examples

bow = /bou/

bow = /boh/

lead = /leed/

lead = /led/

When words are pronounced the same, it can be difficult to know which spelling to use in what context. On the other hand, it is also difficult to know words that have completely different meanings could possibly be spelled the exact same way.

Pronunciation vs. Spelling

Finally, there are some words that are spelled opposite to how they are pronounced. These words can be the most difficult to spell. Here are some examples:

indict = /indahyt/

bologna = /buhlohnee/

manoeuvre = /muhnoover/

foreign = /forin/

colonel = /kurnl/

mortgage = /morgij/

island = /ahyluhnd/

queconscience = /konshuhns/

zucchini = /zookeenee/

Spelling can be very difficult for some test-takers, especially when English vocabulary originates from many different languages. It also has so many words that are ‘an exception to the rule’. All of this, plus vocabulary changing over the years, can cause learning to spell overwhelming. However, mastering the skill of spelling can benefit you on the IELTS test because it is counted on the listening, reading, and writing portions of the test.

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