Brain Hack: Spelling

by Dave Farrow

Master spellers have various tricks to learn the spelling of words.  Simple mnemonics have included things like remembering the best use of “then vs than” and there vs they’re.” The rhyme I before E except after C, or in sounding like “ay” is in ‘neighbor’ or ‘weigh’ ” is ingrained in every student’s mind from a young age.

But these little mnemonic tricks won’t help you in every situation. There are exceptions to every rule and this is the problem most people have when it comes to spelling.
Whether you are a terrible speller and would like to become decent …or if you are already a good speller and would like to become the next Scripps Bee champ, here is a memory brain hack for remembering the order of all those vowels and consonants.


Step One:

Only memorize what you need to know. Often people try to use a system to memorize every letter in a word. This method results in a high accuracy rate but it is a slow and tedious process. Instead, try focusing your attention on the trouble spots.
The majority of words in the English language are considered “mostly predictable” according to the American Federation of Teachers. 50{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} of English words have spelling that is predictable based on sound-letter correspondences and 34{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} of English words would only have one error if they were spelled on the basis of sound-symbol correspondences alone. That means that the spelling of 84{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} of words is mostly predictable (source.) Simply put, in most instances, sounding words out will carry you to your goal.
So 84{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51} of words are predictable but what about the other 16{44c8773cfc5435cd81ad20e0c4d9124b8149e87e023df21bb722cbe5a8d7cc51}?
Luckily, spelling mistakes can be predictable as well. Many people have difficulty remembering when to use “-ei” vs “-ie” or which words end in “-ible” instead of “-able”
All you need to do is memorize the mistake and know how to correct it.
So no, you don’t need to remember every letter. You only need to remember the one or two letters you keep getting wrong!

Step Two:

Linking is all about making silly pictures and outrageous stories in your mind. Here are two examples of how I used linking to remember the correct spelling of two commonly misspelled words:
Example 1:
Acceptable – People often misspell it by using an “i” instead of an “a”
– usually spelled wrong as: acceptible
Example 2:
Calendar – People often misspell it with an “e” instead of an “a”
– usually spelled wrong as: calender
This is also a great example of using a peg list for different letters or vowels, when used in different spelling words. Just think of the first word you that starts with the letter you should use, and link it to the word. You’re essentially making a link between the letter in your correction and the word itself.
Now every time you think of the difficult word, that letter comes to mind and you know to use it in the correct spelling.
For more examples check out our program on:


Dave Farrow

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Jean-Guy Lafleche October 29, 2014 - 12:51 am

M. Farrow with this kind of thinking pattern, no wonder your the guru on the subject of memory. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

Deborah Gilbert July 28, 2015 - 4:14 pm

I need help in memory spelling.

andrea August 20, 2015 - 8:01 pm

Hi Deborah,

We did a blog post a while back on memory for spelling. Look back in our archives, and if you have questions please call or email for further clarification.



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