Spelling is an important aspect of everyday life because it allows us to express ourselves non-verbally via written communication. Having a verbal command of language is only one side of the coin because writing and speaking are two tools that we use interchangeably every day.
Writing has become even more important in today’s digital world where the majority of everyday conversation happens via written communication in the form of emails, text messages, notes etc.
With that said, it is fair to say technology is constantly proving that literacy in the form of writing and speaking is essential in both the development and evolution of human beings as a species. One of the reasons why children at an early age are introduced to both words and letters which make up the words is because language and its entire nuance is the doorway to obtaining knowledge.
The purpose of this article is to effectively determine whether reading does in fact help spelling. I’ll begin by answering the primary question “does reading help spelling?” which is the focal point of this article, and then I’ll move on to rationalize the answer and provide context around the topic.
So let’s begin, Does reading improve spelling?
Consistent reading helps you improve spelling because it exposes you to different words repeatedly which makes recognizing and remembering them relatively easy. Reading also helps you understand the meaning of words as well as the various contexts in which they are used. Therefore, the more you read, the better you become at spelling and the more you’ll develop an understanding of the relationship between different words and their ability to expressing meaning.
To examine this further, let’s look into how spelling actually affects spelling.
How Reading Affects Spelling
It’s worth understanding how reading affects spelling in order to rationalize the fact that reading does in fact improve one’s ability to spell. With that said, below are some of the ways in which reading affects spelling:
Reading Improves Vocabulary
One of the ways in which reading affects spelling is through its ability to familiarize the reader with a diverse vocabulary. Reading consistently and considerably widely exposes the reader to a vast range of words and spellings.
The human brain is designed to process language via the activation of neural networks that store and retrieve information about words and their meanings. Through reading, you come across different words and what they mean in various contexts, this activates neural networks and reinforces the connections between them.
Over time, this process allows you to acquire a large bank of vocabulary and a better familiarity with individual words and spellings.
Reading Teaches Your Brain to Detect Patterns
Another way that reading affects one’s ability to spell is in the way that it introduces readers to various significant elements such as spelling rules and patterns that cannot be learnt through verbal communication alone.
From a scientific approach, learning different nuance about language such as spelling rules and patterns is a prime example of cognitive learning. Simply put, cognitive learning is the ability to acquire knowledge and skills through mental processes of perception, attention and memory.
Therefore as one undertakes the process of reading they’re simultaneously engaging in cognitive learning. And the more you read the more your brain becomes inclined to detect and learn patterns in language such as word use and spelling.
Reading Improves Word and Letter Instinct
One of the things that make reading an important tool in learning how to spell is the developed sense of what looks correct and incorrect in spelling. As you generally encounter more and more words through reading, you build and develop an internal instinct of what particularly looks correct and incorrect.
This ability to recognize correct spelling is linked to visual perception and memory. When you read extensively you become more and more familiar with the visual appearance of words and their correct spelling. This familiarity becomes an internalized instinctual sense of what looks right and wrong in spelling.
You not only internalize how a word is spelt, but you also internalize how it looks when it is spelt. This makes you better at spelling.
Reading Provides Context
Reading makes you encounter words in context which is an essential piece in understanding their meaning and how they’re used to express ideas. This understanding allows you to know words and how to use them correctly in writing.
To put this in a more biological perspective, the human brain is able to process language by integrating information about the words themselves as well as the surrounding context and this is referred to as semantic learning.
Reading as a way to learn spelling is effective because it engages you in semantic learning, making it easy for your brain to better integrate information about words such as their formulation and their use in various contexts. This leads to a deeper understanding of words making it easy to not only recognize words by simply deriving their spelling from all the information you have stored about them.
Reading Allows for Phonemic Awareness
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize, identify and modify individual sounds (called phonemes) in spoken words. Reading involves seeing and hearing words pronounced which helps in the development of phonemic awareness. By identifying the sounds in words readers can develop the ability to spell more correctly.
Phonemic awareness is related to brain development in the left hemisphere which is responsible for processing language.
Reading Helps to Learn the Conventions of Language
One of the main reasons why reading is an essential tool in learning is that it can provide you with proficiency. Reading allows you to learn and understand the conventions of language which in turn helps you become more proficient in applying it writing.
Through reading we build knowledge of grammar, meaning and various rules of language and as we read more our brains automatically start to pick up patterns and store the information which provides us our own memory bank which we can draw from.
The Connection of Reading and Spelling
Reading and spelling are two sides of the same coin because they both involve the use of language and the ability to manipulate and modify written words. To understand the connection between them, it’s important to first understand what both these skills actually involve and how they are connected.
So, what is reading?
Reading is the process of interpreting written language in order to extract meaning from it. Even for the most skilled reader, reading is quite a complex process. However, our brains have the ability to do perform these processes so seamlessly without you taking notice.
When we read we recognize individual letters and groups of letters which we refer to as words, and then we combine them in order to form meaningful sentences and paragraphs. When we read our brains have to simultaneously recognize and process visual symbols (letters and words) and then use this information to understand the meaning of what we are reading.
Another definition of reading that is helpful and concise is one provided by The American Psychological Association which defines reading as the process of constructing meaning from written text.
Now that we have understand what reading is, it’s only fair that we also understand what spelling means in order to understand how these two processes are linked.
Spelling is simply the ability to represent and express language in written form. It involves the understanding of phonemes which are the sounds that make up the words and then using the rules of language to convert these sounds into written symbols which we call letters. Spelling also involves the understanding of how different letter combinations can be used to represent specific sounds which we term as phonics.
Phonics is employed as a method of teaching reading and emphasizes the relationship between sounds used in spoken language and the letters or groups of letters used to represent these sounds in written language. In other words, phonics instruction focuses on teaching people the correspondence between letters or letter combinations and the sounds they represent.
The link between reading and spelling
The first obvious connection between reading and spelling is that they both rely on a similar set of cognitive processes because they require the understanding of phonemes and phonics.
When we read, we must be able to visually recognize and mentally process the letters and sounds that make up the words and then use this information to decipher or decode written text.
Similarly, when we spell, we must be able to break down spoken words into their individual sounds and then represent these sounds using written symbols.
The correlation between reading and spelling can also be observed in decoding.
The process of decoding is simply one in which knowledge of phonemes and phonics is used to sound out words that are unfamiliar. When we encounter a word that we don’t know how to read we rely on our knowledge of phonemes and phonics to break down that word into its component sounds and then blend these sounds together to form the whole word.
This process of decoding is essential for both reading and spelling as it allows us to recognize and use unfamiliar words.
Another process that properly shows the link between reading and spelling is a process called encoding.
Encoding is the process in which we draw from our knowledge of phonemes and phonics to spell words correctly.
When we know how to correctly spell a word, we must be able to break the word down into its individual sounds and the use our knowledge of phonics to represent these sounds into written symbols. Encoding is essential for both writing and spelling because it allows us to represent spoken language in written form.
Why some people can read but not spell
Some people can read but can’t spell and there are a number of reasons for this. Let’s look into those reasons now.
Phonological processing is the most important cognitive ability when it comes to spelling. By definition, phonological processing is the ability to recognize and differentiate between speech sounds.
People that suffer from dyslexia have difficulties with phonological processing which makes it challenging for them to decode words and such can make it difficult for them to spell.
Most people that suffer from dyslexia may be able to read well but could find it challenging to spell because their brains have difficulty processing the sounds and symbols of written language.
Another reason why certain people can read well but struggle with spelling could be the result of a learning disability. Some language impairment disabilities such as dysphagia can negatively impact one’s ability to spell.
Such disabilities affect the ability to recognize and manipulate sounds in words and may make it difficult to remember spelling rules and patterns that are important in processing sounds and encoding.
Limited exposure to written language
As I’ve discussed above, reading does help improve spelling ability because it exposes the reader to a myriad of different words. People that have not been fairly exposed to language whether in reading or writing may struggle with spelling.
This lack of exposure can be usually attributed to the lack of educational opportunities in most cases. People in such situations may be able to read to a certain degree but spelling could pose a significant challenge because it is more mechanical and relies on spelling rules, the role of words, context, phonics, phonemes and many other things that can only be learnt through reading widely.
Lack of practice
A popular bad reading habit especially in children is memorizing the words and not actually learning them. This is usually a symptom of larger problem which is lack of practice.
Most people, especially children that can read but can’t spell lack the foundational knowledge of words and the practice to cement this knowledge.
Lacks of spelling practice leads to poor phonological awareness, and as you well know by now; spelling requires an understanding of how sounds are represented by letters.
Another reason why some people can read but not spell well is because of ADHD which is short for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.
People with ADHD may struggle with spelling due to the lack of ability to focus attention and use memory well.
Written language has so many components that one has to learn and understand in order to write and read well. For somebody that can’t focus their attention and concentration for long; reading words can be more bearable than dissecting the individual components (letters) that make up the words.
Language complexity is another factor that can make it difficult for someone to spell even when they can fairly read.
Languages are different and every language has its own set of rules. These rules make up the complexity of the language.
If someone has trouble understanding the nature of a language due to its complexity they may find it difficult to use words or let alone; construct them. They may read fine because their memory can serve them well but they may hit a road block when it comes to the construction of the words, because that requires skills beyond memory.
Effective ways to learn spelling
Below are some effective ways you can learn spelling.
Practice with flashcards
Practicing with flash cards can be a good way to learn spelling because it is spontaneous and fun for most people, especially children.
Write the spelling of a word on one side of an index card and the definition or a sentence using the word on the other side. Shuffle the cards and practice until you can spell each word correctly.
An effective way of learning spelling is through copying down written work. This can help you become more familiar with the words and how they are constructed.
A good practice here is to read a sentence or two and try to write them without looking at the actual notes but only drawing the words from memory. This can be difficult for people that are just beginning their journey into spelling but as you develop your ability this is a great trick to get your mind working and firing in the right direction.
Write out passages or paragraphs from books or articles to help you remember the correct spelling.
Play spelling games
Thanks to the internet we have access to different learning tools. Some effective tools that can help improve your ability to spell words are spelling and word games.
You can also try physical spelling games there are lot of them on Amazon. You can check out some of these reading games here (P.S this is an amazon affiliate link, and I may earn a commission when you purchase using that link)
Spelling games can be important in the learning process because they can make it more fun and engaging.
A great way to learn spellings is to focus on the sound part. Train yourself to try to spell words by decoding how they sound and what appropriate letters could be used to spell them.
The phonetic approach paired with consistent reading can help you learn spelling faster and more effectively.
When you pair these approaches you would be effectively learning how to spell by focusing on the sounds of the letters in a word and also learning how to spell by visually coming into contact with the actual words.
To improve or learn how to spell it is important that you read widely.
Read books old books and new books to get a broad sense of language in operation as well as capture the spellings of different words of varying difficulty.
Switch between fiction and non-fiction books and if you can try to read scientific books. A good recommendation here is a book called Sapiens or The beginning of infinity (P.S these are amazon affiliate links, and I may earn a commission when you purchase using these links).
Also read auto-biographies to learn more words as well as understand the use of words.
You shouldn’t only be limited to books; devour any written material you can i.e. newspapers, articles, magazines and any other written media. The key here is to get as much exposure to writing as possible.
Also consider reading the dictionary. It can prove to be an invaluable tool because it can improve your spelling and have a possible impact on your overall vocabulary. You can learn more about the effectiveness of reading the dictionary to improve vocabulary in this article.