Ever find yourself sitting in front of your computer, the thin vertical line blinking on your screen, taunting you as you grasp at letters?
“Was it ‘I before E except after C’? Is this an exception?”
English is an unforgiving language. Derived from a mix of Latin and Germanic languages, English is a sort of Frankenstein language whose exceptions are as numerous as its rules. But there are habits you can cultivate and ways you can study to optimize your spelling.
The first step is to remove your crutch – turn off autocorrect on your phone and computer! It has become far too easy for all of us to rely on outside help, and you surely won’t improve without flexing your spelling muscles. Now, that is not to say never use spellcheck. This article, for instance, was written without automatic spellcheck. Once I finished writing and read it over, I then (and only then) ran spellcheck to catch anything I might have missed. That way I continue to work on my spelling, but never risk human oversight on important work.
Most of your spelling ability will come simply from writing and reading. Challenge yourself! Read harder works, and in so doing fill your personal lexicon with more sophisticated words. Keep a dictionary handy so you can look up new and striking words. By performing this extra step you are solidifying the word’s meaning and spelling in your mind.
There are occasionally words that require a bit of extra effort, though. Take the word Peloponnese, for example, which was the bane of my undergraduate existence. The Peloponnese is the southern peninsula of Greece, home to Leonidas and his 300 Spartans. And it is a doozey. While not an issue when typing up essays on, say, Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War, written tests were a scary proposition.
“Was it two Ps? No, that’s not right…”
Such thoughts would run rampant through my head, beguiling thieves stealing both confidence and time. All this until I finally sat down, took out a pen and paper, and wrote:
And on and on, until I felt I knew it. This simple technique of writing a word out repeatedly has made it so that words like autochthonous, Ekklesiazusae, and the like are never out of reach.
As you become a more practiced speller, spelling will become easier and easier. It is important to recognize, however, that we all have our moments of neural flatulence. Just the other day I was sending a text with the word “receipt” in it, and I stared dumbly at my screen for a good minute as I scratched my head over the spelling. Over such a commonplace word, too! The point: we are not perfect, and we will make mistakes. And that’s okay. That is where your handy dictionary comes in, or spellcheck, or a friend’s fresh eyes.
In summation: read and write, look new words up, and repetitively practice the spelling of words you find difficult. Free yourself from the crutch of spellcheck and autocorrect, using it only for a final once-over. And finally, enjoy this splendid language!