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Making Spelling and Pronunciation Make Sense: Meaning First, then Spelling for all ELLs (IATEFL 2023)



Based on surveys, studies, conversations with teachers and students, it seems clear that spelling is typically taught more in conjunction with pronunciation and vice versa, and students only begin to look at the meaning of the word and its parts after spelling rules and pronunciation has been assigned as memory work. While we can say « well, there’s no shortage of English learners and speakers in the world today, things must be going ok, » I want to draw our attention to why this part of learning English is worth talking about and maybe even reshaping how we teach.


Historically, we’ve emphasised spelling to teach pronunciation, rather than word meaning. Based on the research of how we acquire language rules and patterns, we should teach students to see the parts of the words, understand their meaning first and then deduce pronunciation based on patterns found in the word parts. That is, we break new words downs into syllables and letter clusters to teach individual syllable pronunciation, and then teach via memorisation. While being able to memorise patterns and rules is a necessary skill, especially for adult learners who learn differently than children and adolescents, I would suggest that it is equally important, if not more effective, to teach students how to decipher a word’s meaning from its spelling and then use pattern-based inquiry learning to deduce pronunciation, rather than default to memorisation and eventual guessing games. This is the essence of teaching meaning first, THEN spelling...


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cb.com_IATEFL Bulkeley Meaning First, Then Sound_April2023
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