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The interesting thing about spelling is that it is not a problem exclusive to ESL students, it is a problem in any language spoken by both native and non-native. For those people I know who are native English speakers who are also terrible spellers, they just have to keep their google spell check permanently on, and for those who are ESL learners who can’t spell, well….sometimes you just have to say the same thing.
Saying that, it is important to note here that when someone learns English from a baby (as with a native speaker), their processes for learning this language and the spelling or it are much different to those who are ESL speakers.
The main differences are as follows:
Natives are immersed in English, so all other areas are usually not an issue, only writing. They learn writing from an ‘organic’ perspective and are encouraged by their teacher to discover and present their ‘voice’ in their writing. The emphasis is away from the technical side and focusing on communicating clearly.
ESL adult students are often only immersed in English after they have completed their own schooling and are looking to study university courses in English. On the one hand there is a huge hurdle for them to cross like having to ‘learn the entire language’ which sounds enormous, but in some ways it is easier. They can have an in-depth understanding of the technical side that would be a huge asset when trying to correct themselves later.
The toughest nuts to crack (so to speak!), are the ones who fall in between:
- They were born in their home country and moved to an English speaking country in their early teens, so were forced into immersion without fully grasping the spelling rules.
- They still live in their country but had native English friends who taught them to speak naturally, so they neither have a good understanding of the fluency side nor the technical side, and (particularly if their friends were online) were never encouraged to spell correctly as short forms and emoticons were the language of communication.
- They have learned “English for specific purposes’, and as a result though they can talk their way through a topic in English, their desire is not necessarily to communicate but to understand, and spelling is the last thing they think is of importance.
There are many policies that teachers use for the correction of spelling and here are just a few:
- Regular spelling tests
Call me old fashioned, but this is something I find students still actually love and find useful, so long as they are words that they are using regularly in the courses.
- Revisiting prefixes and suffixes
- Syllable games
- Dictionary skills games and exercises
If you have any more let me know!