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issue 31

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Training Bulletin Issue 31

Can you survive without the spell checker?

There’s nothing like a good row about standards in spelling to get people excited. A few months ago, the international press gleefully reported that a school in Gloucestershire would no longer make children learn spelling for homework because it was too ‘distressing.’

And a story just out is that new government guidelines are telling schools to avoid teaching the rule about ‘i before e, except after c’ because there are too many exceptions.

It’s easy to see the point of view that most of our writing is done with word processors these days, with that handy built-in spell checker to make our mistakes obvious with its tell-tale red squiggly line.

Does this mean that you never receive documents or emails with spelling mistakes? Hardly. And what about the times when you don’t have a spell checker – not all email applications use them. Sometimes you have to write a note by hand, or fill in a form. Do you need to be hesitating over spelling when you’re trying to take notes at a meeting, for example? Unfortunately, just about the easiest way to look ignorant is to send someone a document containing spelling mistakes.

Eight top tips to improve your spelling

1. Right word at the wrong time.

Check for correct words in the wrong context. These are simply typos, but as you write a real word, the spell checker will not highlight it. It is especially hard to spot mistakes in short words when proof reading because we tend to skip over them, so check a document by putting a pen on each word when you read through it.

The sorts of things to look for:

and that classic,
when you meant
when you meant
when you meant
when you meant
when you meant

2. Know the difference between commonly confused words.

Examples: affect and effect, complimentary and complementary, continuous and continual, council and counsel, etc. All our course workbooks include a table of the most commonly confused words with their definitions, giving you a handy reference to make sure you’ve used the right word.

3. Watch out for homophones, words that sound the same but are spelt differently.

Examples of these: ‘too’, ‘to’, and ‘two’, ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’re’, ‘where’, ‘we’re’ and ‘wear’.

4. Pay extra attention to unusual spellings. Some examples:

Peoples’ names like Giulia, Vyvyan, Britney, Beauchamp (pronounced Beecham). Foreign words, for example, schadenfreude.
Specialist jargon, for example, medical terms such as antihypertensive, psittacosis.
Trade names such as company names or products that are made-up words, for example: synoquin, neurofen, Diageo.
Place names like Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. (And this is only the third-longest place name in the world-there are towns in New Zealand and Thailand with longer names!) Even relatively ordinary names like Towcester can be confusing because their pronunciation is completely misleading.

People do get upset when you misspell their name, or worse use the wrong gender of the name! Check you have the right version of Leslie and Lesley, Vivian, Vivien and Vivienne, Cook or Cooke, Francis and Frances.

5. Know your contractions so you get the apostrophes right.

You’re and your, who’s and whose, they’re and there, it’s and its. If you can restate the sentence using the words ‘is’ or ‘are’, (you are, who is, they are, it is) then you have a contraction and need an apostrophe.

6. Exercise your Inner Geek.

Learn a bit about the origins of English and you will learn groups of unusual spellings, such as:

7. Use all your senses.

People who are better at spelling treat it as a visual skill – they have an image of what the word should look like. If your visual memory is not that great but you have a good ear, beat out the rhythm as you spell a word.

8. Play the odds.

If you learn a few spelling rules, then you can take a gamble on the version more likely to be correct. The complete rule about ‘i before e’ actually goes like this:
“I” before “E,”
Except after “C,”
Or when sounded like “A”
As in “neighbour” and “weigh.”
Except “seize” and “seizure,”
And also “leisure,”
“Weird,” “height.” and “either,”
“Forfeit” and “neither.”

Another example: does a word have -able or -ible on the end? If the word comes from Latin, and if you don’t get a proper word when you drop the ending, it’s more likely to be -ible: audible, credible, legible. Otherwise it’s more likely to end in -able. There are exceptions: you have to decide if you’re feeling lucky!

New Plain Words workshop for people with dyslexia

An alternative to taking a gamble is to look at our new workshop, Effective Writing Skills for People with Dyslexia. Recent research suggests that up to 15% of the population may be affected by dyslexia to some degree. As spelling is one of the areas that suffer, our workshop offers suggestions on ways to cope if your job needs good spelling skills.

Email us on to find out more about how we can help you get spelling right.

Editor recommends

A common problem for poor spellers is when they are told to ‘Look it up!’ How do you look it up if you don’t know how to spell it?

The spelling dictionary lists over 45,000 words in a legible font, just giving the correct spelling. Brief definitions are included for words where there are two different spellings and meanings. This is not meant to function as a standard dictionary of definitions, but is a huge aid to checking a word quickly for the right spelling.

If this newsletter has whetted your appetite for word origins, consider an etymological dictionary. The more academic ones are quite expensive, but a more reasonable and very informative option is The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories

Public course schedule

call us to find out about our Summer Sizzler offers on selected public courses.

Follow this link for the dates of our public courses.

The price is £495 + VAT per person for a one-day course and £850 + VAT for a two-day course. Half day courses are £295 + VAT per person.

Consultancies cost £850 + VAT for one day or £500 + VAT for half a day, held at your premises.

We also offer private courses at your premises. Please call us for details.

How to book

To book, call Julia on 01235 60 30 22 ext 28, or use the booking form.

Kind Regards
The Plain Words Training Team

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