Post #2 dealt with the 22 straightforward words on the “Dirty 30” list and now we have to get real about the trickier ones.
Words are tricky to spell – or behave unpredictably – for a couple of reasons.
This might be
- un-pronounced sounds like in government
- mispronounced or mixed up sounds like in environment (we say enviernment)
- or whole syllables which seem to have disappeared like in business
- or a combination like in Wednesday.
On the Dirty 30 list are:
- business say 2 syllables, spell 3 syllables. I’ve polled enough teachers to know that’s exactly what they do when they spell this word. bus (like the vehicle) i (like in taxi) ness (rhymes with mess remember the 2 s’s)
- separate (adjective) You really must teach this with the verb which is so easy to spell – then bundle them together explaining that, while we say 2 syllables (sepret), we spell 3 – just like the verb. The only tricky bit is then the a in the middle so ask them how they’d like to pronounce it to remember it best. sep ar ate? sep a rate? I like to keep the ate ending and make a second bundle of -ate ending words like desperate and immediate.
The other 6 words fall into this category and it’s worth looking at why they’re there.
Is genuinely unusual code?
- beautiful is very easy to spell if you speak French. If you don’t, then you just have to memorise the -eau spelling of “yoo” which is very unusual. Bundle it with beauty but point out that in any other word it has the more common French pronunciation of “oh”. plateau, tableau, gateau etc.
- persuade the only difficult bit is the u as “w” – but they are very familiar with penguin so bundle it with that and add language to the bundle. Half the battle is getting them to say, “Oh yeah, I have seen that before.”
- (UK only) queue and queueing are difficult for the same reason. qu as “k” is quite unusual and eue is a strange way to spell “yoo” – the only thing requires specific memorisation. It’s not often I say this but just learn to say q-u-e-u-e – letter names in a row. It’s quite a satisfying thing to memorize. EDIT: We can safely remove queueing from the list because queuing, according to the OED is an acceptable spelling. We now have the Dirty 29!
Is the “spelling way” to pronounce the word beyond just clarifying a vowel or two?
- embarrass 3 syllables em/barr/ass The barr syllable is often pronounces “bar” in order to remember it – and of course it’s bar with two r’s. em (easy) barr (ok) ass (way too easy!)
And finally – there are words that seem difficult to spell for no particular reason. Some people might want to put definite here but I think we dealt with that well enough in the predictable code category. I’m going to allow sincerely here though I think it really belongs in the straightforward category.
- sincerely 3 syllables sin/cere/ly – sin and ly are no-brainers so let’s focus on the middle syllable. ere for “ear” isn’t common but it’s exactly like here – so bundle it with that. sin cere ly. Note the tricky bit and remember it’s like here. I guess some people might think the c for “s” is tricky but it’s incredibly common.
It’s probably good to end on a word that seems to be difficult because people think it is. It’s time to stop thinking of spelling as something that some people are good at and others aren’t. Instead, narrow spelling difficulties down to the smallest possible part of the word. The new rule is that no one can say “I can’t spell (insert word)”. Instead, they can say, “I can’t remember how to spell the “seer” syllable in sincerely.”