Top Tips for IELTS

25 common spelling mistakes

Spelling is a big problem for many IELTS candidates – especially those who have a different alphabet in their own language. In this lesson, I give you quick test to see how good your spelling is with 25 common spelling mistakes. Then I explain why spelling problems happen and give you a few handy hints on learning to spell better.

Entry test – how well can you spell?

You really do need 100% here. Just one mistake in IELTS listening could mean that you don’t emigrate to Australia. One mistake can change your band score. Can you avoid these common spelling mistakes?

Spelling test

Congratulations - you have completed Spelling test. You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%. Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%
Your answers are highlighted below.
Shaded items are complete.

The problems of English and spelling

This is not a complete list at all – sadly. But if you understand the problems, then you have better chance of finding an answer. Try looking at these common spelling mistakes and examples to see what I mean.

1. Double letters

English is not very logical in the way we double letters: we write reference but referred!

accommodation – the problem here is two “m”s and two “c”s.

2. Lost sounds

What I call lost sounds are letters we write, but swallow when we speak. We write “separate” but we say “seprate

difference – this word has two syllables when we speak, but three when we write!

3. Homophones – two words that sound the same

How do you spell to? How do you spell two? How do you spell too? It just depends on what you want to say!

accept and except – these are two words that sound exactly the same, are spelled very differently and mean almost exactly the opposite!

4. Funny sounds

Some English words you just have to see before you can spell them. They sound quite different to the way they are spelled.

furniture – here “t” is really “tsh”. Odd.

5. Silent letters

Some letters in English are silent. Often these are at the beginning of words: knee and knowledge for example.

design – this sounds the same as “line”!

6. Stressed and unstressed sounds

English has a nasty habit of changing the sound of the word according to its form. We say advertise (eyes) but advertisement (iss). This makes spelling much harder. You can’t just listen to the word and decide how to spell it.

resign and resignationresign sounds the same as line, but the ig in resignation sounds the same as dig

7. Spelling rules don’t work

Have you ever been told about “i before e except after c”? This is a nonsense rule I’m afraid. There are more words in English that go ei than ie  – with or without c!

Receive and weight – both these words go ei, one has a c the other doesn’t. So-called spelling rules are dangerous friends.

8. Problem suffixes

A sensible way to learn to spell is to learn patterns of words. For instance, it’s good to see that the suffix -ation is spelled that way in most words. But, as I say, there are very few rules:

Capable and responsible: Horrid. In one case we add able and the other ible.

9. The schwa sound

What’s this? This is what some/most teachers call that “ugh” sound in English. The problem is that it can be almost any combination of letters, as it’s the normal way we make an unstressed vowel sound. Again, spelling and listening are quite different things.

doctor, computer, thorough, data, obvious etc etc etc

10. Your own language

The final problem (for now) is your own language. English has a habit of borrowing words from other languages and changing the spelling.

Environnement and environment: if you’re French the first spelling is perfect – just not in English!

4 ways to spell better

There is no magical solution – it can take time and effort to spell better. Here though are 4 ways that can really help you:

1. Read lots

People who read lots tend to spell best Why? Spelling is really a looking activity. The more you see words, the more likely you are to be able to spell them. If you are interested, you may look on The Really Boring English Blog for something more technical. This was an activity I was shown by the great and good Annie Roberts and it really does work.

2. See patterns

English spelling is not entirely mad. There are patterns and it helps to recognise the most common ones – things like “ment” and “ous”.

3. Write words down

Is this too obvious? Spelling is largely a habit. If you write words down, you are more likely to learn to spell them. Why? Reading may be good, but it is passive. Writing is even better for learning because it is active. It is not a bad idea just to write the word 4 or 5 times – boring but effective.

4. Record your mistakes and test yourself

Different people make different mistakes. You want to know what yours are. So make a note of all the spelling mistakes you make and test yourself on them until you get them right.

Exit test – any better now?

This, perhaps boringly, is the same test as you started with. Good spelling can be about about repetition.

Spelling test

Congratulations - you have completed Spelling test. You scored %%SCORE%% out of %%TOTAL%%. Your performance has been rated as %%RATING%%
Your answers are highlighted below.
Shaded items are complete.

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9 Responses to 25 common spelling mistakes

  1. English Tutor Brisbane March 17, 2014 at 11:32 pm #

    Looks good!

  2. English Tutor Brisbane March 17, 2014 at 11:41 pm #

    I’m usually a good speller but my personal nemesis is -or / -er.

    One spelling strategy we taught children at school (when I was a schoolteacher) was:

    Look – look at the word, notice its shape
    Say – say the word, say each individual letter
    Cover – cover the word so you can’t see it
    Write – write the word on another piece of paper
    Check – check your spelling and correct if necessary

    Then rinse and repeat.

    I personally think reading out loud is a really good strategy for both spelling and pronunciation. It might feel strange at first, but it is a good way to practice how different words that look similar actually sound different (and words that look different sound similar). Books like Dr Seuss’s “One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish” are a good place to start. His books are more tricky than you might think! 🙂

    • Dominic Cole March 18, 2014 at 9:43 am #

      Absolutely on look say etc. That’s the link to my Really Boring Blog – a project that I hope to pick up one day – but for now I’m concentrating on speaking to students not teachers (with the exception of your good self). I spent a year teaching a group of Kuwaiti students who had fantastic problems with spelling. I tried most everything – and then the great and good Annie Roberts showed me this technique. It is for me 100% correct. It works! I found that there was a slow start to the process but once the students got the idea of LOOKING at words their spelling improved very quickly. It may be a longish process at the start but the pace of learning picks up quickly once they get the idea.

      Reading out loud I’m always unsure about. I do see benefits but I also see problems. I speak very differently when I read and when I just speak. I also worry about the potential effect on reading skills – being vocalisation it can encourage subvocalisation. That’s bad for reading speed. Not wholly against it, but it needs careful handling in my view.

  3. muna March 19, 2014 at 8:49 am #

    hello i would like to advice me how can i get 6 or mor in ielts exam especily in reading and listening

    • Dominic Cole March 20, 2014 at 11:33 am #

      Hi Muna

      I can’t really help you personally – too many visit this site. All I can do is direct you to my reading and listening pages. Sorry if this is unhelpful.

  4. Amy April 8, 2014 at 8:48 pm #

    Hi, Dominic.
    I know that it is ok to use either UK or US spelling, but is it alright to use these two different types of spelling in one sentence/essay ?
    For example,’ I bought an expensive jewelry (US ) in a shopping centre(UK).’

    • Dominic Cole April 8, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

      Interesting question.I would say best not to from a theoretical point of view, but in practice I think that very few examiners would object.

  5. Imamul January 29, 2016 at 6:21 am #

    So many thanks……..Dominic Cole sir. You are doing a great job for us.

  6. Deng October 14, 2016 at 4:32 am #

    Reading and writing

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