Spelling and Reading Connection: How Spelling Supports Reading?

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We, the adults, often make the mistake of teaching spelling and reading as two distinct literacy skills to the children. This is not entirely our fault as we were only cramming up twentyish words every week for those notoriously hard spelling tests. We thought this was the only valid way of improving spelling skills.

In reality, spelling and reading are correlated and good spelling skill essentially improves one’s reading skills.

Today, we’d make a comprehensive analysis of spelling and reading connection and verify whether spelling supports reading or not.


Spelling and Reading Connection: Are They Inverse Operations?

Before we try to figure out the spelling and reading connection, we need to address two key concepts — dissection of operations of spelling and reading.


The Fundamental Operations of Reading

Let take a look at reading first.

When we see a written word, we take a closer look at the letters and divide them into chunks. Then, we attach sounds to each chunk. And finally, we blend them together to create the complete sound of that particular word.

For example, consider the word — mango. How do we read it or speak it out?

  • Take a closer look at the letters — m-a-n-g-o.
  • Divide them into chunks — m-ang-o
  • Attach sounds — /m/ /ang/ /o/.
  • Blend them together — mango!

No matter how hard the spelling of a word is, we always follow these steps, consciously or subconsciously. After all, these are the fundamental operations for reading.

As you can see, two different skills played crucial parts to help you read the word — the knowledge of sound (phonology) and the knowledge of plausible letter patterns (orthography). In the above example, the letter pattern -ang played the key role in helping you read the word. In formal language, we term such parts as graphemes — the smallest meaningful part in a written language.


The Fundamental Operations of Spelling

Now that we went through the mechanism behind reading, let’s turn our attention to spelling.

To spell a word, we often take the reversed road. First, we hear the blended sound and try to separate it into chunks. Then, assign graphemes to the individual chunks of sound. And finally, attach the graphemes together to form the written version of the word.

Again, let’s consider the word mango here. How do we spell it?

  • Hear the word (blended sound) — mango.
  • Break the blended sound into chunks — /m/ /ang/ /o/.
  • Assign graphemes to the sounds — m-ang-o.
  • Attach the graphemes together to form the spelling of the word — m-a-n-g-o > mango!


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The Inversed Relationship

By this stage, you should clearly be able to identify the connection between spelling and reading. Not only spelling and reading are inversed operations, but these two skills are also dependent on the same two special skills —

  • The knowledge of sound (phonology)
  • The knowledge of plausible letter patterns (orthography)

So, it’s conclusive that reading and spelling are not only connected but are in an inverse relationship.

A 1966 research (Phoneme-Grapheme Correspondences as Cues to Spelling Improvement) suggests that about 50% of all English words follow the simple sound-symbol correspondence spelling rule. For example, the spelling of the words — cat, sit, rib, book — follow the sound-symbol correspondence rule.

However, the English spelling system has its fair share of irregularities too. Think of the words — chime, chef, chemistry — the ch- grapheme uses different sounds in different words. Surely, the sound-symbol relationship is not the only fundamental rule of English spelling.

So, what are they?

We’ll get to them, but first, we need to know the history of this language! The complexity of English spelling has a lot to do with the history of the language itself.


Interested to master all the spelling and punctuation rules? Here’s a guide to master all the punctuation rules with ease. 

The Timeline of English Language

English has evolved from the Anglo-Saxon language dated in the 5th to 7th centuries AD. The Anglo-Saxon settlers (people coming from parts of Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands) used this language as they settled in the southern part of now Great Britain. We refer this Anglo-Saxon language as Old English now.

Later, the Anglo-Saxon or the Old English language borrowed many words from Scandinavian Vikings too.

In 1066, William the Conqueror of Normandy, France invaded this land and as a result of this Norman Conquest, the Old English was replaced with the new Anglo-Norman language. Initially, only the aristocratic upper-class used this new language. But later it became the common tongue. We refer to this new language as the Middle English. During this phase, French and Nordic words entered the English language.

The Middle English era lasted for about 500 years until we saw the Shakespearean English in the renaissance. So, William Shakespeare single-handedly brought the revolution in English and the Early Modern English language came to being.

In this era, many Latin and Greek words became a part of the English language. Also, the foundation of English became firm in the era.

The proper Modern English language started its journey in the late 17th century. You should also know that the British had colonies in all parts of the world and the colonial age also started in the late 17th century.

In the colonial age, the English language borrowed many words from the colonies.

So, you see, the Modern English language has words from these languages —


Percentage (Approximate)












The Pillars of English Spelling

We got a bit off-track in the last section. But it was necessary as you now know that the English language is filled with words originating from other languages. This is one of the core reasons why it’s hard to create a set of hard and fast rules for English spelling.

And, it also shows why 50% of the words don’t follow the sound-letter correspondence.

To master English spelling, you need to have a command over these —

Phonology— The knowledge of phonemes and graphemes.  

Morphology — The knowledge of morphemes (smallest meaningful parts in a word).

Orthography — The knowledge of plausible letter patterns and their sounds.

Etymology — The knowledge of the origin of the words (Latin, French, German, Greek, or others).

If you’re interested to learn more about these spelling principles, you should check out our article on spelling assessment that offers a more comprehensive knowledge on these spelling principles.


How Spelling Supports Reading?

Now, let’s talk about the elephant in the room — can spelling help with one’s reading skills?

Yes! While spelling a word we’re decoding its sound and breaking it down to letters. Reading is essentially the opposite of this operation as we combine the sounds of the letters to create the pronunciation.

So, mastering spelling will automatically improve our reading skills. Also, mastering all four components of the English spelling system will ensure robust vocabulary. Even, good etymological knowledge can help one archive native-like vocabulary.  

The stronger one’s vocabulary is, the better he/she is at reading comprehension. The broader vocabulary size will help them decode apparent and hidden meaning of text.

With a strong spelling skill, one can also decode proper pronunciation of almost all English words.

How so?

A good speller can take a look at any word and reverse-engineer the letter-sound correspondence to figure out the correct sound of that letter.

For example, think of the word parliament. This is a rather complex word for the younger spellers as it doesn’t follow the simple sound-letter correspondence. If it were, it would have the spelling — parlement!

Now, a good speller would recognize the word as a Middle English word with a French origin. The etymological knowledge will also help him decode the pronunciation of parliament thus helping him read better.   

It is conclusive that spelling and reading fluency go hand-in-hand.


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How to Participate in Spelling and Reading Practice?

One of the best ways to participate in spelling and reading practice is partaking in dictations. In such practices, one has to listen to words and write them down. This directly helps one to improve spelling skills.

And, we already know that improving spelling skill will automatically improve one’s reading skills.

So, where can you find good dictation-based spelling exercises? You can always head over to Spelling Test from SpellQuiz that lets you participate in dictation-based spelling practices.

You can also check your progress through a robust progress tracking tool and intuitive dashboard. This helps you keep track of all the mastered and non-mastered words with practice records.

Furthermore, if you want to conduct spelling and reading age tests you can participate in the vocabulary assessment test from SpellQuiz. This free test only takes about ten minutes. Plus, you can find your approximate vocabulary size and your equivalent grade level based on your spelling and reading efforts.

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