Hayes, Heather, Brett Kessler & Rebecca Treiman. 2005. English spelling: Making sense of a seemingly chaotic writing system. The International Dyslexia Association Perspectives on Language and Literacy 31(3). 8–10.


Spelling words in English can be a frustrating and discouraging experience for schoolchildren. For some words, spellers can easily achieve success by dividing the word into small units of sound, phonemes, and representing the phonemes by the letters that most commonly spell them. For example, the word tip is composed of the phonemes /t/, /ɪ/, and /p/, which can be straightforwardly spelled by the letters t, i, and p. Words such as pat, fit, and shop are easily spelled using such a sound-based or phonemic strategy. However, for many English words, spellers who use only a phonemic strategy will find themselves making many errors. For example, a word such as pill might reasonably be spelled pil by a phonemic strategy, because /l/ is most commonly spelled with a single l, but this spelling would be incorrect. How can children, particularly children with dyslexia, cope with a writing system that seems so unruly? Must children rely on brute-force memorization to learn the spellings of all but the simplest words? We will argue in this article that, although the English spelling system seems chaotic, there is some method to the madness. The writing system is more regular and more patterned than commonly believed. Children, including those with dyslexia, can take advantage of these patterns in learning the system, and teachers who are knowledgeable about the patterns can help them do so.


Unofficial submitted manuscript, PDF.

APA citation:

Hayes, H., Kessler, B., & Treiman, R. (2005). English spelling: Making sense of a seemingly chaotic writing system. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 31 (3), 8–10.

Last change 2009-08-09T18:28:44-0500