Common Spelling Mistakes by ESL Students

 In Grammar

spelling mistakesThe English language is challenging to learn to speak, and the words that make it up can be even more challenging to learn to spell! Spelling mistakes are the bane of an ESL student’s life!  It’s a temptation, when learning English as a second language, to focus all your time on trying to speak English correctly.  But…studies have shown that a more holistic approach to language learning results in quicker acquisition and better retention. Reading and writing in the language you want to learn reinforces your comprehension of the words and phrases you know, and exposes you to the ones you may be less familiar with.  This approach is the best advice for ESL students who want to avoid spelling mistakes. Spelling words in English, when you’re an ESL student, gives you a chance to autopsy the sounds that make up the word and to see the root meanings that build its definition.

2 Ways English Words Can Lead to Spellings Mistakes by ESL Students

EI and IE

There’s a rhyme that goes: “i before e except after c or when sounded as “a” as in neighbor and weigh”.  That’s a pretty useful rhyme to learn, but I would add that there’re a number of words where solely relying on this pneumatic will let you down.  There are exceptions to the rule, LOTS of them, and unfortunately, the only way around making spelling mistakes with them is to practice spelling lists of these rule-breakers.

COMMON WORDS THAT FOLLOW THE RULE                                                                  RULE-BREAKERS

achieve              perceive            neighbor ancient                                           weird
believe               receipt              weigh efficient                                          height
yield                  deceit                beige conscience                                      protein
piece                 conceive             feign sufficient                                         either


These are just a few of the words that follow, and break the “ei” / “ie” spelling rules, for a more complete list of rule-breakers go to, make sure to play the audio file for each word too.

Double Consonants

Words that include one consonant that is doubled and another single consonant, are often mistakenly spelled with either BOTH consonants doubled or BOTH left as single letters.

appoint becomes appointt or appoint

harass becomes harrass or haras

irregular becomes irreggular or irreggular

When a word does have 2 sets of doubled consonants, students often misspell it by leaving one or both consonants as single letters.

committee becomes comittee or comitee

embarrass becomes embarass or embaras

accidentally becomes accidentaly or acidentaly

Sometimes a word has only single consonants and ESL students mistakenly misspell it by doubling a consonant.

apartment becomes appartment

omit becomes ommit

pavilion becomes pavillion

It’s easy to make double consonant spelling mistakes especially when there are words that sound similar but are spelled differently—for example:

embarrass vs harass

aggressive vs progressive

The best way to be certain of an English word’s spelling is to look it up.  If a word keeps fooling you somehow, take advantage of something called, “the production effect”, that says you learn challenging words more effectively if you read the word aloud, and write it down.  Practice the words that you make spelling mistakes with often enough, and sooner or later the incorrect spelling will actually look wrong to you.


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