Adult spelling strategies
VIRGINIA M. HOLMES & NAOMI MALONE
Department of Psychology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Vic. 3010, Australia
Abstract. The goal of this study was to investigate how adult English speakers, who
are good readers, but who diﬀer in spelling ability, remember word-speciﬁc spelling
information. In the ﬁrst experiment, participants learned the spellings of words they
had previously misspelled, while ‘‘thinking out loud’’. The main strategies observed in
order of popularity were: letter rehearsal, overpronunciation, comparison of the
remembered and the correct spelling, morphological analysis and visualisation. All
strategies produced good learning success for the better spellers, but weaker spellers
had less success with overpronunciation, comparison and morphological analysis. In
a second experiment, when participants were shown their misspelling and the correct
spelling, and instructed to use either overpronunciation or comparison to learn the
correct spelling, learning success was independent of spelling ability. However,
sequential verbal memory ability was associated with greater success in using overpro-
nunciation, and sequential visual memory ability with greater success in using com-
parison. The ﬁndings provide new insight into the types of strategies that advanced
learners use spontaneously to memorise arbitrary letter sequences, as well as revealing
how eﬀective the strategies are.
Key words: Adult spelling, Spelling strategies, Visual memory, Verbal memory,
The most eﬃcient path to spelling mastery in a language with an alpha-
betic orthography, such as English, is through phonological skill: learn-
ing to segment spoken words into individual phonemes and
determining how these phonemes relate to appropriate graphemes
(Bradley & Bryant, 1983; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1989; Caravolas,
Hulme & Snowling, 2001; Snowling, 1980). However, as learners
encounter the same written words repeatedly, they begin to store
information about spellings of individual words in lexical memory.
Learners’ early orthographic representations may contain only a skele-
ton of ‘‘essential’’ graphemes, which, while allowing the word to be dis-
tinguished from others in the lexicon, will not permit fully precise
spelling (Ehri, 1986; Funnell, 1992; Perfetti, 1991, 1997; Share, 1995).
Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal 17: 537–566, 2004.
Ó 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.