Invented Spelling and the Transition to Conventional Spelling Part I

“Pepul ware scee macks in the wintr” could be a phrase written on many elementary school papers (actual translation: “People wear ski masks in the winter”). This type of spelling is called “invented spelling” – it is very common for children to spell words this way when they first learn how to read and write. According to Elaine Lutz, who coined the term “invented spelling”, it “refers to young children’s attempts to use their best judgments about spelling”. While this type of spelling is generally accepted when a child first begins to write, there is some debate about the importance of spelling versus the encouragement of writing. J Richard Gentry characterized the transition from invented spelling to conventional spelling into five stages:

  • Precommunicative Stage: The child uses letters from the alphabet, but without any letter-sound correspondence.
  • Semiphonetic Stage: The child starts to understand that letters represent sounds, and usually uses only one letter per sound, blend or word. For example, “U” for “you”.
  • Phonetic Stage: The child starts using one letter per sound and phonetically spells words that can be deciphered, such as “kom” for “come
  • Transitional Stage: The child starts relying on visual representation and an understanding of word structure to spell words. For example, “higheked” for “hiked”.
  • Correct Stage: The speller understands the basic rules of English spelling, such as prefixes, suffixes, alternative spellings, and silent consonants. The speller also recognizes irregularly-spelled words, and generalizes about spelling and exceptions to the rules.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog about encouraging correct spelling in children.

Ruth Rumack has been a full-time teacher and educator since 1996. Visit her Google+ page to find out more about early childhood education.


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