nonnative English speakers

"I" Before "E" Except After "C"

Being a good speller certainly has its perks. You can ace your English tests, compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, or even be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. And, if you grew up in certain parts of the world, good spelling is often a highly valued trait - often a source of parental pride, if not outright bragging.

But what if you just want to speak English well, and you are a non-native speaker? That is where the trouble often begins. You have to contend with silent letters (salmon, thumb), different pronunciations of letters (cough, phone), words borrowed from other languages with their own spelling quirks (silhouette, ballet, gourmet), words that are often pronounced incorrectly and thus spelled incorrectly (espresso vs. expresso), homonyms or similar sounding words that have different spellings and meanings (pore, poor, pour), and many more idiosyncrasies and challenges! So what can you do to survive?

Here are some tips for getting English spelling under control.

  1. Keep a personal spelling list: Write down words you frequently spell incorrectly. Include how you typically spell it (wrong), the accurate spelling, and any applicable spelling rules to help you remember it in the future.

  2. Be aware of standard North American vs. British English variations, such as pajamas vs. pyjamas, behavior vs. behaviour.

  3. Learn confusing word endings such as -ent vs. -ant and -able vs. -ible, such as relevant, recent, incapable, and invisible.

  4. Learn how to spell words with silent letters such as diaphragm, walk, thumb.

  5. Familiarize yourself with words containing double consonants such as accommodate, necessary, commitment, occasional, and ladder.

  6. Keep a list of words with unusual letter combinations such as ophthalmologist, psychologist, and fluorescent.

  7. Be aware of the different “sounds” various letters and letter combinations make. For instance, “ch” sounds different in Christmas, mustache, and kitchen. Check the RULES by the Sound spelling chart for additional examples.

  8. Know how to spell words that are often mispronounced such as espresso (correct) vs. expresso.

  9. Be careful not to rely blindly on spell-check features, since they make mistakes!

  10. Have easy access to a comprehensive dictionary (online, app, or book format), e.g.


To learn more about idiosyncratic spelling, check out the charts in the RULES BY THE SOUND book.

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Check out the word lists for idiosyncratic spellings in this book!

Post some of your spelling challenges!




Can You Take a Compliment?

thank you  

“Aw, it was nothing...” ‘I didn’t do anything special...” “I was just part of the team that worked on it...”



For a lot of people, it is very difficult to accept a compliment. Many of our non-native English speaking clients tell us they grew up in a culture where accepting a compliment is considered rude and even boastful.

In the United States, if anything, we are accused of over-using compliments. Recently, there have been many psychology books admonishing this tendency, because many children begin to feel like they are the center of the universe and can do no wrong! Obviously, we need to strike a balance between both extremes.

In the American culture, if you do receive a compliment, it is expected that you will respond politely and honestly to the praise. Certainly a modest response is more favorable than a blatant conceited response. For example,

Compliment: “You did a great job facilitating the meeting this morning.”

Response #1: “I know. I am an amazing team leader.”

Response #2: “Thank you.”

For compliments to be meaningful, we need to be sincere and specific. Instead of telling a client or student, “You are doing great,” it is more helpful to say, “I like the way your took meaningful pauses between your thoughts. It helped you slow down your speech, and made me really focus on your ideas.” In addition, we want our clients and students to know when they are doing something correctly so that they will continue to utilize a trained strategy or technique. Constantly negating or down-playing feedback is not going to help our client gain the necessary self-awareness and confidence to improve.

Here are some expressions that are acceptable to use when someone has offered a sincere compliment:

  • Thank you, thanks
  • That’s nice to hear
  • You are kind to say that
  • I appreciate your comments
  • I’m happy that you liked (it)
  • Thanks for saying that

So remember when giving compliments, be honest and specific, and when receiving them, be gracious. If you need help with social communication skills, contact us at