Stages of Spelling
The process of ‘learning to read’ and ‘reading to learn’
has been conceptualized along a continuum of stages (Chall,
1983), which provides the conceptual framework to better understand
and assess reading performance from linguistic and culturally
Among these are the Khmer language background students in
USA classrooms who are the children or grandchildren of Cambodian
refugees. These children, born in the United States exhibit
varying degrees of proficiency in both Khmer and in English.
In the Lowell Public Schools, most of the Cambodian students
have not had instruction in the reading and writing of the
Khmer language; they learn to read and write through English.
Many of the American English words used in their instruction
may be totally unknown to them in terms of understanding and
speaking. Therefore, there is no influence of print but there
is an influence of sound and culture.
Linguistic influences in English encompass several factors:
- The students’ pronunciation of words and sounds in English,
given the Khmer influences.
- The second language
stage reached by each student.
- The knowledge and understanding of the words being used
for spelling and the stage of spelling development attained
by each student.
- Writing is not readable by others.
- There may be random strings of symbols (real or
- Letters may be in either case and used indiscriminately.
- There is no indication of letter-sound correspondence.
- Spelling is characterized by first attempts at
letter-sound correspondence. It may be abbreviated,
with only one or two letters (usually consonants)
to represent a word, e.g.
- WK (walk), PO
(piano), and S (saw).
- Children have great difficulty with vowels, e.g.
- The writing may display spaces between words.
- At this stage, spelling is not standard, but writing
is meaningful and can be read by others.
- All essential sounds may be represented by letters,
- STIK (stick), TABL
(table) and FLOR (floor).
- There may be substitutions of incorrect letters
with similar (or even the same) pronunciation. Actually,
these substitutions often indicate that the speller
is using a great deal of common sense. e.g.
- JRINK (drink) and
- Nasal consonants may be omitted, e.g.
- Past tense may be represented in different ways,
- PILD (peeled), LOOKT
(looked) and TRADID
- Word segmentation is clearly evident.
- Writers may operate within the transitional stage
for long period of time and during this stage, visual
and morphemic strategies become more important.
- Vowels appear in every syllable. e.g.
- Nasals appear before consonants. e.g.
- A vowel is inserted before a final ‘r.’
- Common English letter sequences are used. e.g.
- Vowel digraphs often appear. e.g.
- Inflectional endings (s, ‘s, ing, ed, est)
are spelled conventionally.
- Correct letters may be used but in the incorrect
- BECAUSE (because)
and PLIAN (plain).
- Learned words appear more often.
or Conventional Stage
- At this stage, knowledge of American [English]
spelling is firm. Most words are spelled appropriately.
- The speller can often recognize a word that does
not look right.
- A large reservoir of words is spelled automatically.
Adapted from: Gentry (1982) An Analysis
of Developmental Spelling in GNYS AT WRK. The reading teacher.
36, 2, 1982. © Professor Maria de Lourdes Serpa