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Home› Languages› Khmer› Written Language› Stages of Spelling Development

Stages of Spelling Development

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 diverse students.

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:

  1. The students’ pronunciation of words and sounds in English, given the Khmer influences.
  2. The second language stage reached by each student.
  3. The knowledge and understanding of the words being used for spelling and the stage of spelling development attained by each student.
Stage Spelling Indicators

Precommunicative Stage

  • Writing is not readable by others.
  • There may be random strings of symbols (real or invented).
  • Letters may be in either case and used indiscriminately.
  • There is no indication of letter-sound correspondence.

Semiphonetic Stage

  • 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.
    • FESH (fish).
  • The writing may display spaces between words.

Phonetic Stage

  • 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, e.g.
    • 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 CHRAN (train).
  • Nasal consonants may be omitted, e.g.
    • STAP (stamp)
  • Past tense may be represented in different ways, e.g.
    • PILD (peeled), LOOKT (looked) and TRADID (traded).
  • Word segmentation is clearly evident.

Transitional Stage

  • 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.
    • COMBO
  • A vowel is inserted before a final ‘r.’ e.g.
    • RUNNUR instead of RUNNR.
  • Common English letter sequences are used. e.g.
  • Vowel digraphs often appear. e.g.
    • MAIK and MAYK.
  • Inflectional endings (s, ‘s, ing, ed, est) are spelled conventionally.
  • Correct letters may be used but in the incorrect sequence. e.g.
    • BECAUSE (because) and PLIAN (plain).
  • Learned words appear more often.

Standard 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

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
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