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It’s all Greek to Me

Explicit phonics

spelling rules It’s all Greek to Me

Learning English Spelling Rules Verbatim

Americans use foreign words in our day-to-day communications more often than we may realize. We order the soup du jour, bid our friends bon voyage, dip our roast beef sandwiches in au jus, arrange flowers in a bouquet, establish a rapport with new people, buy home decor, and memorize poems verbatim, word for word.

James D. Nicoll is often quoted in paraphrase: “English doesn’t borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over, and goes through their pockets for loose grammar.” There are many English words that can be traced back to other origins.

Foreign words are woven into our everyday conversations and writing, but they are certainly not spelled with the same rules as we use in English. Arika Okrent of Mental Floss says, “English spelling is hard. It’s hard for kids to learn it, and it’s hard for adults who have already learned it to remember how to do it right. It would be nice to have some consistent, general rules to go by, but alas, there are few.”

YesPhonics™ offers students a map through Nicoll’s “dark alleys,” and Okrent’s desires for some consistency (mentioned in paragraph 2) with a systematic application of spelling rules. Students learn 45 pure sounds and combinations of those sounds called, “phonograms”. Through a methodical dictation of the 1300 most commonly used words in the English Language, they learn how to think to spell and read one sound, one syllable, and one word at a time, applying rules, written and spoken, as they are needed. An abundance of practice occurs through this Ayres list and the rules are eventually learned well rather than memorized randomly and forgotten eventually.spelling rules

In addition to applying some English rules and modified rules to foreign words, we like what Richella Parham from Imparting Grace says too:
• Spell them correctly.
• Italicize them. When typing, the appropriate way to denote a foreign word or phrase is to italicize it.

Some might say that to apply the integrated knowledge of English phonograms to words in foreign languages, would be loco “crazy” (Spanish), une grosse erreur “a big mistake” (French) and irrilevante “irrelevant” (Italian).

After a teacher is familiar with the Orton-Spalding method of teaching using the phonograms, the Ayres list, and a systematic way to apply everything, it would be easy to use those rules or modify them a little to apply to many foreign words that a student might encounter.

Without getting bogged down in too many details, let’s try to break down a couple of everyday foreign words for a student using the Yes Phonics method.


2 syllables
The first syllable:
First sound /b/, second sound is the 3rd sound of /ou/ so we put a 3 above it,
The second syllable:
/qu/ is said as /qw/ but we teach students that in a foreign word the /qu/ can also say /k/
Place an X over the /qu/ denoting there is something different than usual about this sound.
The /et/ which is not taught as a phonogram can be underlined, have an X over it, and students are told that /et/ at the end of French words often says /a/, the long sound of /a/. The /t/ is silent just like in the word ballet.

spelling rules There is also what I call, “Word Play.” The word is used in oral and written sentences by the teacher and the students. The word is tested in practice spelling tests and read from the list in which it was written every day for a long while until the list is too long, but the word is well established.


This is a word that we would encourage students to look up on the internet or in a dictionary. A discussion would take place talking of its origin, Italian, and how the /ci/ in Italian makes the same sound as the first sound in the English /ch/. We would underline the /ci/ and place an X over it, again showing that it is different and does not follow the standard rules.

Three Keys

There are three keys to unlocking the English Language with many foreign words intertwined. The first is the organized use of applying 29 Spelling Rules, “The Writing Road to Reading.”
The second is a systematic phonics application of 1300 or more commonly used words which leads to the ability of decoding more than 30,000 words, YesPhonics Express. And last but not least, YesPhonics has added to the phonogram sounds a unique bit of art and key word captions as extra mnemonic devices to help students remember the sounds of spelling and reading in a fun and engaging manner.

Invaluable Tools

Yes, learning English is difficult, but so is anything else that’s worth doing. The English language takes time, energy and a committed focus to learn it properly, however, once a person starts on this amazing adventure of learning it, it becomes apparent that the rewards will be more than a person could have ever hoped for.

• YesPhonics™ Spelling Notebook

• YesPhonics™ Flash Card Phonogram Pack

• 29 Spalding Spelling Rules

• Romalda Spalding, “The Writing Road to Reading,” Spalding Education International

• Imparting Grace, “English Teacher: How to Use Foreign Words and Phrases”

• Mental Floss, “How is ‘I before E except after C’ a Rule?”

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About Kyla Cheney

Kyla Merwin is a freelance writer, editor and blogger. She writes about travel, pets, phonics, and people, with credits in regional and national magazines, and scattered throughout webpages everywhere. She writes for the travel & recreation website, Northwest Road Tripper [], and serves as the executive director of the Northwest Outdoor Writers Association. Her first book, "Lost & Found in Egypt" [] was released in September 2103. She lives and writes in Bend, Oregon. (Photo Credit: Joseph Eastburn)

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