disparity between english sound and spelling


                                           Research Proposal

Disparity between English lexis and sounds: study of an effect on the writing
skills of intermediate level students in Pakistan

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between English lexis and sounds: an effect on the writing skills of intermediate
level students in Pakistan


It has been noted that spelling problem is one of
the major problems which affects the writing proficiency of foreign learners of
English language. These spelling problems are attributed to many causes of
which irregularity of English spelling, lack of knowledge of English spelling
system and mother tongue influence are prominent. This study will focus on
discovering how big the spelling problem is among Pakistani intermediate level
students, what are the types of  spelling
errors, likely causes of these spelling errors and perceptions of English
language learners and teachers about spelling difficulties. To answer these
questions, three tools would be administered on students and teachers of
different colleges. Oral dictation and questionnaires would be used as tools to
collect data.  The study will focus on
improving teaching practices to undermine the spelling difficulties and to
develop improved writing proficiency of the students.


system is the visual representation of the verbal communication. It is one of
the four skills in English, listening, speaking, reading and writing. It is
considered most complex of the four skills as it deals with the written
scripts, symbols, syllables, graphemes. The numbers of alphabets are fixed
including vowels and consonants alphabets (graphemes) and their associated
sounds (symbols). Syllables are larger units of sound including vowel and
consonant combinations. English writing system is considered as one of the
complex writing systems as there is lack of letter-sound correspondence.
English has 26 alphabets and 44 phones. This difference in numbers of alphabets
and their sounds suggests there can be more than one sounds for an alphabet.
Similar is the case with different alphabets combinations and their
corresponding sounds. A great discrepancy can be observed in the spellings and
sounds of English words. This lack of correspondence in spelling and sounds of
English results in writing and pronunciation errors in the learners of English
language especially in foreign context. Current study would focus on the
writing errors among students in Pakistan due to lack of letter-sound
correspondence in the English language.

Scope of the study:

 This study will enlist a number of mistakes
students make during writing because of lesser understanding of letter-sound
correspondence, give reason how these mistakes are forth grounded by
discrepancy between sounds and spellings. It will enhance the awareness about
role of phonology in English language learning in Pakistani context. Present
study will analyze the frequent mistakes because of poor knowledge of phonology
and suggest how those mistakes could be eliminated.

Problem statement:

English spelling
system lacks letter-sound correspondence which results in poor spelling of the
students in foreign language learning context.

Objectives of the

The objectives of
the study would be as follow;

1.      To explore the mistakes committed by college
students due to lack of knowledge about letter-sound correspondence.

2.      To categorize and analyze mistakes from the writing
scripts of the students.

3. To get insight into
current spelling teaching practices and language teachers’ perspective about
the problem.

Research questions:

1.      What type of spelling mistakes are committed by
students due to lesser spelling sound correspondence?

2.      What is the perspective of language learners and
teachers about spelling problem?

How language
learners and teachers see current English text books helpful in learning
spellings? Literature review:

            This chapter comprises of   review of related study. It is further
categorized in four subsequent sections: significant causes of spelling
problems, the relation between reading and spelling, effectiveness of spelling
instruction and raising learners’ awareness of spelling rules. This chapter is
based on an investigation done regarding the research that is already done by
previous researchers about this very chapter.

            The module that is being actualized
is Corder’s error module. Corder (1981) stated that errors are a part of the
process of language acquisition’. He further stated that ‘errors are an
important indicator that the learner is in his language development period and
the progress he has made in language acquisition.  He deliberately supported systematic analysis
of errors to find out the needs of language learners. Brown (2000) also
explained regarding errors that analyzing students’ errors provides teachers
with tools to predict and address students’ problems. So how these errors are
seen from different perspectives by previous researches is mentioned below:

Significant Causes of Spelling Problems:

The causes of spelling mistakes
are also an important factor that is kept in account while doing an analysis.
Burt (1975) explained that the clarity of the reasons of errors helps in
understanding the errors and their types. Similarly, Book and Harter (1929)
stated regarding the causes of errors that it is quite difficult to determine
causes of spelling errors but at the same time without determining the causes,
they cannot be prevented.
           Many of the researchers have
done research to investigate the causes of errors made by learners in spellings
and then have found out different causes of respective errors. These are the
main causes of errors that have been found out by previous researchers.

2. Irregularity of the English spelling system:
            Henderson (1981) stated that there
is no one to one correspondence between the written word and its pronunciation.
Haldreth (1962) further carried this point of view and stated that many of the
spelling mistakes that most of learners of English have is due to the
inconsistency in English word structure. Learners having different language
background of L1 feel difficulty with this irregularity. Hildreth (1962)
further explained four characteristics of English language writing pattern
where he points out irregularity. At first is that more than one sound is
represented by a single letter or combination of letters. Secondly, in the same
way one sound can be expressed by different letters. At third, the silent
letters such as the letter ‘B’ in the word debt are a problem in the way to
develop good spellings in writing proficiency. At forth, Hildreth (1962) has
given the cause of errors in spelling the existence of alternative spellings
such as color-colour that confuse learners and result in form of errors. These
irregularities of English language cause most learners of English to have
spelling problems.

There is another cause of
spelling errors that signify the uniqueness of languages that is mother tongue interference.

3. Mother tongue interference:

Speakers of different languages
when learn English they make different errors. Two speakers of a language have
similarity in there certain errors, that are purely prevalent in the learners
of that specific language. Brown (2000) referred this influence of mother
tongue on L2 acquisition as “transfer”. This tongue may be called positive if
it facilitates language acquisitionbut at the same time it may be assigned as
negative transfer when it becomes a cause of errors.in this respect Corder
(1993) stated that the speaker whose mother tongue is more similar to L2
obviously acquire second language easily then those whose mother tongue is more
“distant linguistically”.

Swan and Smith (2001) found that
learners find difficulty in acquisition where they cannot find equivalent of
linguistic features in mother tongue. For example, Spanish learners have same
writing system as English do but Chines learners have distance writing
system.So, here Spanish learners can easily learn English system as compared to
the Chinese learners.

Reading-Spelling Relationship:

Bernhardt( 1991) founded that
languages with similar orthographic system share similar reading experiences
that make reading easy. Distance between orthographic systems make students to
read with difficulty. Odlin (1989) pointed out that the more similar the
writing systems of two languages are the less time learners will need to
develop basic encoding and decoding skills.

Randal (2007) explained the
dominant impacts of having different language backgrounds on reading ability.
He is of the view that different word recognition strategies are used in
different orthographic systems. This becomes a reason of learners to have
variety in reading abilities, usually impacted by their mother tongue
strategies. These affectedreading strategies of learners of L2 cause difficulty
for them in word recognition. In this regard, Bernherdt (1991) observed that
readers need to develop automatic word recognition skills to prevent them from
being slow learners. He further argued that reading in a distinct language from
their mother tongue do not have “sensitivity of orthographic regularities”.
Ediger (2007) stated that readers has to first grasp the  “symbolic role of characters or letters” to
overcome the errors in reading a familiarity is needed  with the orthography of target language for
the learners of a different language orthography system. He further stated that
this requires them to learn orthographic regularities to get used to new
writing system.

5. Raising
learners’ awareness:

English spelling system is irregular but many researchers supported the view
that not all the sounds in English are irregular. Hilderth 1962 believed that
non-phonetic nature of English poses difficulties to the learners but not whole
the English spelling are non-phonetic. He states that
about eighty-five per cent of the words contain regularlysounded elements that
consistently recur in English, such as de,
an, er, dis, con, andtion and these regular patterns can be taught to
students.Similarly, Ediger (2001),

Olshtain (2001) and Shemesh & Waller (2000) among other
researchers believe thatEnglish spelling is rule governed and can be taught.
Templeton and Morris 1999 argued that there are specific patterns in English
which are repeatedly used and result in consistency in the spelling.  This view of the spelling system is also
supported by a number researchers. Chomsky 1973 is of the view that English
spelling system seems arbitrary while actually it is not.  She gives reason that it only seems arbitrary
because it ignores phonetic variations of the language. “It is simply that,” as
she adds “the orthography bears an indirectrather than a direct relation to
pronunciation” (p. 102). Chomsky adds that this feature of English is not
creating problem. Rather it is a blessing as it does not bounds the meanings
with the spelling. It can be observed that this perspective is more applicable
when it is confined to the native speakers if the language. While in foreign
language context, meaning are not really bound with the spelling or
pronunciation. Instead there are rote learning practices in meaning learning.
So it cannot be said that English spelling system is a blessing for the foeign
learners of English.

5. Efficacy of spelling activities

As discussed earlier, many researchers (Hildreth, 1962; Burt,
1975; Smedley,

1983) , argue that in different contexts, nature of teaching practices
differ as different mother tongues pose different kind of influence for second
language learners. So there is always need that teacher design special
exercises for their students by analyzing the paterns of their students’

Hildreth (1962) also suggests a number of activities to help
students overcomespelling difficulties:

l  Underline silent
letters in such words

l  Writing the incorrect
words on board and underline them. Write correct spelling in front of incorrect

l  Make students
practice related words.

l  Mark the areas in
which students are struggling

l  Listening practices

l  Learning syllables

l  Word building with
one root word

l  Spelling games.

These are the
strategies proposed in the research for spelling practice. Analyzing and
understanding the pasterns of spelling is more important than simple rote
learning. Teachers needed to actively participate in developing the practice
activities for the students. This study, however, will  focus on 
what current practices are in practice in Pakistani colleges to develop
spelling of the students.

After discussing the researches done in the current area, it can
be said that there are different perspectives about the irregularity of English
spelling. There are researchers who consider this irregularity as the major
reason of poor writing proficiency of the students. There is another group of
researchers who consider this arbitrary spelling system as a blessing as it is
why meanings are not bound to spelling patterns only. This study will focus on
how this irregularity effects the spelling problem of the Pakistani students.
Moreover there are types of spelling errors that will be done under Corder’s
error analysis framework and an attempt will be done to discover current
practices for spelling teaching.


Researcher would use mixed method .The data will be collected
qualitatively and quantitatively. The data will be
collected from 50 students of 2st year of 6 different colleges of
Lahore who have completed their 1styear. The students will be asked
to write a text on dictation by the researcher. The text will be developed by
researcher; consisting of homophones and words which do not confirm letter-sound
correspondence. Afterwards, a structured questionnaire will be given to the
students to give their opinion about the reasons of why they misspell the
English words and to get their perspective about English spelling system and
techniques used by their teachers to teach spellings. Another structured
questionnaires designed separately from that of students’, will be administered
on the teachers of the participant students. This questionnaire will aim at
teachers’ perspective about difficulty in spelling system, types of spelling,
and techniques usually used to teach spelling in Pakistani context. Reliability
and validity of dictation test will be checked by pilot testing of the tools in
another classroom. All data will be checked on statistical and descriptive

and Sample:

Population of the
study will be  the students of
Intermediate, Part II. A sample of 80 students will be taken by researcher
among which 50 will be selected conveniently. First, dictation test will be  administered to the participant students. Data
will be  collected from the writing
scripts of the students. Afterward, questionnaire will be administered to the
participant students and the teachers.

of Study:

A dictation test,
consistent for all the participants of study, will be used as a tool to record
the types and number of mistakes in writing. All the scripts will be collected
and kept as record. A questionnaire will be designed to get the numerical data
from the students about the problem. Another questionnaire will be designed for
the participant teachers as a tool to collect the data. The first questionnaire
contains 18 items and second questionnaire contains 15 items reflecting
learners and teachers’ ideas about spelling problems respectively and having
tri-regression measurement with three levels of answers (agree-not

Ethical consideration:

The data
will be used only for research purpose and it will not be shared anywhere. The
identity of the participants will not be revealed.


study is limited to the six colleges of Lahore.
















Name (optional): ______________               Class: ____________________

College Name: ________________

For each statement below, please tick the option that
most accurately reflects your personal opinion.

Sr. No.



Not Sure



I try to spell words as they sound.





I am aware of spelling rules of English.





Where my spelling is incorrect, I get the feeling that it does
not “look right”.





I know all the sounds for English alphabets.





I need to use dictionary to check spelling every time I write.





When I cannot spell, I consider spelling of a related word with
similar spelling.





I misspell when there is a silent letter in the word.





I usually misspell when there is an unstressed vowel in the





I misspell writing words with prefixes and suffixes.





I sometimes misspell very common words.





I know what homophones are.





Same spelling can sound differently.





Same sounds can be spelled in many ways.





I know what phonetic/phonemic transcription is.





There are enough exercises for learning and practicing spelling
in my English course book.





My English teacher often teaches me spelling.





My teacher teaches spelling through dictation.





Spelling errors are pointed out by my teacher in my homework




 Questionnaire for Teachers

Name (optional): ________________                        College Name:

For each statement below, please tick the option that reflects
your personal opinion.

Sr. No.



Not Sure



Students lose marks because of
poor spelling.





English spelling system does
not have clear spelling rules.





Irregular spelling results in students
spelling errors.





Developing students’ spelling
can improve their writing.





There are enough
activities/exercises for spelling in textbooks.





I find it difficult to teach





Spelling is learnt when
students copy new words in their notebooks.





general spelling patterns help retaining spelling of similar words.





Students need to memorize words
by letters.





I usually integrate spelling
teaching in my lessons.





I am able to find reasons of misspelling
by students.





I teach spelling according to
errors committed by students.





I seek help from phonetics
study while teaching spelling.





There are systematic patterns
in my students’ errors.





I use dictation of words to
teach spelling.











Barron, R. (1985) Interactions between spelling and sound in
literacy. In D. R. Olson,

N. Torrance, and A. Hildyard (Eds). Literacy, Language and Learning: The

nature and
consequences of reading and writing (pp. 368-388). Cambridge:

Cambridge University

Bahloul, M. (2007). Spelling error of Arab learners: Evidence of
intergraphic mapping.         Language
Teacher Research In The Middle East, (pp. 41-51).Matoon III. United             Graphics, inc.

Bernhardt, E. (1991). Reading Development in a Second Language:
Theoratical,      Empirical, &
Classroom perspectives. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing             Corporation.

Book, W & Harter, R. (1929). Mistakes which pupil make in
spelling. The Journal Of           Educational
Research. 19(2), pp. 106-118.

Brown, H. D. (2000). Principles of Language Learning and
Teaching (4th ed.). White           Plains,
NY: Pearson Education.

Chomsky, C. (1973). Reading, writing and phonology, Psycholinguistics
and Reading          (pp. 91-104). NY:
Holt, Rineheart and Wiston, inc.

Corder, S. P. (1981). Error analysis and intralanguage, Oxford:
Oxford University Press.

Graves, K. (2000). Designing language courses: a guide for
teachers, Boston, MA: Heinle     Cengage

Henderson, L. (1981). Orthography and Word Recognition in
Reading, London:      Academic Press

Hildreth, G. (1962). Teaching spelling: a guide to basic
principles and practices. NY: Heinle, Rineheart and Winston inc.