How Children Learn to Spell: A Speech Pathology Perspective


At Cooee Speech Pathology, our Brisbane North Speech Pathologists work with children and their families to help develop spelling skills!



Spelling is an essential literacy skill, alongside reading and writing, that contributes to a child’s ability to participate and learn in the classroom. Spelling is the process of converting words from speech to letters and assists a child’s ability to read and write.

If a child experiences difficulties with spelling it will likely impact their academic success as the ease, flow and quality of their written work will be reduced.

The English language has many rules, exceptions to those rules and letters that can make multiple sounds. This can make learning to spell a tricky process for children!
For example;  the letter “y” represents four different sounds in the words “yes”, “by”, “baby” and “gym”!

So how do children learn to spell and what are some important skills required to be able to spell well?

Learning to spell is a developmental process that begins when your little one starts to ‘write’ stories using random letters!
Their ability to spell more accurately develops across the schooling years, with increasing levels of competency and independence until they can apply their spelling skills to writing a lengthy story with minimal errors!

The ability to spell involves the integration of many skills, including visual and motor.  Phonological Awareness skills and letter-sound knowledge are two foundational skills required for successful spelling!


Phonological  awareness

Phonological awareness skills refers to the ability to manipulate, segment, and blend individual sounds in words. Children need strong phonological awareness skills to support their ability to break words into their individual sounds to help them map the sounds and letters together. These skills help a child to discriminate between sounds and also support their ability to ‘sound out’ words.


Letter-sound knowledge

A child’s knowledge of sound to letter association forms the basis of their spelling ability. Children need to form accurate links between the sounds they hear and what letters or letter combinations those sounds represent.


It is from these foundational skills that children then begin to develop and apply their:

  • Morphological knowledge to consider morphemes in words. E.g. adding the morpheme ‘un-’, which means ‘not’, to a word changes its meaning like in ‘unfair’ meaning not fair.
  • Semantic knowledge to consider how word meaning affects spelling. E.g. knowing the difference between the words ‘mail’ and male’
  • Knowledge of the Conventions and Rules of Spelling. E.g. The magic ‘e’ rule! The ‘e’ makes the vowel say its name as in ‘bike.’

What to do if your child needs support for Spelling?

Children may experience difficulties learning to spell for many reasons. Poor phonological awareness skills or letter sound knowledge or both could be the potential cause of a child’s spelling difficulties.

If you are concerned about your child’s spelling development, please get in touch with us at our north Brisbane Speech Pathology clinic either via phone (07 3265 4495) or email ([email protected]).

Our Brisbane-based Speech Pathologists love to support children’s literacy development, and we would be delighted to help your child become a confident speller!

Kimberly Killick

Speech Pathologist