Get It Right the First Time—or Fix It! How to Avoid or Correct Vocabulary Mistakes in Pronunciation, Spelling, & Matching Meaning to Context: For Students

Get It Right the First Time—or Fix It! How to Avoid or Correct Vocabulary Mistakes in Pronunciation, Spelling, & Matching Meaning to Context: For Students

How can vocabulary misuse cause miscommunication? Don’t miss its humor!


Vocabulary Misuse is one of the Main Causes of MisCommunication.

The problem could be [1] mispronunciation or [2] misspelling. English speakers or writers might be [3] using different words to convey approximately the same meaning or [4] using the same vocabulary with different definitions in mind.

These may involve mismatching of a specific meaning or usage to a context.

Even if they don’t result in disaster, mistakes in vocabulary used for these and other reasons can cause discomfort or embarrassment. Here are true situations, visuals, and stories (almost authentic even if adapted) that illustrate their effect. They’re followed by suggestions of what to do to avoid or fix the problems:

Mispronunciation. A speaker might be unable to articulate a speech sound clearly, might substitute one sound for another, or might reverse their order. Someone might make mistakes in numbers of syllables, syllable divisions, or amounts of stress on separate syllables in words and phrases. The results may appear laughable. 

 So what can you do to avoid or correct mispronunciation?

  1. Start Reading Words Aloud (Pronouncing New Vocabulary) by Distinctly Pronouncing Vowel Sounds. (You can differentiate them by how you shape your lips and where you place your tongue.) Then determine which sounds to say by reviewing How Letters Spell Vowel Sounds.
  2. Get even better at Reading Words Aloud (How Letters Spell Consonant Sounds). See how to pronounce the sounds even if when they’re spelled differently. Match letters to consonant sounds and vice versa.
  3. Get used to Using a Dictionary to Learn or Check Pronunciation of Vocabulary. When you know what the sound-symbols represent, you can match them to the letter-spellings of the items. Of course, you should also imitate good speech models (online audio + clear speakers).
  4. Pay attention to Numbers of Syllables in Words and Phrases. As you read aloud multi-syllable words and phrases with indicated syllable divisions, you can count their beats. When you pronounce items according to their “syllable-stress patterns,” your speech will be easy to understand. 

Misspelling. Of course, many spelling “errors” are simply “typos.” They’re created by hitting the wrong keys, leaving out or reversing letters, or making too many keystrokes. And an English speaker who has learned vocabulary by ear only might have little idea of how to write those words. A “creative speller” relying on regular phonics correlations might choose letters according to their approximate sounds in separate syllables—not accepted orthography. Wrong combinations or sequences of letters can cause damage or laughter: 

 So what can you do to prevent or repair misspellings?

  1. Go over the most common, regular phonics patterns (correlations of sounds and letters) in one-syllable words with Review of Vowels & Consonants. Use the AudioScript & Answer Key. Then you’ll know which items to pay special attention to because of their unusual spellings.
  2. In one– and multi-syllable vocabulary, study less common ways that sounds and letters correspond. In another Review of Vowels & Consonants (12), notice exceptional spellings, silent consonants, and other features that make English orthography “challenging but fixable.”
  3. For “advanced” hints to correct letter combos and sequencing, take a look at Spelling by the Rules. Try the exercises, puzzles, and games. Check your “educated guesses.” Make use of Spell-by-the-Rules Reference Lists.
  4. Of course, follow practical advice about spelling improvement, such as using mnemonics, “sounding out” words in chunks, listing only correct spellings of troublesome words and fixing them in your mind’s eye, noticing how words look when you “hear” them while reading, etc. 

Mismatching Meaning or Usage to Context. Knowing the pronunciation and spelling of new vocabulary is only a first step. To use items effectively, speakers and writers of English need to know what items mean and how to use them effectively in context (situations or settings). For communication to occur, listeners and readers have to understand these meanings and uses.

Some people with brain damage lose the ability to understand or use words appropriately. Also, new speakers of English may not have enough vocabulary to be able to choose the right words to express their meaning.

Even so, most mistakes in meaning or usage that aren’t mispronunciations or misspellings come from not knowing which word best fits that situation. Sometimes using the wrong vocabulary produces entertaining labels, signs, or mental images: 

 So what can you do to avoid mismatching vocabulary to context?

  1. To read fluently, avoid interruption by Getting Meaning from Context (Figuring Out New Vocabulary). Pay attention to definitions, explanations, examples, synonyms or opposites, associated words, parts of speech, kinds of print, punctuation, and other details in the text. Use the same kinds of clues when choosing the best words to convey your meaning in a given situation or context.
  2. To check your guesses about meaning and usage, get comfortable with Using Dictionaries to Learn Vocabulary—Meanings & Examples. And organize and speed up vocabulary building by continuing to match items to their parts of speech, definitions, and usage in context.

Of course, mispronunciation, misspelling, or mismatching meaning to context are not the only kinds of vocabulary problems that block communication or cause misunderstanding. Even a mistake in use of a part of speech or a misapplication of a grammar rule can make a difference. So can mistaking a wrong item for an appropriate one that seems similar but is pronounced or spelled differently—or that has a different meaning or use in context. Such substitutions happen frequently with words or phrases that are compounds, homophones or homographs, imprecise synonyms or opposites, or other “near-misses.” And finally, there are mistakes in word parts, such as roots, prefixes, or suffixes.

All of these problems are the subject of Part 2 of “Get It Right the First Time— Or Fix It.” That article will cover “How to Avoid or Fix Vocabulary Mistakes in Parts of Speech, Grammar Application, Word Combining, Word Pairings or Groupings, and Word Parts.”

So now you know what to learn and do so far. Here are some textbooks and activity collections that will streamline your vocabulary building while making it easy to avoid or correct mistakes.



Free Work/Life English Samples: 


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1 comment

Wonderful material, I am currently teaching English in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. This is a volunteer effort and I so appreciate your excellent, free pronunciation and vocabulary insights and lessons. Thank you so very much. English text books are hard to find here, and mailing them does not work well either. My husband and I have served as volunteer here for the past 2 years and are returning to California next month. Thanks from the bottom of my heart.

Kiem Anderson

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