The Science

7spell is scientifically designed, and utilizes principles based on decades of research in learning, retention, and psychology. Here is a summary of the theory and research behind 7spell's effectiveness.

Craik, F., and Tulving, E. "Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 104(3) (1975): 268-294. Print and PDF. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0096-3445.104.3.268

In this seminal study performed at the University of Toronto, Canada, the authors performed a series of tests in which they gave the study participants a sequence of words to learn, with information related to each word as it appeared in order. They discovered that when the information provided stimulated the participant's brain to process the word on a more involved level (referred to as "deep encoding" or "degree of elaboration" in the study), that word was more effectively learned and remembered. With 7spell, the user is given a wide range of additional information about each spelling word, including the word's definition - one of the key factors in enhanced memory, according to this study - as well as usage examples, synonyms, and antonyms.

Gelman, B.D., Gruber, M.J., and Ranganath, C. "States of Curiosity Modulate Hippocampus-Dependent Learning via the Dopaminergic Circuit." Neuron, 22 October 2014, 84(2): 486-496. Web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2014.08.060

Students who are eager to learn are more likely to remember what they have learned, something that the authors of this study demonstrate. They used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show real-time connections between a person's curiosity about a specific topic, and the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and the brain's reward system. The authors also concluded that a higher level of interest and curiosity in a topic or question leads to better memory and enhanced learning. Including exercises that stimulate curiosity, and providing reward mechanisms as part of the study process, also increases a person's ability to absorb and retain information, as the researchers found. 7spell has a text import feature that allows each user to include and incorporate practice material that matches their interests, while learning the spelling of words in those texts. The system also uses several different reward systems to encourage users to continue working towards their defined goals.

Garcia, S.M., Tor, A., and Schiff, T.M. "The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective." Perspectives on Psychological Science, November 2013, 8(6):634-650. Print and web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1745691613504114

Each person is influenced by a unique set of factors related to their own status and progress towards goals, but is also affected to a greater or lesser degree by the achievements and perceived standards of the people around them. This analysis of past and current studies looks at the way people view and are motivated by individual goals as well as societal achievement (competition). The authors conclude that effective use of motivational strategies must take both into account. This is something that 7spell accomplishes by providing each user with the ability to set personal goals, earn reward points, and view their own progress tracking reports, and also to publish all of those results on public social media platforms.

Kivetz, R., Urminsky, O., and Zheng, Y. "The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention." Journal of Marketing Research, February 2006, 43(1):39-58. Web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.43.1.39

In a study focusing on the influence of reward-scheme programs on behavior, the authors found that when people see visible progress towards their goals they are more likely to increase the activity required to reach those goals. The study also confirms that most people are also motivated by receiving rewards for completing specific activities, even if those rewards are not immediately transferable to actual material or monetary benefits. Status points, rewards, and real-time progress tracking are all methods used in 7spell to encourage frequent spelling practice by awarding points for the completion of exercises and activities. Because the user can access their progress charts at any time, they will always be able to see how close they are to achieving their personal spelling goals.

Buton, M., Winterbauer, N., and Todd, T. "Relapse processes after the extinction of instrumental learning: Renewal, resurgence, and reacquisition." Behavioural Processes, May 2012, 90(1): 130–141. Print and web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2012.03.004

Instrumental learning, also called "operant conditioning," is a method by which behaviors are learned in connection with a stimulus, a reward, or both. In this research done at the University of Vermont, the authors studied the ways in which the information connected to a specific behavior is retained when the stimulus is removed, and how subsequent repetition or reward reinforces information recall and a resumption of previously learned behaviors. They conclude that there are two primary methods of reinforcing active memory and behavior: by creating a different way to test the subject's memory, and by providing the opportunity for intensive focused repetition of that stimulus-behavior response. These two methods are widely used in the 7spell activities and games to create the link between instruction and memory that is so crucial in effective spelling learning on the student's part.

Xue, G., Mei, L., Chen, C., Lu, Z-L., Poldrack, R., Dong, Q. "Spaced Learning Enhances Subsequent Recognition Memory by Reducing Neural Repetition Suppression." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011;23(7):1624-1633. Print and web. http://doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21532

In this study comparing long-term and short-term memory, the study authors tested the neural activity of participants as they memorized a set of images. Half of the study participants used massed learning techniques, in which each new image was presented multiple times in a row; the other half were given the images in a spaced repetition mode, where the images were shown in alternating order. Although each participant saw each image the same number of times, the people in the spaced-repetition exercise were able to accurately remember more images, and for a longer period of time. Repetition is a key technique in learning spelling, and 7spell incorporates spaced repetition in two ways. First, the system uses randomized selection of spelling words from the user's current list to populate the activities and exercises, ensuring an interval between word reviews. Second, the system's Word Discover feature provides pop-up instant review of the words on that list, again in random order. By providing users with multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and review their words, 7spell provides all of the benefits of the spaced repetition methodology in its spelling instruction.

Blocki, J., Cranor, L., Datta, A., and Komanduri, S. "Spaced Repetition and Mnemonics Enable Recall of Multiple Strong Passwords." Cornell University Library, January 3, 2015. PDF. http://arxiv.org/abs/1410.1490v2

Spaced repetition is a memory training tool that relies on frequent and consistent review of information; mnemonics is a memory technique that involves multiple ways of looking at that information, such as the incorporation of images or story lines. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University focused on the combination of spaced repetition and mnemonics in evaluating how best to train people to remember specific pieces of information: computer passwords. They found that by combining the two methodologies, the results in both ease of learning and retention were increased. 7spell uses each method separately and together to help users learn and remember new spelling words by using the same words in multiple exercises, presenting spelling words in a variety of formats, and encouraging users to add information related to each word to make a personal connection that helps them to remember that word and its correct spelling.

Why Are Many English Words Hard to Spell?




One of the reasons that English is full of easily-misspelled words is that it’s the end product of a thousand years of evolution and incorporation. Words have been added and changed, pronunciation has changed but spelling hasn’t, or the other way around. Words that used to be pronounced phonetically (every letter sounded out) aren’t, yet all of the letters are still there in the same order, and that order – the accepted spelling of the word – still needs to be learned.

Even the individual letters can be confusing, because, unlike Japanese (for example) the five vowel sounds a e i o u have many more than five ways they can sound out loud, and even consonants have different variations. Linguistics specialists have words to describe all of the different ways vowel and consonant sounds are pronounced, talking about things like a “voiced interdental fricative” (the ‘th’ sound in the word “then”) or a “voiceless alveopalatal affricate” (the ‘ch’ sound in the word “church”), but you don’t need to know all of the specific terminology used to talk about these different sounds. You just need to know that there are different ways of pronouncing the same letters or letter combinations, and how that affects your grasp of the correct spelling of a word.

Knowing the correct pronunciation of a word, and using it when you say the word out loud – or even to yourself as you’re reading – will definitely help you keep track of the correct spelling. For example, read this sentence out loud: “I find it intresting that the goverment requires strickly hygenic practices to be followed in its labratories.”

Did you notice any misspelled words in that sentence? Or did the fact that your pronunciation probably matched the misspellings let you ignore them? Read the sentence again, and pronounce the words as they are spelled, with the corrected spellings: “I find it interesting that the government requires strictly hygienic practices to be followed in its laboratories.”

Be careful of your pronunciation, and you’ll improve your spelling at the same time.

Sound Spelling Principles




Spoken English has one advantage over written English: you don’t have to worry about how a word is spelled when you’re saying it out loud. However, there are words that sound exactly the same when they’re pronounced, and that can be confusing for the listener if they’re not sure of the context. These words are called homophones (for more information on homophones, check out this post at The Vocabulary Builder’s Blog). What’s worse, when you’re not careful about learning the correct spelling for each word, you’ll confuse your readers as well when you use the words in written communication. Because words that sound similar are often confused, once you get rid of that confusion you’ll be able to both use and spell the words correctly. Here are four sets of words that are frequently misspelled in written documents:

peak and pique
Pronunciation guide: PEEK
A peak is the top of a mountain, or the top of anything that achieves metaphorical height, such as fame or talent. You might hear an athlete described as being “in peak condition” when she is at her most fit. If that athlete loses a race she expected to win, she might feel some pique at her defeat. Pique refers to a feeling of irritation or resentment. Don’t confuse this with the word piqué, which is pronounced PEE-KAY and is the name of a type of fabric similar to corduroy. And as you’ve probably noticed, the pronunciation of these words gives you another homophone, peek (“to peer, glance at”).

rapt and wrapped
Pronunciation guide: RAPT
In this case, one homophone is spelled exactly as it sounds. Rapt means mesmerized or enthralled – in a way, you’re wrapped up in something that’s occupying all of your attention.

bridal and bridle
Pronunciation guide: BRI-dull
Believe it or not, we’ve actually seen a shop display stand advertising the newest copy of a “bridle magazine” featuring the latest fashions – but in long white dresses, not saddles and harnesses! While some people might still call marriage “getting hitched,” it’s best if you don’t confuse these words for “relating to a bride” (bridal) and “a harness for a horse’s head” (bridle).

wretch and retch
Pronunciation guide: RETCH
Silent consonants cause a lot of trouble for people who are learning English as a second language, especially if their first language requires all letters to be pronounced. Technically, as linguists would tell you, there should be a slight difference in pronunciation between wretch-with-a-w and retch-without-a-w because your lips should close slightly to form the “w” sound – but in practice, no one really does that. However, you should make a big difference in how you use and spell these two words! A wretch is someone who is unhappy and oppressed. Retch is what you might do if you eat something that makes you sick.

Cross-posted at The Vocabulary Builder’s Blog.

Why is Spelling Important?




The 21st century is full of technology that is designed to help you communicate. However, some of this technology may in fact contribute to poor communication skills. Think of Twitter – while it’s a great way to provide short updates and notices, the 140-character limit means that people frequently abbreviate their words. Because our brains are designed to recognize and comprehend patterns, we r abl 2 undrstnd msgs&wrds w/o all the ltrs in them, lk this 4 exmpl. Using this style to prepare an essay for a class, or a report for your boss, may communicate essential information, but you certainly won’t get any points for style. Of course, you wouldn’t think about writing reports in the same format as your tweets and text messages, but remember that repetition contributes to learning and memory, and if you get in the habit of abbreviating words, you might forget how they’re really spelled.

This issue is particularly important for children these days, who are growing up surrounded by this new form of written communication. We know of more than one teacher who has had to mark points off of a test where some or all of the answers were written in “text-speak.” Whether that was because the students weren’t being careful, or because they truly didn’t know the correct spelling of words, depends on the student and the situation. There’s no doubt, though, that teaching children how to correctly spell words, and how to train themselves to continue to improve their spelling, is a critical part of their education from the earliest grades on.

Spelling affects your reputation – people judge you by your spelling; your misspelled words will give others reason to doubt that you know what you’re talking about. Spelling affects your communication – misspelling a word may change the meaning of the entire sentence, depending on which word you’ve misspelled. Spell-check doesn’t work all the time, because some misspellings are words themselves, but your readers will notice. If you’re in school, spelling mistakes will lower your grade. If you’re in a business, spelling mistakes may lower your revenue. In either case, spelling mistakes will lower other people’s opinions of your intelligence and abilities.

We’ve created the 7spell software system to help prevent problems like these before they start, and we’ll continue to put spelling tips and tricks on this blog. If there are any topics you’d like us to cover, leave your suggestions and questions in the comments.

Free Spelling Tips Coming Soon




To reach your full potential, it’s incredibly important that you master spelling. For this reason we have decided to start publishing free spelling improvement tips on this blog. That way, even if you decide not to invest in the popular 7spell Software, you’ll still be able to get a lot of benefit from this blog.

Stay tuned – the free spelling tips will be coming soon!