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How Do You Spell Listen? A Fun Memory Trick

In the ranking of hard words to spell in English, spelling “listen” is right up there at the top of the list! Hi, I’m Lillie — an experienced ELA teacher for nearly two decades, who also happens to be an artist — and I’m going to teach you a trick to remember the answer to the common question, “How do you spell listen?”

How to NOT Spell Listen

“To listen” is defined as: “to give attention to a sound.” Now, regarding its spelling, let’s start with examining all the ways I’ve seen students (and my own children) spell “listen,” because that will give us context. Misspellings and slang or informal versions include: lissen, lisen, lissin, lisin, listin, and listan.

Of course, in texting or chatting with your friends (not freinds) informally, it’s fine to use any of these. However, you’ve likely come to this article to learn the standard, formal English spelling of “listen.” Given this, we can see that the main stumbling block with the word is the “ten” at the end. So, how can we remember that second half? Cute drawings to the rescue!

How do you spell listen
How do you spell listen?

Spelling Listen

The first half of the word “listen” — “lis” — is definitely easier to remember, because it’s phonetic and logical. Therefore, the key in remembering how to spell the word is to focus on last three letters. So how can you remember the “TEN” letter order at the end? Two ways.

First, as shown in my illustration above, you can remember the phrase “listen TO” in order to cue your memory about the “T.” This is similar to our trick about how to spell column correctly.

The second spelling memory device is a bit more useful because it doesn’t just cue the “T” — it reminds us of the whole “TEN” second half of the word. As you can see in my illustration below, this trick has us visualize a person putting all TEN fingers of their hands around their ears in order to lisTEN more clearly! Hope this helps!

Spelling listen
Spelling listen, illustrated!

Difference Between Hearing and Listening

While this English teacher has your time, let’s discuss the very relevant difference between hearing and listening, in terms of definitions and real-life applications. Here’s the distinction: “Hearing” focuses on the mechanical input of sounds, while “listening” is about giving those auditory sounds your ATTENTION and mental processing.

For example, if your mother yells, “Come here now!” in an angry tone, you might HEAR her words, but not take any action. The sounds just go into your ears, but don’t necessarily produce a mental or physical effect. If you LISTENED, however, you would put your attention and mind into processing the sounds, and realize that she was mad, and that you needed to run to her immediately, since your pet octopus could be on the loose again!

VIDEO: Listen Spelling Tricks

See a time-lapse video of my drawings about listen spelling tricks.

How Do You Spell Listen?

I hope this lesson answering “How do you spell listen?” has proven entertaining as well as useful. What other words should I illustrate next? Do share!

Want more? Check out “Apart vs. A Part” and “Spell Rhythm.”