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How to Win at ESL Hangman

I see you. You’ve been practicing your hand at ESL hangman for the past few hours, and you never seem to win. Whoa there, don’t go tossing that computer off your desk out of frustration! You can win at this game. All it takes is a few tricks of the trade.

Study the Vocabulary
This may seem like a given, but you’re not going to win a hangman game with words you’re unfamiliar with. Start practicing your vocabulary. Write the word and definition multiple times, use flashcards, associate the word with a picture, etc. The more familiar you are with the words and their spelling, the better your chances of succeeding in hangman.

Start With Vowels
One of the tricks of hangman is to start your guesses with vowels. Every word has at least one in it, and there aren’t that many (a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y). This means that choosing out of this small selection of letters to begin with will give you a greater probability of selecting a letter that is in the word than if you were to choose at random. The first guess is the hardest, since you have no other clues besides the amount of letters to help you, and this is the perfect way to make a dent in the game without risking making too many mess-ups.

Remember Spelling Patterns
If you’ve been studying English for awhile, you may begin to notice some spelling patterns. Remembering these patterns will help you in a game like hangman, which makes you rely on pieces of a word to create the whole. Here are some common patterns in English spelling that will help you beat that game:
  • "th" is often used together in the beginning, middle, or end of a word (them, feather, both)

  • "q" is always followed by a "u", essentially without fail. (quote, quail, quality)—I dare you to think of a word where this isn’t the case.

  • "ch" is often a pair, usually in the beginning or end of a word (chat, hatch)

  • "s" is often used for plurals (hats, goats)

  • "ed" is often used in the past tense of verbs (jumped, hugged)

Use these Calculations
This is only for the most intense hangman players out there. Lifehacker has analyzed the English language and found out your best bets for guessing according to the word length.

A great resource for ESL hangman games featuring all kinds of vocabulary categories can be found on Many Things.

Keep practicing and you’ll get the hang of it in no time!

Photo Credit: Steve Depolo
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