By Chassie Lee
It all boils down to strategic learning. You can spend hours on end with word lists and spelling activities only to realize they don’t promote your learning. Don’t sweat it. Here are five easy ways you can improve your spelling and vocabulary the smart way.
1. Study smarter, not harder
The English language is notorious for its odd and eccentric spelling rules. If its spelling were easy, there would be no spelling bee competitions.
When learning spelling and new words it is important to learn them in the right context. For instance, don’t learn a group of words that end in –tion along with other random and unrelated words. Instead, learn all the words ending in –tion that you can think of, to ensure you form associations in your head that let you recall the right spelling, and that you get the meaning right as well.
So for example, a typical practice might involve words such as ‘attention,’ ‘fascination,’ ‘transcription,’ and ‘caution.’
Studying prefixes and suffixes will also help you learn a substantial percentage of English words, since these are used in forming related words that you can study in groups. For instance, when you learn that words with the prefix acro- pertain to the top or the highest edge of something, this means that even if you don’t know their exact meaning, you can still guess the definition and spelling of words such as ‘acronym,’ ‘acrobat,’ and ‘acropolis,’
2. Know your strengths and focus on your weaknesses
Instead of studying and then testing your spelling improvement, it’s wise to test your spelling before you start your practice.
This will allow you to identify words and word patterns that give you a hard time. For many people, one major stumbling block is the suffix. One case in particular that causes problems involves the suffixes –ent and –ant (as in words such as ‘reluctant’ and ‘recurrent’).
Chances are — like the 99% of English speakers, native and non-native — you misspell a certain number of words, and often the same type of words. So why not focus your spelling practice on these commonly misspelled words.
3. Live and breathe spelling and vocabulary
Sure, you’ve got more interesting things to spend your time on, but to really improve your spelling you need to dedicate time and energy to it. Ensure you make a spelling practice plan and stick to it.
A good frequency rate for spelling and vocabulary practice is every other day. This structured approach will give you the confidence and motivation you need to stick to your study program, and will help you improve your spelling skills and vocabulary breadth faster and more substantially.
4. Use vocabulary and spelling software
If you’re learning English as a second language, or enrolled in any English or literature class, learning to spell might take more time than your instructor can afford to spend on the topic, or on helping you individually. But that’s okay. In this day and age you can use the Internet for spelling resources and vocabulary quizzes. If you’re after a more rigorous approach you can use a spelling program and vocabulary software to assist your learning. Programs like Ultimate Spelling and Ultimate Vocabulary use fun activities and plenty of games to help you learn new vocabulary and improve your orthography skills in a structured but very enjoyable way.
5. Read (more)
It’s been repeatedly shown that reading helps improve our literacy, from spelling and vocabulary to grammar and syntax. Reading often, and reading challenging literature, improves our understanding and implementation of language rules.
Reading lets you encounter unfamiliar words over and over again, and this is what facilitates language acquisition. Coming across the word ‘assiduous’ and ‘vitriolic’ more than once means it’s more likely that you will look them up (by the way, they mean ‘diligent’ and ‘venomous,’ respectively). By taking the active step of looking up the words after seeing them, you’ll notice that it’s easier to remember the spelling. This is due to what scientists refer to as mental orthographic images (MOI).
When it comes to spelling, our brain doesn’t recall rules, but rather images of words. These mental photographs are what tell you that you got the word ‘dependible’ wrong; the mental image you’ve formed uses the correct form, which is ‘dependable’. So, this is not your gut but rather your brain trying to direct your attention to a misspelling you just made.
It’s important to stay motivated when trying to improve your vocabulary and spelling. These two aspects of language require effort and energy and without discipline and determination you will find it hard to see substantial improvement. Try practicing with a friend or peer and use the latest web tools and software to make the experience not just tolerable, but more fun and effective. Good luck!
Chassie Lee is the Content Expert for eReflect – creator of Ultimate Vocabulary which is currently being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.