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How to Improve Your Spelling Skills

How to Improve Your Spelling Skills

Fair or not, your spelling skills are used throughout your life to evaluate you as a person. Several months ago, the results of a study of Fortune 500 human resource employees were published, saying that of the people they had interviewed, some 85% threw away a resume or cover letter that had as little as one or two spelling errors. The logic was, if you didn’t care enough about your application to make sure everything was spelled correctly, then you couldn’t be trusted to care enough about your job – where a tiny spelling error might undo an important business deal or cost the company money.

But what if you’re a reasonably intelligent person with a fairly good sense of written style who, for one reason or another, just doesn’t spell very well? How do you improve your spelling, short of going back to elementary school and sitting through four or five grades of English class again? There are books and lists of commonly misspelled words available, but they’re too overwhelming to be very useful. Looking things up in the dictionary isn’t all that helpful if you don’t know already that you don’t know how to spell something — or if you can’t spell it well enough to find it!

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Those of us who spell well have a hard time explaining it, too – it just seems like a natural gift (and of course people who don’t spell well often blame their lack of that “gift”). We can tell people how to spell particular words, but explaining how to spell better overall is trickier. It doesn’t help that we often look down on people who spell badly, seeing them as people of little education or little intelligence – or both.

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Wanting to help my kids learn to spell better, I went looking for some techniques and practices that teachers use to teach what is, after all, just a skill, like riding a bike or learning long division. Here are some of the things I found out:

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  • There is no substitute for reading a lot. Just as we learn spoken language by hearing lots of people speaking, we learn written language, including spelling, by reading what a lot of people write. Spelling is not about how a word sounds, it’s about how it looks on the page, which means you have to look at a lot of words on the page to learn how they are spelled. End of story, really – the first step to improving your spelling has to be to read a lot (and it should go without saying, read a lot of stuff that’s spelled correctly; txtng ur frnds may b fun bt isn’t going 2 hlp ur spllng).
  • Make a list of your commonly misspelled words. When you catch yourself spelling the same word wrong over and over, write it down somewhere (back of a Moleskine is a good place). When you get a chance, look it up and put the correct spelling next to it. (Make sure you mark which is correct!) Unlike the massive lists of “commonly misspelled words” in the back of dictionaries and the like, this is a custom list that reflects the words and spelling rules you have trouble with – so instead of a huge list of Other People’s Problems you have a custom-made guide to your own.
  • Use mnemonics. There’s an MnM in mnemonic! Mnemonics are memory tricks or devices, like “i before e except after c”. Since spelling rules are often abstract and, in English, even contradictory (what sound does “gh” make?), they are hard to memorize by themselves. Mnemonics “sneak in” through a different part of your mind, by rhyming, presenting an image, or forming a pattern that makes better sense than “that’s just how it’s spelled”.Here are some examples of spelling mnemonics:
    • It’s necessary to have 1 Collar and 2 Socks.
    • A piece of pie
    • You hear with your ear.
    • Pull apart to separate.
    • Definite has 2 i’s in it
    • There is a place just like here.
    • Because: Big Elephants Can Always Understand Small Elephants
    • Cemetery has three e’s – eee! – like a scream.
    • IN NO CENTury is murder an innocent crime.
    • Slaughter is LAUGHTER with an S at the beginning.

    These are all taken from The North Coast Institute Learning Institute and Audiblox; check out these sites for more.

  • Study spelling with Carolyn. The National Spelling Bee offers a 36-week spelling course, a lesson a week, by Carolyn Andrews, an ex-teacher and spelling coach to her championship-winning son. Each week’s lesson focuses on an aspect of spelling; taken a week at a time, it’s a good way to cover the basics. Unfortunately, the site doesn’t offer an RSS feed or email subscription; since the main page offers the most current lesson, you can monitor it for changes using a service like ChangeDetection.
  • Put a mark next to every word you look up in the dictionary. If you look it up more than once, add it to you personal list.
  • Write write write! The only way to really learn a word is to use it, and that counts for spelling as much as for learning its meaning. When you look up how to spell a word, write it down several times in a row, and do it again a day or two later – you’re trying to build up the motor memory of writing it correctly spelled. Write a blog, a journal, emails, a novel, anything that will keep you using words – and pay special attention as you write to the words that come up wrong (spell-check is good for this, at least!). Let others read your writing, and ask them to circle misspelled words (or post it to a blog – blog readers make especially harsh taskmasters where spelling errors are involved!)

Better minds than yours and mine have ranted about English spelling rules (or the lack thereof). There has been a near-constant drive for spelling reform for centuries, with advocates including Samuel Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt, H.G. Wells, George Bernard Shaw, and Andrew Carnegie. These efforts have generally been failures, attempts to impose artificial “corrections” on the organic flow of language and writing.

English, it seems, won’t be rationalized, leaving it to each of us to make peace with its foibles and somehow work out how to get things spelt. Hopefully these tips help you begin the process of patching up your own spelling. If you have any other tips, please let us know in the comments.

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Last Updated on December 3, 2019

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

10 Life Lessons You’d Better Learn Early on in Life

There are so many lessons I wish I had learned while I was young enough to appreciate and apply them. The thing with wisdom, and often with life lessons in general, is that they’re learned in retrospect, long after we needed them. The good news is that other people can benefit from our experiences and the lessons we’ve learned.

Here’re 10 important life lessons you should learn early on:

1. Money Will Never Solve Your Real Problems

Money is a tool; a commodity that buys you necessities and some nice “wants,” but it is not the panacea to your problems.

There are a great many people who are living on very little, yet have wonderfully full and happy lives… and there are sadly a great many people are living on quite a lot, yet have terribly miserable lives.

Money can buy a nice home, a great car, fabulous shoes, even a bit of security and some creature comforts, but it cannot fix a broken relationship, or cure loneliness, and the “happiness” it brings is only fleeting and not the kind that really and truly matters. Happiness is not for sale. If you’re expecting the “stuff” you can buy to “make it better,” you will never be happy.

2. Pace Yourself

Often when we’re young, just beginning our adult journey we feel as though we have to do everything at once. We need to decide everything, plan out our lives, experience everything, get to the top, find true love, figure out our life’s purpose, and do it all at the same time.

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Slow down—don’t rush into things. Let your life unfold. Wait a bit to see where it takes you, and take time to weigh your options. Enjoy every bite of food, take time to look around you, let the other person finish their side of the conversation. Allow yourself time to think, to mull a bit.

Taking action is critical. Working towards your goals and making plans for the future is commendable and often very useful, but rushing full-speed ahead towards anything is a one-way ticket to burnout and a good way to miss your life as it passes you by.

3. You Can’t Please Everyone

“I don’t know the secret to success, but the secret to failure is trying to please everyone” – Bill Cosby.

You don’t need everyone to agree with you or even like you. It’s human nature to want to belong, to be liked, respected and valued, but not at the expense of your integrity and happiness. Other people cannot give you the validation you seek. That has to come from inside.

Speak up, stick to your guns, assert yourself when you need to, demand respect, stay true to your values.

4. Your Health Is Your Most Valuable Asset

Health is an invaluable treasure—always appreciate, nurture, and protect it. Good health is often wasted on the young before they have a chance to appreciate it for what it’s worth.

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We tend to take our good health for granted, because it’s just there. We don’t have to worry about it, so we don’t really pay attention to it… until we have to.

Heart disease, bone density, stroke, many cancers—the list of many largely preventable diseases is long, so take care of your health now, or you’ll regret it later on.

5. You Don’t Always Get What You Want

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

No matter how carefully you plan and how hard you work, sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to… and that’s okay.

We have all of these expectations; predetermined visions of what our “ideal” life will look like, but all too often, that’s not the reality of the life we end up with. Sometimes our dreams fail and sometimes we just change our minds mid-course. Sometimes we have to flop to find the right course and sometimes we just have to try a few things before we find the right direction.

6. It’s Not All About You

You are not the epicenter of the universe. It’s very difficult to view the world from a perspective outside of your own, since we are always so focused on what’s happening in our own lives. What do I have to do today? What will this mean for me, for my career, for my life? What do I want?

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It’s normal to be intensely aware of everything that’s going on in your own life, but you need to pay as much attention to what’s happening around you, and how things affect other people in the world as you do to your own life. It helps to keep things in perspective.

7. There’s No Shame in Not Knowing

No one has it all figured out. Nobody has all the answers. There’s no shame in saying “I don’t know.” Pretending to be perfect doesn’t make you perfect. It just makes you neurotic to keep up the pretense of manufactured perfection.

We have this idea that there is some kind of stigma or shame in admitting our limitations or uncertainly, but we can’t possibly know everything. We all make mistakes and mess up occasionally. We learn as we go, that’s life.

Besides—nobody likes a know-it-all. A little vulnerability makes you human and oh so much more relatable.

8. Love Is More Than a Feeling; It’s a Choice

That burst of initial exhilaration, pulse quickening love and passion does not last long. But that doesn’t mean long-lasting love is not possible.

Love is not just a feeling; it’s a choice that you make every day. We have to choose to let annoyances pass, to forgive, to be kind, to respect, to support, to be faithful.

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Relationships take work. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s incredibly hard. It is up to us to choose how we want to act, think and speak in a relationship.

9. Perspective Is a Beautiful Thing

Typically, when we’re worried or upset, it’s because we’ve lost perspective. Everything that is happening in our lives seems so big, so important, so do or die, but in the grand picture, this single hiccup often means next to nothing.

The fight we’re having, the job we didn’t get, the real or imagined slight, the unexpected need to shift course, the thing we wanted, but didn’t get. Most of it won’t matter 20, 30, 40 years from now. It’s hard to see long term when all you know is short term, but unless it’s life-threatening, let it go, and move on.

10. Don’t Take Anything for Granted

We often don’t appreciate what we have until it’s gone: that includes your health, your family and friends, your job, the money you have or think you will have tomorrow.

When you’re young, it seems that your parents will always be there, but they won’t. You think you have plenty of time to get back in touch with your old friends or spend time with new ones, but you don’t. You have the money to spend, or you think you’ll have it next month, but you might not.

Nothing in your life is not guaranteed to be there tomorrow, including those you love.

This is a hard life lesson to learn, but it may be the most important of all: Life can change in an instant. Make sure you appreciate what you have, while you still have it.

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Featured photo credit: Ben Eaton via unsplash.com

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