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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 January 15, 2021

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

7 Ways To Have More Confident Body Language

The popular idiomatic saying that “actions speak louder than words” has been around for centuries, but even to this day, most people struggle with at least one area of nonverbal communication. Consequently, many of us aspire to have more confident body language but don’t have the knowledge and tools necessary to change what are largely unconscious behaviors.

Given that others’ perceptions of our competence and confidence are predominantly influenced by what we do with our faces and bodies, it’s important to develop greater self-awareness and consciously practice better posture, stance, eye contact, facial expressions, hand movements, and other aspects of body language.

Posture

First things first: how is your posture? Let’s start with a quick self-assessment of your body.

  • Are your shoulders slumped over or rolled back in an upright posture?
  • When you stand up, do you evenly distribute your weight or lean excessively to one side?
  • Does your natural stance place your feet relatively shoulder-width apart or are your feet and legs close together in a closed-off position?
  • When you sit, does your lower back protrude out in a slumped position or maintain a straight, spine-friendly posture in your seat?

All of these are important considerations to make when evaluating and improving your posture and stance, which will lead to more confident body language over time. If you routinely struggle with maintaining good posture, consider buying a posture trainer/corrector, consulting a chiropractor or physical therapist, stretching daily, and strengthening both your core and back muscles.

Facial Expressions

Are you prone to any of the following in personal or professional settings?

  • Bruxism (tight, clenched jaw or grinding teeth)
  • Frowning and/or furrowing brows
  • Avoiding direct eye contact and/or staring at the ground

If you answered “yes” to any of these, then let’s start by examining various ways in which you can project confident body language through your facial expressions.

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1. Understand How Others Perceive Your Facial Expressions

A December 2020 study by UC Berkeley and Google researchers utilized a deep neural network to analyze facial expressions in six million YouTube clips representing people from over 140 countries. The study found that, despite socio-cultural differences, people around the world tended to use about 70% of the same facial expressions in response to different emotional stimuli and situations.[1]

The study’s researchers also published a fascinating interactive map to demonstrate how their machine learning technology assessed various facial expressions and determined subtle differences in emotional responses.

This study highlights the social importance of facial expressions because whether or not we’re consciously aware of them—by gazing into a mirror or your screen on a video conferencing platform—how we present our faces to others can have tremendous impacts on their perceptions of us, our confidence, and our emotional states. This awareness is the essential first step towards

2. Relax Your Face

New research on bruxism and facial tension found the stresses and anxieties of Covid-19 lockdowns led to considerable increases in orofacial pain, jaw-clenching, and teeth grinding, particularly among women.[2]

The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research estimates that more than 10 million Americans alone have temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ syndrome), and facial tension can lead to other complications such as insomnia, wrinkles, dry skin, and dark, puffy bags under your eyes.[3])

To avoid these unpleasant outcomes, start practicing progressive muscle relaxation techniques and taking breaks more frequently throughout the day to moderate facial tension.[4] You should also try out some biofeedback techniques to enhance your awareness of involuntary bodily processes like facial tension and achieve more confident body language as a result.[5]

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3. Improve Your Eye Contact

Did you know there’s an entire subfield of kinesic communication research dedicated to eye movements and behaviors called oculesics?[6] It refers to various communication behaviors including direct eye contact, averting one’s gaze, pupil dilation/constriction, and even frequency of blinking. All of these qualities can shape how other people perceive you, which means that eye contact is yet another area of nonverbal body language that we should be more mindful of in social interactions.

The ideal type (direct/indirect) and duration of eye contact depends on a variety of factors, such as cultural setting, differences in power/authority/age between the parties involved, and communication context. Research has shown that differences in the effects of eye contact are particularly prominent when comparing East Asian and Western European/North American cultures.[7]

To improve your eye contact with others, strive to maintain consistent contact for at least 3 to 4 seconds at a time, consciously consider where you’re looking while listening to someone else, and practice eye contact as much as possible (as strange as this may seem in the beginning, it’s the best way to improve).

3. Smile More

There are many benefits to smiling and laughing, and when it comes to working on more confident body language, this is an area that should be fun, low-stakes, and relatively stress-free.

Smiling is associated with the “happiness chemical” dopamine and the mood-stabilizing hormone, serotonin. Many empirical studies have shown that smiling generally leads to positive outcomes for the person smiling, and further research has shown that smiling can influence listeners’ perceptions of our confidence and trustworthiness as well.

4. Hand Gestures

Similar to facial expressions and posture, what you do with your hands while speaking or listening in a conversation can significantly influence others’ perceptions of you in positive or negative ways.

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It’s undoubtedly challenging to consciously account for all of your nonverbal signals while simultaneously trying to stay engaged with the verbal part of the discussion, but putting in the effort to develop more bodily awareness now will make it much easier to unconsciously project more confident body language later on.

5. Enhance Your Handshake

In the article, “An Anthropology of the Handshake,” University of Copenhagen social anthropology professor Bjarke Oxlund assessed the future of handshaking in wake of the Covid-19 pandemic:[8]

“Handshakes not only vary in function and meaning but do so according to social context, situation and scale. . . a public discussion should ensue on the advantages and disadvantages of holding on to the tradition of shaking hands as the conventional gesture of greeting and leave-taking in a variety of circumstances.”

It’s too early to determine some of the ways in which Covid-19 has permanently changed our social norms and professional etiquette standards, but it’s reasonable to assume that handshaking may retain its importance in American society even after this pandemic. To practice more confident body language in the meantime, the video on the science of the perfect handshake below explains what you need to know.

6. Complement Your Verbals With Hand Gestures

As you know by now, confident communication involves so much more than simply smiling more or sounding like you know what you’re talking about. What you do with your hands can be particularly influential in how others perceive you, whether you’re fidgeting with an object, clenching your fists, hiding your hands in your pockets, or calmly gesturing to emphasize important points you’re discussing.

Social psychology researchers have found that “iconic gestures”—hand movements that appear to be meaningfully related to the speaker’s verbal content—can have profound impacts on listeners’ information retention. In other words, people are more likely to engage with you and remember more of what you said when you speak with complementary hand gestures instead of just your voice.[9]

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Further research on hand gestures has shown that even your choice of the left or right hand for gesturing can influence your ability to clearly convey information to listeners, which supports the notion that more confident body language is readily achievable through greater self-awareness and deliberate nonverbal actions.[10]

Final Takeaways

Developing better posture, enhancing your facial expressiveness, and practicing hand gestures can vastly improve your communication with other people. At first, it will be challenging to consciously practice nonverbal behaviors that many of us are accustomed to performing daily without thinking about them.

If you ever feel discouraged, however, remember that there’s no downside to consistently putting in just a little more time and effort to increase your bodily awareness. With the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well on your way to embracing more confident body language and amplifying others’ perceptions of you in no time.

More Tips on How to Develop a Confident Body Language

Featured photo credit: Maria Lupan via unsplash.com

Reference

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