1) Dictionary and Thesaurus
We believe an actual written dictionary and an actual written thesaurus are important tandems to include on every bookshelf or desktop in every learner’s residence–especially when someone is a younger learner. This is also especially important when someone is a native learner as opposed to an ELL learner. While ELL learners might benefit from a high-quality electronic dictionary, native English speakers should definitely learn from an actual book.
The ELL learner will find native-language equivalents and explanations, definitions and sentence examples written in English, and have an audio component whereby the word can be “spoken aloud” to you, the learner.
A cheaper possibility is to use an online dictionary, e.g. the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English. The obvious sources — dictionary.com or Google.com — work well as a quick reference, but only for those who already have a solid grasp of the English language, vocabulary, tenses, parts of speech, etc.
A bilingual dictionary can also be a good reference guide for ELL learners, e.g. Spanish/English dictionary, Japanese/English dictionary, etc. However, a good monolingual dictionary is recommended for learners who already have a high standard of English and want to learn about word use. A good monolingual dictionary is also recommended for native speakers because growing up in the culture, one has many more reference points for understanding the various words, spellings, definitions, etc. In addition, someone might type in a specific word on an online website like dictionary.com or google.com, where the definition is given as well as a thorough analysis of part of speech, different uses of the word, etc. However, one loses the opportunity to learn about the spelling and sometimes even the definitions of other words that would show up on the actual book dictionary’s pages, but that would NOT show up on a dictionary website or a search engine. These opportunities to learn other words add up to a lot of words since most learners who really wish to build their vocabulary (the earlier someone starts in his/her life, obviously, the better) will be grabbing for that dictionary countless times during their quest to learn words, words, words.
Like a written dictionary, an actual written thesaurus is also helpful for younger learners whose first language is English (or who are foreigners with an advanced understanding of the English language). Young learners’ brains are still forming and can build a substantial vocabulary with consistent effort. Hence, an actual thesaurus is a terrific learning tool because there is not only the definition of the word you’re looking for, but there are also multiple synonyms and antonyms that you can see and learn in the process; you also will glance at many other words and their myriad synonyms and antonyms (all spelled correctly!) while looking up the single word you’re looking up. A learner can potentially learn ten or so words simply by looking up one word in a thesaurus, and can potentially learn a few dozen words by simply remembering a few of the words that one glances over as they look up the actual word they’re looking for. Most online thesauruses aren’t laid out like the written ones, whereby you need to flip through pages and work out your brain muscles to find the correct page that your word is on—and consequently see dozens of other words that your brain can absorb and process and later recall and hopefully spell and define correctly. Our recommendation for young learners, native learners, or foreign learners with a good understanding of the English language and grammar rules is the following: Spend 1cent for a Merriam-Webster used dictionary on Amazon.com (plus shipping) and 1cent for a Merriam-Webster used thesaurus on Amazon.com (plus shipping) and carry them around with you…and use them both to your benefit over a lifetime.
Our adage is “40 before 40.” This means that we highly recommend reading and writing collectively for 40 minutes each day before you turn 40 years old. If you are finding our website after the age of 40, well, don’t fret; we’re not saying that it’s pointless after 40 and you should still read and write diligently, especially if you feel like you wish to improve in your reading and/or writing. However, what we are saying is that it’s important to build consistency and discipline with your reading and writing habits as early as possible and for as long as possible. This is the ideal way to grow as a communicator and to build not only your comprehension aptitude, but also to build your story-writing, essay-writing, and article-writing aptitude as well. Additionally, this daily consistency will help tremendously with remembering spelling and word definitions, and will also help with remembering grammar rules and even plot points and character quirks in stories you might read.
We are keenly aware that there are a lot more interesting opportunities to distract or entertain oneself these days than ever before. Still, our adage should resonate in any era: If you really wish to be adept at communicating on the page or be adept at reading and comprehension and grammar and vocabulary, we believe the ideal methodology is practicing each and every day for a small chunk of time. This will start to pay dividends very quickly and will pay dividends for the entirety of your life. So let your creativity run wild and enjoy writing for 10 minutes a day, and let your curiosity run wild and enjoy reading for 30 minutes a day!
We believe that the classics of literature are “classics” for a reason. They have been properly vetted by generations of literate, educated people in all walks of life. As opposed to simply reading what’s assigned in your English courses, we recommend you start reading them as early as possible. Reading the illustrated, abridged classics is a great move for a younger learner and then “graduating” to the actual classic texts once you’ve gotten a bit older. Sure, read other books too, but reading the classics is a shrewd move as an English learner and as a student of life and of great works of art.
We believe that learning strictly for grades/scores is counter-productive and will ultimately not be as satisfying as learning for the experience and the passion of learning something new or something interesting. Hence, we iterate repeatedly that our learners ought to be as practical as possible with their English learning. Use these new words you’ve learned, write emails and letters to your loved ones, write stories or poems or songs for fun, and apply the grammar rules you’re learning to your own writing and to your own classroom assignments/exams as well. Don’t ignore your school grades or your exam scores, but try to look at reading and writing as two educational activities that will help you become a better person, citizen, and problem-solver in your own life — which is very practical as a young child all the way through to an adult professional.
6) It’s all about the reader/audience.
If there’s one thing that I’ve seen over and over again with sub-par writing, it’s the writer’s lack of understanding that it’s simply all about the reader when he/she writes. That is, the writer needs to be cognizant of the reader’s understanding (vs confusion) at all times while writing a piece, whether a formal one like an essay or an informal one like a narrative. When writing, subconsciously one needs to constantly ask himself/herself a central question: What question/s might this sentence or phrasing bring up in a reader? Hence, it’s very important to cater to your reader and think like a reader when writing and hopefully you can traverse some of the difficulties in writing clear and compelling material to your reader-base or even to your teacher.
) Speak well, write better.
We believe it’s a good general rule of thumb to inventory your ability to speak versus your ability to write. Why should you be able to write better than you speak? Well, for one thing, when you’re writing (especially formal writing like essay-writing), you’re not thinking about “colloquialisms” or “cliches” or the such that pervade more informal spoken dialogue between people. Also, a well-written story, poem, article, song, etc has been proofread and rewritten a few times at least, something that is lacking when one is simply speaking to another person or group of people; therefore, one’s writing should probably be even better than one speaks. If this is not the case, then one ought to practice writing more in order to improve beyond one’s speaking skills.
8, 9, and 10) Writing: Grammar, Interesting/Intriguing, Clarity
There are three main traits of quality writing: 1) solid grammar, 2) interesting/intriguing writing, and 3) clarity. Remembering that it’s all about the reader, one must realize that it’s crucial to deploy great grammar when writing anything, whether creative or formal. One must also vary one’s sentence structure and paint vivid “pictures” of the story one is trying to creatively tell or of the argument one is trying to formally make. Equally important is clarity in one’s writing; being clear, concise, and specific are imperative with regards to exemplary writing.
11) Insatiable Curiosity
We believe that it helps to possess a practically unquenchable thirst for learning in order to truly enjoy the English language. Studying the correct spelling of words and parts of speech, seeing how authors put together sentences and paragraphs, and reading about myriad subjects all can be of tremendous aid to a learner who is interested in learning English grammar and composition well.
As with almost anything in life, practicing is of paramount importance with regards to learning how to read and write well. So read lots and write lots. Don’t be shy. Have some fun. (Check out the post titled “Fun Kid Letters” if you want to see some humorous writing. The kids were practicing, and we admire that!) So go ahead: Make mistakes, get back up, dust yourself off, and keep swinging. Don’t worry about anyone else; focusing on YOU and YOUR PACE are all that’s important. So maybe it takes you twice as long as your best friend to learn a concept or to finish a book. So what? Practice, practice, practice…which means subtlely to be patient. We promise you that if you put in the time and joyful commitment to learning English grammar and composition through reading, writing, and looking up words in the dictionary and thesaurus, you will improve dramatically in both your verbal and written communication…AND you will read faster! Please accept our challenge that you’ve got to practice and have faith in the learning process. Rome wasn’t built in a day and English wasn’t learned in an hour.