No matter how advanced you become in your English skills, you will still need to practice the basics. For example, a student may have very good written structure, but makes the same spelling errors repeatedly, such as its (the possessive) vs. it’s (the contraction). Or, he may write very expressively, but misuse a vocabulary word, for example, using gregarious (meaning tending to be in groups or flocks) when he really means garrulous (meaning talkative).
What can you do to practice these skills? Stick-to-it-ness for work may need to rank high in your priorities. But fun practice can help, too. Be diligent to work away at vocabulary lessons from school, or as new words come up in your day. In the fun department, you can invent little games that you can play while in the car or preparing a meal to keep your skills sharp. (Note: Please take a look at a companion article of this topic, “How Can You Practice the Basics of English?: Grammar and Public Speaking Skills” either before or after reading this article.)
Spelling. There are several kinds of spelling practice you can work on. The most common is learning the spellings of new or difficult words. This is a good idea, so you can increase your storehouse of words you’ll be able to spell without looking them up. Incorporating phonics and dictionary skills here helps you to learn the words more quickly since it gives you tools to learn the spelling beyond rote memorization. Learning new words should be done on a regular basis.
Another type of spelling practice again involves our friend the dictionary: word families . You can look up a word (familiar or new) and see other words in the entry or in entries nearby to find other words in that word family, along with the part of speech. For example, if you look up honor, you may find on the same page honorable, honorarium, honorary, honoree, and honorific – all related words. Seeing the words grouped together like this gives you a more complete array of words and how they are spelled.
A third type of practice is working on commonly misspelled and misused words – your own and those of the common population. There are lists of these in dictionaries, composition textbooks, and even magazines and Internet sites. Regularly locate and review such lists, making effort to make sure you know why the word is commonly misspelled or misused. While you are writing a composition, you should check whether you have spelled the “little words” correctly. For example, if you have trouble correctly using there, their, and they’re, make sure you check your work every time one of those is used until you nail it. To have fun with this outside of study time, during a normal conversation when you use the word there, ask yourself, “Which there is that? How do you spell it?” For more fun, you can even make a little rhyme using these homonyms. Use your imagination.
Vocabulary. Learning new words on a regular basis should, of course, be included in your English studies. But, this may or may not help you choose the right word in a composition, as in the above example. In that case, you do not even know you have made a mistake, especially since that is a word many people misuse. What then? The best thing to do here is to check your writing with the dictionary when you use a word you assume but aren’t sure you know the definition of. This can be tedious, but will ensure that your vocabulary and word choice skills will improve. It would be an embarrassment, for example, during a job interview to misuse a word because of assumption.
Following the dictionary method above using word families can also be helpful for vocabulary practice. Seeing related words in different parts of speech can give you a better handle on the target vocabulary, and will also help with other word families in the future. Exploring the word origins in the dictionary entry can also be useful to nail vocabulary, since it may shed light on other related words in use today.