Improve English Proficiency by Improving Typing Skills

Guest post: by Chassie Lee

City life is fast paced and demanding. More and more people feel like they’re stuck in a rat race, and the marketplace is fiercer than ever. To compete with everyone else in today’s international marketplace you need many skills, freshly-honed talents, and constant improvement of your existing skills – and constant acquisition of new skills, too. This can be so stressful that it ends up incapacitating people who are unable to keep up with the demands of the 21st century.

Thankfully, there are some ways that you can get ahead without stress, such as improving two skills in a single practice session. In this article we’ll talk about how you can improve your typing skills while practicing your English skills — you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Improving your English proficiency and get a side benefit: improved typing skills

Say you want to become a better, faster typist. One way to do this is by copying text found online in a word editor. This way you can improve your typing skills while also solidifying your knowledge of and fluency in the English language.

When you touch type a ready-made text you familiarize yourself with all possible aspects of the English language, including syntax, vocabulary, grammar, and colloquialisms (like “killing two birds with one stone”).

The more you interact with English texts the more intuitive your awareness of language rules becomes. In other words, your knowledge of English is not confined to structured classroom teachings. You’ll learn how to communicate, not just how to get a good grade on an English exam.

For even more substantial results, you can work on your writing skills as well, by creating your own texts rather than copying existing ones. This way your language study is more thorough (and demanding), and the results will be outstanding!

Instead of using pen and paper to write a paragraph or longer piece of text to practice your English, you can do so with a word editor. This way you activate brain modules that allow you to integrate the act of typing along with those involved in gaining mastery of a second language. As a result, you become an efficient speaker of English while you also improve your typing speed and accuracy.

You’re probably already overwhelmed with the many things you need to learn at school, but typing doesn’t have to be one of them. Combining typing and language study is an easy trick you can practice at any time. The results will be amazing; your English fluency will improve and you will find yourself typing with more ease and speed and without those annoying, time-consuming typos!

Here are some quick ideas on how to improve your typing performance through studying English:

  • Type out essays you’ve written previously and which your professor has corrected. By re-typing the edited version you will get to focus on what mistakes you often make, and where you have knowledge gaps in terms of syntax and grammar. By using a corrected text you will become more familiar with the flow of language as used by a native speaker.
  • Type out a news article from an online newspaper or magazine. Choose a newspaper that provides content that’s written for an audience above your current English level. This will ensure you will get to learn new vocabulary, pick up new phrases and colloquialisms, and learn a new fact or two. As a bonus benefit, you get to practice your touch typing skills!
  • Type out a piece of print or online content that truly interests you. The idea is to find something you’re passionate about. This will ensure you are truly focus on the typing process and this means you are also more receptive and open to learning – a win-win situation.
  • Play online English language improvement games. There are hundreds of online educational games you can play. And since these games require a keyboard to play them, at the same you’re learning to touch type efficiently you’ll also be enriching your vocabulary, spelling, and overall English competency skills.

 

Studying doesn’t need to be hard or boring. There are smart hacks you can implement in any study routine to make learning more time-efficient and progress-oriented.

Learn to integrate technology in your learning to make it more efficient. The next time you want to study your vocabulary, do so on your with an online vocabulary game. And the next time you want to hone your typing skills, see if you can combine keyboarding with a spelling exercise online. You get the idea!

 

About the Author: Chassie Lee is the Content Expert for eReflect – creator of Ultimate Vocabulary, Ultimate Typing and Ultimate Typing EDU which is currently being used by tens of thousands of happy customers in over 110 countries.

Grammarly Spell Checker: A Review

Let’s be honest. We’ve all written something in error—either accidentally or negligently. Spell checkers and autocorrecters have become integrated into our digital lives, and not always for the better.

grammarlyRecently, Nik Baron at Grammarly, a spell checker company, reached out to me and gave me a two-week paid subscription to Grammarly to test and review it.

My first order of business was to read other reviews. I wanted to see what others had to say and find some interesting features to look for. Unfortunately, I was not met with positive reviews by grammar sites: “Grammarly doesn’t do all it claims to do” (Grammarist) and “$140 will buy a lot of well-written and edited books. Caveat scriptor.” (The Economist).

Test One: Pre-written Paper
My first test was uploading a pre-written paper. It was one I wrote and submitted to a college class about 10 years ago. This paper was reviewed by me several times prior to submission for mechanics (grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.); but since it was just a reflection piece on a project, it was not necessary to have pristine mechanics like one would have on a term paper. Nevertheless, prior to running it by Grammarly’s checker, I thought it was pretty good.

After running it through the checker, I’m embarrassed to say I turned it in! My paper had a score of 78/100, with 16 “critical issues”. Right off the bat, 9 of them were now (10 years and two degrees later) obvious mistakes. These were mostly comma or hyphenated word errors. Whoops.  But there were still 7 of them that I didn’t really agree on.

Some of these critical issues were instances in which I purposefully broke style convention to make a point or word choice. In the instances of word choice, the checker wanted to exchange “aforementioned items” to “items above” or “items mentioned earlier” or “items as mentioned above”. Personally, I think “aforementioned items” is less wordy. Perhaps it thought I used too many syllables? It also did not like the phrase “their own strange group” and wanted me to delete “own”. Perhaps in the phrase it sounds okay, “their strange group”, but it sounds odd to me in the full sentence, “I thought they were their strange group that did not fit anywhere.”

Despite having a few issues with the uploaded document, I still wanted to like Grammarly. It found many punctuation mistakes that Microsoft Word did not. Unfortunately, when I downloaded my edited version, it opened in Microsoft Word with a bunch of comment bubbles, some indicating what I deleted, others just indicating deletions that I didn’t make. It seems like a waste of time to edit a document and then have to go through again and accept all the comment bubbles.

Test Two: Plagiarism
One of the comments in the reviews I mentioned above was that the plagiarism checker did not catch plagiarized statements. Or, if they did, it was from a published book. So, for my second test, I tested the plagiarism checker by thinking like a tech-savvy student. I copy and pasted the first paragraph from the To Kill a Mockingbird Wikipedia page.

To Kill a Mockingbird is a novel by Harper Lee published in 1960. It was immediately successful, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a classic of modern American literature. The plot and characters are loosely based on the author’s observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an event that occurred near her hometown in 1936, when she was 10 years old.

The software detected that the work was “unoriginal” and gave me a link…to Wikispaces. I guess the Wikipedia page has some un-cited plagiarism. Grammarly also gave me the MLA, APA, and Chicago style citations that I could use instead of rewording the unoriginal work. Neat.

But you know, tech-savvy students aren’t dumb enough to just copy and paste word for word…they use synonyms! Unfortunately, this is still plagiarism. I ran the same sentence with a few word order changes and synonyms that either Microsoft Word recommended or the first synonym that came to mind. I did not change any punctuation or check for grammar. This was the new paragraph:

To Kill a Mockingbird is a book published by Harper Lee in 1960. It was instantaneously popular, winning the Pulitzer Prize, and has become a standard in modern American literature. The story line and characters are roughly based on the author’s own observations of her family and neighbors, as well as on an incident that transpired near her hometown in 1936, when she was ten years old.

Grammarly found the second half of the paragraph to be plagiarized from “The story line…” to “ten years old”. It did not, however, recognize the first half as being plagiarized, even though the YouTube source contained it.

Grammarly’s website claims that its plagiarism checker “finds unoriginal text by checking against a database of over 8 billion webpages.” Huh…only webpages? A few teachers do require book sources now and then.

I grabbed the nearest book, Origin by Jessica Khoury, and randomly opened to a page. I typed a few sentences into the checker from page 83.

I watch his every move with fascination. Questions surge to my lips, batter at my teeth. I want to know everything about him. Where does he sleep? What does he eat? Has he been to a city? Does he have friends? But I feel unusually shy and don’t know what to say.

What do you know…Grammarly didn’t catch it. It just recommends changing “his” to “him”. Umm, no. A possessive pronoun is correct here, not an object pronoun.

Summary
Test one: FAIL. Test two: FAIL. I see no reason to continue testing, based upon my results corroborating The Economist and Grammarist reviews. If you’ve installed the browser add-on or the Microsoft Word plugin for Grammarly and would like to leave a review in the comments, please do so.

Unfortunately, Grammarly’s checker isn’t fool-proof. You still need to know what you’re doing and be ready to defy yet another spelling/grammar checker. It may be helpful for students and teachers, but I do not see the value of paying for Grammarly’s spell checker when Google and Microsoft are free and are already decent spell checkers.

Flocabulary: Educational Hip-Hop

Getting students to writing poetry in class is torturous.  Most students don’t seem like to poetry…except for the fact that frequently it is shorter than prose.

But song lyrics!  Students LOVE music.  I can’t seem to get them to get those ear buds out of their ears.  Poetry and song lyrics are rather similar in terms of objectives teachers seek to have students learn and practice, but the latter is a much more desirable medium.

Flocabuary is a website that “presents academic content in a highly-engaging, contemporary format.”  It has hip hop songs about language arts, vocabulary, social studies, science, and math.  Videos are tailored for students of all grades, from kindergarten through twelfth grade.  All videos come with downloadable PDFs of the song lyrics.  Lyrics also appear on the video website page (no downloading required).

Want to ask students challenging questions without spending hours of your own time watching and re-watching the video to write them?  Flocabulary already has several questions written for class discussion.  Content great for classrooms because it is aligned with the Common Core, especially with English/Language Arts and math.

It is a paid service, for the most part.  There are pricing plans for classrooms, schools, districts, home, after school, and virtual school.  Some content is available for purchase on CDs and DVDs.  However, there are a few videos available for free.  There is also a free trial available for 14 days.

Bonus: the website has a “classroom view” which turns off ads and distracting navigation menus.

I used the Pit and the Pendulum rap as a lead-in for students to write song lyrics about several of the Edgar Allan Poe stories we had been reading.  I was looking for a way for students to utilize several literary terms in a way that was more appealing than poetry.  It was definitely a hit!  Students took to the challenge by making spoofs of popular songs, adding more literary terms and length than I required, and surprising me with their creativity.

Quizlet

Sometimes, the tried and true study methods really are the best ways to learn.  One of the those studying tools is flashcards.  Flashcards have helped me learn vocabulary (in both English and Spanish), practice simple math calculations, and memorize information.  I can use them by myself or with a classmate/friend.  The only problem with flashcards is the lengthy time it takes to make them.

Quizlet solves that problem.  Quizlet is a free website the allows users to create electronic flashcards and share them (if they want) with anyone. This means that a flashcards deck only needs to be created once, by one person.  How does it save time?  A teacher can create flashcards for the entire class provide the link to all the students.  One student can a deck for the entire study group with only the amount of time that it takes to make one deck.  You can even have each group member contribute to creating the flashcards deck (and it’s typed – no handwriting issues!).  A flashcards deck can be downloaded an infinite number of times—for free.  Additionally, if the document is already electronic, the user can copy and paste the information onto their electronic flashcards which can save some time.

However, it’s not just the sharing with group members that is helpful—it’s the ability to “publish” the flashcards deck so anyone can download and use the deck.  For instance, anyone who has studied French, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, or nearly any major language, has heard of the the 501 Verbs book for that language.  Each book contains the conjugations (and meanings) of 501 verbs.  How long do you think it would take you to make a flashcards deck for 501 infinitive verbs and their translated meanings?  Hours.  But with Quizlet, only one person has to invest the time to make the deck.  And let me tell you, it’s already been done.  You can go download a flashcards deck for the Spanish 501 verbs, right now.  In fact, I embedded one in the post.

Creating the electronic flashcards is easy.  In fact, you can even start creating flashcards before you even make an account with Quizlet.  Click the “create” button and you’ll be taken to a screen where you just need to fill in the information.  Name the flashcards set, pick the subject, decide who is allowed to view and/or edit the cards, and then input the data.  You can fill in the cards simply by typing and hitting the tab button (fingers don’t even need to leave the keyboard!) or by copying and pasting information.  Want pictures?  Just click the “add images” selection.  Have all the data in an Excel or other database file?  You can import it.

The Quizlet Dashboard keeps track of all the flashcards decks you’ve ever looked at.  So don’t worry if you saw this really cool deck but you can’t remember the title of it or the username of the person who uploaded it.  Quizlet’s got your back.  You can even link your account with (or create an account using) Facebook.  How can that help you?  Let’s say you’re classmate and you are friends on Facebook and both of you use Quizlet but you have no idea that each other use it.  Quizlet will tell you “hey, your friend just viewed this deck” or “your friend just made this deck”.  You won’t even need to remember to send the link to your classmate…Facebook and Quizlet will do it for you.  Or, you can create a deck and publish an announcement to Facebook and all your friends can click on the link and use the deck.  Again, Facebook and Quizlet, doing the work for you.

But wait!  There’s more!  Quizlet has an iPhone app.  You can download the electronic flashcards to your iPhone and take them wherever you go to study.  You can study on the commuter train or bus, while waiting in line, or waiting at an appointment, etc. Now I know you don’t want to use every minute to study, but the important thing isn’t so much where and when you can study, but that you have options.  You don’t have to invest hours into making the flashcards, worry about losing a card when you’re using them, or sit at the computer to study.  Don’t have an iPhone?  No worries – the mobile website works well on any device.

I’ve embedded a flashcards deck of Spanish 501 infinitive verbs and their English translations.  You can also see it on Quizlet’s website.

Quizlet also goes beyond just flashcards.  They have six different ways you can use the data to study.  So now you really have no excuse…go study!

Wordle

Wordle: Teaching and Technology

Wordles are great for introducing new units, new vocabulary (or the word bank on a quiz), or as a poster in your classroom with words describing your subject.

Essentially, Wordles are composite images that display key terms or words to describe something.  You’ve probably seen them around – on websites or printed graphics.  They look professional and look like you invested some time in making them.  However, they only take seconds to create online because Wordle is a web 2.0 tool.

There are numerous Wordles already made that you can use in the classroom as well.  To check them out, look at the gallery.  To create your own, simply go to Wordle.net and click “create“.  There are two options: paste in a bunch of a text or paste a URL of a blog/website that has an Atom or RSS feed and it will pull words for you.  In seconds it will create a “word cloud” for you.

You can then easily adjust the color scheme, the font, and the direction of the words with just the click of a button.  If you’re not sure what you want, don’t worry, there’s a “randomize” button that will help.  Once you’re finished, you can just print the Wordle or you can save it to the public domain as well.

Feel free to read the Terms of Service, but the essential copyright terms are this: it’s yours.  You own the copyright (unless you save it into the public domain).  You can put it on whatever you want.  You can profit off of it.  And there is no need to credit Wordle.net if you don’t want to.  Of course, the applet that creates the Wordle is copyrighted, so if you’re interested in the those terms, you’ll have to read the Terms of Service.

Freerice.com

WARNING: The use of Freerice.com may make you smarter and help eliminate hunger at the same time.

In case you haven’t heard about Freerice.com (it’s been around since 2007), it is a “non-profit website that is owned by and supports the United Nations World Food Programme.”

The website has two simple goals:
1. “Provide an education to everyone for free”
2. “Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free”

Sound too good to be true?  It’s not.  I know what you’re thinking, someone has to pay something, somewhere, somehow.  Sponsors pay—not you/users.  All you have to do is go to the website and “play a game”.  Every time you answer the question correctly, 10 grains of rice are added to your bowl.  Miniscule amounts, yes, but your 10 plus the 10 of a few thousand users equals a hefty amount of rice.

The default “game” is English vocabulary.  There are 60 levels of English vocabulary and I haven’t made it past 40.  Suffice to say you’ll be adequately challenged.  The game is simple, a word is shown on the screen and four possible “definitions” (more like synonyms) are listed.  You pick the correct one.  If you are right, 10 grains are added to your bowl.  If you are wrong, the correct answer is shown and you are knocked down a level.  It will take a few correct answers in a row to advance back to where you previously were.  Words will repeat.  Some answers are obvious, others are not.

But what if English vocabulary isn’t your thing?  There’s also English grammar, SAT preparation, basic math, chemistry, art, literature, famous quotes, four different categories of geography, human anatomy, and five foreign languages (Spanish, German, French, Italian, and Latin).

You can play the game anonymously or you can create a user account to track your statistics like your highest level for each subject or how many grains of rice you have donated.  You can also log in using your Facebook account.

Freerice.com helps people learn and expand their knowledge.  Then, through the assistance of sponsors, the website helps donate rice to those in need of food through the United Nations World Food Programme.  You may feel like you’re just playing a game—but actually helping the world become a better place.