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What ways can I use dictionaries to improve my spelling?

Good spellers have a dictionary by their side, a quiet companion that they check constantly and learn from. You should have one within arm's reach at your desk - even if you have a computer and Internet access. You should have a dictionary by your bedside or wherever you read or write. Whenever you feel unsure of the spelling (or meaning, etc.) of a word, you should look it up. This is a great opportunity for improvement of your spelling. If you are a poor speller and you have problems finding the words you look for in dictionaries, then you have to put in some extra effort to familiarize yourself with all the possible spellings for particular sounds. You can also take this approach: you know alphabetical order, so that is a big tool for finding words. Say you want to learn how to spell "separate." You know it begins with an s and it is followed by a vowel. You start in the dictionary at the letter s and choose the vowel you think is most likely, like e, so you are looking under se. You sound out the word and figure out that the next likely letter is p - so you are now looking under sep. When you get to the first letter you are unsure of - like the fourth letter in "separate" - then you check the different possibilities. You will find separate pretty quickly as you read down the list of words in the dictionary. Having success with either of these methods boosts your self-esteem in the area of spelling and is positive reinforcement. Another way you can use a dictionary to improve your spelling is by paying attention to the way the entries are separated into syllables. You can file words into your memory in easily retrievable pieces so that the next time you go to spell it, you can pull out the pieces and build the word, e.g., to-mor-row. The syllable division can also help you recognize common prefixes, roots, and suffixes which will be useful in spelling related words. Reading the definitions is another tool for spelling improvement. The stronger the associations you make with a particular word, the more likely you are to remember its spelling. Knowing the word's meaning will allow you to put it in your everyday vocabulary. The origin or etymology of the word is another aid to better spelling. Each word often shares its root or roots with other words and these associations may help you spell it and its relatives correctly. Proper pronunciation is also an important part of correct spelling. You can make a list of problem words and look up each one in a dictionary, and then say each aloud while looking at the correct spelling. In doing this, you can make a conscious connection between the sounds you are making and the correctly spelled word on the page.

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