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esl resourcesWriting in a foreign language (in this case, English) can be quite difficult, and mistakes are easy to make. These range from misspelled and missing words to grammatical errors and incorrect sentences. Sometimes you can make a mistake and not even know about it!

This post offers ESL tools and practices based on real life experience that will help significantly improve your written English.

On-the-fly misspelling correction

TinySpell Check Your Spellings On The Fly With TinySpell (Windows) Check Your Spellings On The Fly With TinySpell (Windows) Read More is a little software that detects spelling errors as you type (compared to spellcheckers that requires you to manually check the text). It is a great addition to the built-in spellchecker in your text editor, since it allows you to correct misspelled words without taking your hands off the keyboard.

Another advantage is that it reduces the need to search for the right spelling of words that the built-in spellchecker couldn’t correct.

Are you using the right word?

But a spellchecker won’t tell you if you chose the right word and surely won’t help if you’re having a problem finding the right one to use.

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For these cases you should download and install the WordWeb dictionary as an ESL tool. Use it to find synonyms or make sure the meaning of the word which you chose. For example, if you’re in doubt whether to use ‘then’ or ‘than’, you can check their definition within a single click, without even leaving the application you’re in.

esl tools

You can also use the online English-English dictionary YourDictionary as an ESL tool to learn the right way to use a word. Just search for that word and then click the ‘Sentence examples‘ tab. There you will find examples of use in sentences (see image below).

If you know the word in your native language but not in English, use an online dictionary such as WordReference to translate it. If your language does not show up in WordReference, use Google to find one in which it does and save it to your bookmarks for future use.

Find the right word in a given context & make sure the sentence is correct.

When you’re not sure if a sentence is correct, or can’t remember how a phrase goes, use Google as an ESL tool. Often it’s enough just to copy and paste the sentence or a part of into Google to get the rest of it or to see how others have written it differently.

For example, if you search for ‘it is not over until‘, the first results will tell you that the rest of the sentence is ‘until the fat lady sings” (see image below).

esl tools

When the sentence you’re writing isn’t that trivial, you have to be more specific for Google to help. Copy the sentence and paste it into Google enclosed in double quotation marks. The search will return only the exact sentence. If it shows up in high frequency, it is likely to assume that it is correct.

If you’re not sure about certain words within the sentence, replace them with an asterisk (*). That tells Google that ‘something should be here, but I don’t know what’. The search results will contain variations of the sentence, from which you could learn the right way to write it.

For example, searching for this query: “paste it * google” (including the quotation marks) would have taught you to write “paste it into google” rather then “paste it to google”.

esl resources

Problematic sentences & paragraphs

You’re over with the spelling and missing words. But did you compose the sentences correctly? Did you choose the right words? The people over at UsingEnglish, the English language discussion forums, will be glad to help you.

Just write the sentence or paragraph you’re not sure about, and you’ll get an answer within a few minutes or hours. Another possibility is to ask Aardvark for an opinion about the sentence – it has been working great for me.

Full text grammar check

Spellchecker is an online spelling, grammar, and thesaurus checker. Having accomplished the previous steps, you will probably not need to use the spelling feature spellchker offers.

The grammar checking, on the other hand, is very useful and worth going through. It detects mistakes such as sentences that do not begin with a capital letter; correct grammar mistakes such as “to” vs. “too”, and warn you from being too wordy.

Find the unfindable mistakes

The final step is to use Google translate. The secret here is to use it in reverse. That is, take the finished text in English and translate it into your native language. This step takes a lot of time, and surely there is no need to apply it always, but I find it crucial for important texts, such as blog posts I publish.

Reading the text in your native language enables you to detect mistakes you wouldn’t otherwise detect. For example, no spelling or grammar checker would correct the sentence “it seams like a bed idea to fill out this from” (where “seams”, “bed”, and “from” should have been “seem”, bad” and “form”, respectively). You wouldn’t even know the mistakes are there to ask for help, but in the translated version this sentence would just not make any sense.

What are your tools and practices for better English? Tell us in the comments.

Image Credits : Håkan Dahlström

  1. CrossLingo
    September 6, 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Fantastic post!
    I really liked the part about the asterisks. I have used google as a spell checker for German words, like the forever joining nouns, but the * was new to me. Thank you.

    I've just commented and linked to your site over at http://crosslingo.devhub.com/
    Nic

  2. Taku
    September 1, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Great post.
    Thanks for the advices.

  3. Valery
    August 31, 2009 at 10:54 am

    In section "Find the unfindable mistakes" you may want to mention round-trip-translation.com/
    It does the job even further. Namely it also translates back the translation. Having such a round-trip translation you could estimate how easy is your text for the comprehension.

    P.S. actually, the site was meant to help people write the unambiguous messages in the languages they can't even read in :)

  4. ChaimBitton
    August 31, 2009 at 2:49 am

    Speaking of grammar check, there is a good program Grammar Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Net) it adds spell & grammar check to all programs.Speaking of grammar check, there is a good program Grammar Check Anywhere (SpellCheckAnywhere.Net) it adds spell & grammar check to all programs.

  5. axl456
    August 31, 2009 at 1:53 am

    great post..

    it helps me a lot!!

  6. Joao Brito
    August 30, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Great advice. Thanks a lot. I already use Google the way you mentioned, but the tip for using asterisks, for instance, to find out the right preposition, is invaluable.

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