Question inspired by Malcolm X who allegedly copied every single word from a dictionary by hand and greatly improved his language skills. Is there any merit in doing it, or is it just a romanticized anecdote?

closed as off topic by simchona, user2683, Matt E. Эллен, RegDwigнt May 18 '12 at 8:38

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    This is not a question about English, but human cognition. You might have better luck over at Psychology & Neuroscience. – Matt E. Эллен May 18 '12 at 8:11
  • Have fun by doing it, but I think it isn't worth the effort. What exactly should be the result? Knowing more words? There'll be some new words that you will remember afterwards, but why then don't concentrate on chosen words. And I don't see any other reason why one should work through this big stuff. – Em1 May 18 '12 at 8:12
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    This is a popular strategy for learning Chinese characters, but in English it wouldn't help much. Better, if you want to copy something out to improve your English skills, to copy out Kenyon and Knott, which is much shorter and more useful. For grammar, try copying out McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English. – John Lawler May 18 '12 at 15:28

While it might help your handwriting skills, through so much practice, and you will undoubtedly come across many words that are new to you so you will widen your vocabulary, I can't imagine for one moment it would help your English skills.

If it did, this would be the method taught in schools.

Instead, what is taught is appreciation of literature, review of various forms of media, study of noted authors etc. which gives a view of how others have written novels, documents, articles and other forms of English language use.

  • It could be that the method is boring for children. Therefore children don't pay attention to the process and schools don't use it. The fact that some method isn't used at schools in no way implies that the method doesn't work. – Christian May 18 '12 at 10:55
  • Okay, for argument's sake then, you would expect it to be used at university, where adults want to learn. But it isn't. – Rory Alsop May 18 '12 at 11:56
  • A lot of universities want to teach stuff like 'critical thinking', 'culture' and 'independent learning'. All of those goal wouldn't be archived by telling a student to copy Websters. Courses are often given by professors that are subject experts and usually not very well trained at actual teaching. Few university programs tell their students to do SRS-learning even when it's very efficient. It just doesn't fit into the usual structure of university. – Christian May 18 '12 at 12:53

I know of a person who read the whole of Webster's Third New International Dictionary (a little book of some 2800 pages) who attributed much of her fine vocabulary to having done so. I think she read it not to improve her language skills, but because her skills were so good to start. That case aside, if you begin assiduously copying out a dictionary at a young age, and keep at it until your age has doubled, meanwhile never shirking a whit in other aspects of life such as schooling, certainly your language skills will markedly improve.

  • Tongue firmly in cheek? :-) – Kris May 18 '12 at 11:32

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