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Ways to Motivate Yourself to Write an Assignment

writing-assignments

The best writers seem to effortlessly tap into their creative juices, then spontaneously produce gorgeous sentences—the kinds of sentences with which a teacher could never find fault.

But what if you’re not the best writer? What if you’re positively terrified at the thought of having to express yourself in prose, to the point that some sort of temporary paralysis descends on your hands: so there you sit, fingers poised to tap-tap-tap away at the computer, and your digits won’t budge, instead hovering idly over the keyboard, never striking a single letter?

You’re not alone. Trust me, you’re not alone. And also trust that there are developed strategies for getting over this very common anxiety and for moving toward productivity as a writer. Read on and then practice what I preach.

No One’s Perfect

Repeat this phrase ten times. Make it your motto for academic life. No writer fluidly crafts perfect prose, all at once, all the time. Every writer has to work at it, even though it definitely comes more easily to some than others. The point is that every writer has room for improvement, on every assignment, and that alone should motivate you to start a writing assignment. After all, who doesn’t relish the chance to produce something, refine it, and then perfect it? A writing assignment is just that—the opportunity to achieve something meaningful, and to enjoy the credit for doing so.

Write—Edit—Revise—Re-write

Don’t let these multiple stages discourage you; in fact, embrace the process, from the first brainstorming session to the rough outline, to the draft and finally to revisions and a re-write. The best part of this sequence is that you’re likely to find your voice, all while working on a writing assignment! Imagine, in fact, that the assignment is the vehicle for expressing your convictions, your philosophies—and to conveying thoughts you wouldn’t otherwise have conjured, invented, or verbalized. What’s more motivating than that?

Recognize that the written word is that powerful, and that a writing assignment puts that power in your hands—literally.

Know Why It Matters

Think carefully about why the writing assignment is crucial for you as a student, a thinker, and as a participant in academic life. Consider where in your “big-picture” this essay or research paper might fit, and imagine ways that you could turn it into something bigger: could you later share the essay as a blog post, or could you develop a narrow research project into a broader academic thesis? Of course, not every writing assignment proves relevant to your life, but with planning, speculation, and imagination, it’s possible to relate a writing assignment to future scholarly conversations, or to opening fresh dialogue via social media. Get motivated to write with the goal of articulating something about yourself and your future.

Settle In for Success

Start every writing assignment with the intent to finish it. Nothing motivates more than the realization that you CAN and WILL see this through. Take that single-minded approach to every writing task, and motivation will course through your veins! To secure that ultimate success, find—or create—a quiet, focused environment that supports you doing your best work. Even the most competent writer can falter if distracted. The library may be an option, but if it’s noisy or too social, get off campus and try a more isolated location; move out of your immediate zip code if necessary! Be sure to have on hand everything you need, from source material to your laptop charger to snacks. With all of your needs met, no interruptions and no excuses will result in success.

How to Write a Proper Cover Letter for Your First Job

job-search-cover-letter

Employers often get hundreds of applicants for a single position. Applications and resumes turn into a sea of sameness when there is nothing to distinguish one candidate from another. Because of this, submitting a cover letter essentially increases your chances of landing the job. But how do you write one when you have no job experience at all?

The Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Before we touch on what to put in your cover letter, let’s look at how it is laid out. When writing a cover letter, it’s good practice to follow a basic outline that most employers recognize. This includes:

  • Your name and contact information, including your email address and current phone number in the upper right-hand corner.
  • The name of the business or the human resources contact’s name on the left.
  • Clearly stated purpose of the letter. For example, “Re: Application for Chief Candy Tester.”
  • A salutation to the person reading the letter. For example, “Dear Mr. Wonka,” or some other cordial greeting.
  • An opening paragraph to introduce yourself to the reader of the cover letter.
  • A main paragraph highlighting your skills that are relevant to the job sought.
  • A closing paragraph, asking to be considered for the position and expressing your interest in an interview.

Writing a Cover Letter with No Job Experience

Don’t consider writing a cover letter for a first job to be an obstacle; use it as an exercise in creativity. What you lack in formal experience, you may make up for in real-life background. For instance, if you are applying for a job as a secretary, highlighting your office skills is a good strategy. Do you type at blazing speeds, know how to run MS Excel, and have experience with MS Word? These are all translatable to the position you are seeking.

Volunteer work can also be useful when you have no real work experience to cite. Did you volunteer at the local church to answer phones for the pastor’s office? Did you make flyers for the Beta Club in high school or design pages for the yearbook? Think out of the box, recalling previous experiences where you had an opportunity to shine when performing tasks related to the job. Here’s what you may want to highlight:

  • your strengths and any personal attributes that set you apart as an asset to the company;
  • educational achievements that put you in a good light that are relatable to the position;
  • participation in community or school volunteer organizations;
  • hobbies and personal interests that are related to the job;
  • experiences that highlight your capacity for teamwork.

Traps to Avoid

Now that you know all the “do’s”, it’s time to take a close look at the “dont’s”. Simple writing blunders can quickly ruin the impression from your awesome cover letter. Luckily, they’re easy to avoid.

  • Overly long cover letters. Hiring managers are busy, so keep it short, simple, and to the point.
  • Unnatural language. While the letter should be semi-formal, it shouldn’t use overly formal language. This can come across as disingenuous. For example, instead of saying “advantageous,” sub in “helpful,” or instead of “subsequently,” use “later” or “after.”
  • Underselling yourself. One of the hardest things in life is to boast about yourself, but a cover letter really is a brag letter for all intents and purposes. Don’t be shy; be your own biggest fan.
  • Fluff. Don’t write words just for the sake of filling up the page. For example, don’t use a string of adjectives when one will do. Avoid constructions such as “I’m sincere, honest, and trustworthy;” these words all say the same thing.

With some nonconventional thinking, it’s altogether possible to write a “wow” cover letter, even if you’ve not yet earned a penny in the workforce. Show confidence in your assessment of yourself, and it will spill over into the impression that you make with potential employers.

How to Write Better in College: The Tips You Should Try

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What are your plans for the upcoming semester? Wild parties? Meeting tons of new interesting people? Taking part in numerous fun extra-curriculum activities? Yep, all of this is great. But, apart from that, you’ll need to write. A lot.

College essays, research papers and case studies often constitute a significant part of your overall grade. Thus, you need all of that to be really good. No one is born a genius writer. Acquiring and perfecting this skill takes time and practice. With our tips you can definitely make it happen.

Strive for Clarity

Almost every type of college paper has rigid structure. Following it has nothing but benefits. First, you have clear understanding of the succession of the ideas you’re going to present. Second, your professor won’t have to suffer, wading through the forest of your thoughts. Third, you’ll train your mind to organize your thoughts in an efficient way, which will certainly be helpful in your future workplace. Just think of a persuasive essay, for instance. You’ll always need a thesis, supporting arguments and a killer conclusion. Isn’t it the structure of “give-me-a-raise” speech? See, following the structure is great for you. Not only in terms of college essay writing.

Develop Your Vocabulary

Academic writing assignments challenge you to demonstrate not only clarity and cohesion of thoughts, but also command of English. That’s why the use of proper and sophisticated vocabulary is absolutely essential. There are plenty of ways to enrich yours. You may subscribe to the word-of-the-day email, use thesaurus, and, most importantly, read as widely as possible. Your mind will have to build connections between different concepts and come up with more effective solutions every time you write a paper.

Read Other’s Work

Of course, you don’t have to sneak into your professor’s office to take a peek onto your fellow students’ essays. Just read them whenever you have the opportunity. Try to be as unbiased as possible. However, don’t hesitate to make a little note in your head, whenever you see a mistake or the need of improvement (telling your peer about it won’t hurt also). This approach will help you sharpen your editing skills and facilitate work on your future assignments.

Refer to the Prominent Figures

The topic you’ve been asked to write an essay or a research paper on has probably been already studied. Include the opinions of the most influential people of the field into your work. It surely has to be based on your thesis, the result of your reflections and analysis. However, mentioning the most important players of the field certainly adds credibility and authority to what you have to say.

Make sure to cite each source you use properly. Stick to the guidelines, provided by your professor. Whether it’s APA, MLA or Chicago formatting style – use it. Having followed this rule, you won’t have to worry about being accused of plagiarism or having your paper returned for corrections. It may seem complicated at the beginning. However, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Examine Every Detail

Correct spelling, punctuation and syntax cannot be underestimated. No matter how brilliant your ideas are, they may get lost in typos and grammatical mistakes you’ve made. Thus, stick to the good old revision and editing. Have a friend or a family member read your work. You may miss disappointing errors just because you’ve developed “editor’s fatigue”. That’s why having someone else read it for you certainly won’t hurt.

Writing is a demanding craft. However, every challenge it poses helps you grow and develop not just writing, but also cognitive skills. Use our tips and enjoy the ride!

How to Write a Last Minute Essay

college-writing

If you are among the many students who put off writing an important essay right up until the last minute, you’re not alone. Procrastination is the number one detriment to student success. Luckily, you can write an effective essay in very little time using the tips below.

Unplug

You have little time to get the essay from an idea on a paper to a fully typed document. Thus, not a single minute to spend updating your status or tweeting about how stressful the situation is. Hop off Facebook and turn off your cell. Time to dig in.

Pitch Your Idea to Yourself

Hopefully, you have a topic already. Now sell yourself on the essay and what’s included in it in order to form your introduction. Think of the main idea you want to convey in the essay, and then break that idea down into three to four good sentences that give the reader a prelude to what you’re writing about.

Come Up with a Thesis Statement

Thesis statement is arguably the most important element of your work. All the ideas will revolve around it. It has to answer to major questions. First – “What is this essay about?” and second “so what?”. Your thesis statement has to demonstrate your point and be debatable enough to devote the whole essay to it.

Prepare an Outline

Once you have the idea where your essay is going to go, set all the checkpoints your reader will have to pass. Point out the thesis statement, the most important arguments and a conclusion phrase. This way your mind won’t race and you’ll have a solid foundation of your work.

Look for the Sources Online

There’s no time to run to the library when you’re in a hurry, so online sources are the next best thing. Use your school’s library database if possible to find reputable reference literature such as journals and studies.

Template an Old Essay

If you have an essay that already has the proper line spacing, margins, and formatting, then use that document as a template for quick formatting and works cited page. Just make sure to fill in this form with brand new ideas of yours.

Start and Finish Strong

Pay special attention to the introduction and the conclusion. Even if what you write “in the middle” is less stellar, hooking the reader from the intro and giving them something to ponder in the conclusion is a good way to leave an overall good impression.

Create the Reference Page as You Go

If your essay requires a reference page or bibliography, add your sources as you go. This saves time when it comes to looking up information after you’ve already written the essay.

Use Wikipedia

While good old Wikipedia is not a trusted source itself, the footnotes there often provide great source material on your topic. Although you don’t have the time to double-check every fact you include into your work, just make sure you place the references where you originally intended. The good thing is that they may even turn out to be cited according to the style you need.

Proofread

Turning work in hastily can lead to errors. Give everything a quick once over before you submit your work to catch any typing errors or poor grammar beforehand. What’s even better, you can ask a friend to take a look at it. Your concentration may be totally ruined after that mind-squeezing writing session.

Once your essay is turned in, consider rethinking your work habits. Giving yourself plenty of time to finish your work ensures that you get the maximum credit and best grades possible.

How to Write a Thesis Statement For Your Research Paper

cliche

Writing a good, solid thesis statement is an important skill to learn.

The thesis statement serves many purposes:

  • It’s the springboard for the rest of your paper and the central point of your arguments. A well-formed thesis statement makes this process more fluid. A poor thesis statement makes it all the more difficult.
  • It helps your reader understand what they should get out of the paper.
  • It’s your elevator pitch, a way to persuade the reader to your side.

Here’s how to write a rock-solid thesis statement:

First Step

Write some drafts. Your thesis statement isn’t an immediate process. After doing enough research, you should be able to decide what side or point of view you’re taking on a topic. Write down a list of 5 practice thesis statements that are summaries of your opinion. For example, if your topic is “How does the Syrian refugee crisis affect Europe?” you can write down some thoughts based on your research:

  1. Some citizens in European countries complain of increased violence (Cologne attacks on New Year’s Eve, Paris attacks, other individual cases).
  2. Some citizens are afraid of increased Muslim presence in their cities as they associate Muslims with terrorism.
  3. There are cultural conflicts and conflicts in values.
  4. It puts a strain on economic resources at a time when many countries are experiencing an economic crisis.
  5. There are many movements that encourage and welcome the refugees including some grassroots organizations to help clothe, feed and house them.

As you write these sentences, you may notice specific recurring themes or threads. Gather the best of these themes and write a practice thesis statement:
The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.

Second Step

Test it to see if it holds up:
Once you’ve identified the basic theme you wish to argue, you’re now ready to edit your thesis statement.
A good thesis statement has the following qualities:

  • It’s specific. A thesis statement needs to address a specific topic. A sentence like “Since the beginning of time, refugees have had a hard time integrating with their new nations” is too general and doesn’t tell the reader enough about what you plan to discuss in your paper. If your statement is too general, narrow it down.
  • It’s polemic. A good thesis statement takes a strong stance. Don’t take the middle road and be neutral. Whether or not you have a strong opinion on the topic, you’ll need to pick a side in order to present your research. A statement like the one in step 1 “The Syrian refugee crisis has brought up a lot of fears and conflicts among European citizens.” is a good start but it doesn’t state an opinion. Try this instead:
    “The Syrian refugee crisis has had a negative impact on many European cities.” Someone could argue for or against this statement.
  • It’s supported by solid research. Maybe your personal opinion on this issue is that the Syrian refugee crisis has had a positive impact on Europe. But you haven’t been able to find enough evidence to support this viewpoint. In that case, your best bet is to go with the side where you can present the most convincing evidence, regardless of personal views.
  • It’s engaging. Does it make someone want to read further? Is it stated in such a way that intrigues someone and makes them want to find out more? If so, it’s a successful thesis statement.

An ideal thesis statement is one that interests the readers and takes a strong stand on a controversial question. Take time to rework and edit your thesis statement before delving into the rest of your essay as it will form the way you present your evidence. Good luck and happy writing!

7 Exercises to Improve Your Ability to Write Creatively

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Writers, in general, are a pretty creative bunch. But, since there’s no such thing as being too creative, anyone could benefit from some imagination-boosting exercises.

Whether you’re in a creative slump, and it happens to everyone now and then, or you just want to expand your resources as a writer, there are lots of ways for you to open up your creative channels.

Here are some methods to help inspire you:

1) Make a list of 20 topics

Sometimes your greatest creative block will be coming up with new ideas. So, sit down and make a list of 20 different writing ideas. Of this list of 20, at least one should be workable. Start developing it. A great habit for you to develop would be to keep a list somewhere of story ideas. If you do this, you’ll end up with an incredible cache of topics to use when your inspiration runs dry.

2) Re-write

Take an old story or idea you’ve written and rework it. Make sure it’s not something you’re currently working on. If you’re too close to it, you’ll have trouble seeing it from a new perspective. As you rework it, take a completely different view. If you told a story about a family from the perspective of one of the children, try telling it from the perspective of the mother or from an omniscient perspective. This is an exercise in creating flexibility in your writing. You may go back to the piece from the original perspective, but with new insights about the other characters. Sometimes telling the story you don’t want to tell can help you tell the story you do want to tell.

3) Read

Follow William Faulkner’s advice: “Read, read, read. Read everything- trash, classics, good and bad and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write…” The more you read, the more you’ll be exposed to different writer’s voices and styles. You’ll get a sense for their mastery and their weaknesses. Don’t just read for pleasure. Read to examine different techniques such as transitions, character-building, suspense and dialogue. Then challenge yourself to use those techniques in your own work.

4) Try hand-writing

Martin Amis “I always do my draft in long hand because even the ink is part of the flow.” If you’re used to typing, take yourself out of your comfort zone. Buy a notebook and a pen or pencil and start writing in it. Hand-writing means you have to slow down your thoughts a little, as you can’t write as fast as you type. There’s also no erasing, so if you’re constantly self-editing by erasing your work, hand-writing may be a great way for you to tie up your inner editor and unleash your creative voice.

5) Use your pain

J.P. Donleavy “Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.” Everyone has had to face struggle in life. And struggle often makes for the best literature. Recount a moment or experience that was difficult for you. You could turn it into a poem, a story or an essay.

6) Free-write

Free-writing is all about release. If you need to unleash your creativity, try sitting down for 10-15 minutes and write without pausing, correcting or planning. Just write whatever comes to mind without any interruptions of the conscious mind. After you’re finished, go back and read what you wrote. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick out an interesting concept or theme from your free-write and work it into a piece.

7) Switch genres

Creativity is the result of a flexible mind. If you write only essays or only short stories or only poetry, why not try something different? Choose another genre and see what comes up. It may feel strange and awkward, but by pushing yourself to do something different, you may discover a new source of creative thought. Try it.

Try one or all of these exercises to stimulate your mind’s creativity. It just may help you write better, more imaginative work. Good luck and happy writing!

Writing in English as a Second Language: Tips for Students

writing in English as a second language

As Columbia University Professor William Zissner observed, what’s valued as “good writing” in one language can be vastly different in another language. An ESL student of his from Egypt observed that Arabic writing uses a lot of proverbs, something an English writer can’t do if they want to be taken seriously. Students from Ethiopia were used to writing long, flowing, complex sentences that demonstrated their education and knowledge. The Spanish language with it’s wealth of Latin-based words is a gold mine for poets and writers as it’s naturally expressive. But what’s considered good writing in English is something quite different.

Here are some tips for ESL students who want to write well in English:

Read a lot to improve your writing

Read newspapers, magazines and books. You’ll find answers to subject-verb agreement questions, plurals, adjectives and past tense and past participle conjugation. You’ll learn spelling, vocabulary and idiomatic phrases as well as basic sentence structure. Reading will help reinforce grammar rules you know and teach you ones you didn’t. Also take advantage of blogs for ESL students.

English speakers value clarity

The English language has over a million words. It’s a language that’s full of nuance. For example, look at the subtle difference between the words yell, shout, scream. You wouldn’t necessarily use them in the same context. You could scream from fright, but not yell or shout from it. When there’s a disagreement, depending on the nature of it, you might call it a dispute, argument, debate, quarrel or fight. Exposure to these words via conversations, music, films and books will help you understand which word you can use and when.

Brevity

Modern English is not what linguists would call a “flowery” language. Its most celebrated writers tend to be the ones who write short, punchy sentences. There’s a very popular app for writers called the Hemingway app that evaluates your text for sentences that are too long, too complex or confusing. It has a special function to detect adverbs. Why is there an app called Hemingway instead of Poe or Faulkner? Because Hemingway was the quintessential “lean” writer and that quality of expressing a lot in few words is highly valued in English.

Action verbs

Some languages form sentences that are like mazes. They talk around a subject because being direct is considered rude. In English, being direct is appreciated. Those who can “get to the point” are praised instead of sidelined. The language itself reflects this with its use of action verbs. Don’t put things in the passive tense. Say it straight. For example: “I threw the ball to Jack” is much easier to understand than “The ball was thrown to Jack by me.” Action verbs are an ESL writer’s faithful ally. Fuzzy on what’s an active verb and what’s a passive verb? Check out this site to learn more.

Don’t overuse Latin-based words

If your first language happens to be a Latin-based one, your tendency will be to make good friends with the Latin-based words in English. And there are many. Depending on which reference you use, anywhere from 40-60% of English words are derived from Latin. Relying on your Latin roots will certainly make it easier for you to express yourself, but will also make your English unbearably formal. Students in American high schools who study Latin generally do so in order to score better on the SATs.

However, if you look at the way English is spoken on the streets, on television, in films or the way it’s sung in music or written in magazines or books, you’ll see that English’s Anglo-Saxon roots are put to use far more often than its Latin ones. So don’t rely on your easy Latin affiliates, and make the effort to delve into the world of Anglo-Saxon based English.

Don’t translate from your native language into English

This is hard for anyone trying to speak a second language. But try thinking in English rather than translating your thoughts from your native language into English. The difference is vast. Thinking in English means you’re also becoming familiar with the logic of the English language, its grammar, nuances and idiomatic phrases.

Trying to translate from your native language into English is like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. The grammar will be awkward and hard to understand and you won’t be able to capture the meaning of what you’re saying. That’s because English is another another with different forms of expression. Learning them will help you communicate what you mean.

English spelling can be frustrating

A seemingly unending stream of vowel combinations (beauty) and consonant combinations (thought) and some words that are spelled the same but mean different things (the noun tear vs. the verb tear). Check out this spelling guide to help you gain more confidence in your writing.

Write a lot

Taking the above into consideration, it’s time for you to practice writing in English. To improve your English writing, you should write every day. But it’s not enough for you to write every day. Someone needs to be able to tell you when you’re making a mistake…

Get help of an English native speaker

Today, the Internet is a huge resource for ESL learners. Whatever your native language is, you can bet there’s a native English speaker who wants to learn it. While a lot of these language exchanges focus more on speaking, you can certainly request to use the chat function as a way to practice your writing. Ask them to correct your spelling and grammar and offer you tips and explanations.

It’s not the same as having a teacher who has more grammatical knowledge, but your average layperson should be able to spot basic spelling and grammar mistakes for you. Visit these language exchange sites to partner up with a language learning buddy and improve your English writing.

The best way to learn to write well in English is to read a lot and write a lot. Make sure a native speaker corrects your work and practice as often as you can to get better.

Main Pitfalls of Learning a Second Language Writing System

learn second language writing system

Second language systems like Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Thai, Japanese, Greek and Russian all have different alphabets. Learning the alphabet is the first step in learning to read and write in these languages.

As if learning a new language weren’t difficult enough, the process is made more complicated by having to learn a new writing system on top of it. Here are some of the main challenges of mastering a new alphabet system:

Understanding phonetics

Of course, there will always be a tendency to try to make things sound like the language you’re most familiar with. But in many alphabets, the sounds you’ll be encountering will be totally different from English sounds. Did you know that the “th” sound is unique to the English language and challenging for people learning English to pronounce? Likewise, many sounds in other languages will be difficult for you to grasp at first. Don’t be frustrated if you can’t get a sound right on the first try. Intonation and accent take time to build. Keep at it and you’ll get better.

Understanding the logic

The English alphabet, also known as the Roman alphabet, is about sounds, not about symbols. The letters are building blocks to create a word and usually have no meaning unto themselves. But not all writing systems have the same logic. In fact, for many other language systems, the letters of the alphabet are symbols that stand for something on their own. By looking at the alphabet as a phonetic building block, you miss the logic of the other language which is to use symbols to build meaning.

In Chinese, which is a language based on symbols, you can’t pronounce a word if you don’t understand its meaning. In English, however, you can sound a word out based on the letters without having any clue what the word means. Don’t try to apply the logic of the Roman alphabet to a different writing system. Learn its logic in order to understand the language.

Identifying different fonts

Just like in English, you’ll have to learn to identify writing in different fonts and styles. Handwriting will be different from printed text and there will be variations of printed text as well. Think about cursive writing, capitalization and the thousands of different printed fonts that any English reader can easily identify. However, a young child who has only just learned to write the alphabet wouldn’t be able to identify a letter written in cursive.

Other languages will offer this same challenge. In addition, some languages have different writing systems. Japanese, for example, has three writing systems which are all distinct from each other. The best way to learn these various writing styles and fonts is to expose yourself to all of the different styles of writing that exist in a language so that you’re not confused when faced with a different style.

Learning to write

Reading is one thing. Writing is another. Everyone remembers that phase when they were learning to write the alphabet. How it was a painstaking process that was much more akin to drawing the letters than to writing them. Over time, it became more natural. Now, you’re in a phase where you’re learning not only what the letters of the new alphabet look like, but how to write them. Some languages, like Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left. If you try to write these languages from left to right, it will hardly be legible.

Imagine if someone tried to write a sentence in English by writing all the words backwards. It would look strange and awkward. All languages have a specific way to write their characters and letters. Learn the order of the pen-strokes and the direction correctly so that your handwriting will be readable.

Attitude is everything

The biggest reason people fail to learn is that they give up too easily. It’s not that the language is too hard or too impossible or too different. Anyone is capable of learning anything as long as they dedicate themselves to it. Get through the slow awkward phase, realize that it’s different than when you were learning to read English as a child and focus on small triumphs. Maybe you could recognize a word written in different fonts or you were able to read a whole sentence out loud without pausing. Celebrate these milestones and keep working at it.