The vial errors in modern newspaper writing

This post was inspired by a media friend who spotted an error in a mainstream newspaper – an article  about students buying “viles of drugs from overseas” – confusing the words vial and vile.


I argue that many people who still read newspapersdead-tree papers  or online versions  – know and care about reporters using the correct words.

I understand that smart, young reporters are skilled in so many ways that previous generations of journalists were not.

Yet many young writers do not know the difference between similar words – vial/vile, peer/pier, piece/peace and even weather/whether.

To be fair – I don’t know the age of the person who made the VILE/VIAL error. It could have been an older writer!

I just know that I often need to help younger reporters remember the correct words to use. They were not taught what previous reporters were taught as “the basics”.

I still argue that – for business and credibility reasons – it’s worth educating writers (younger and older) in how to choose the correct words from confusing sound-alike or look-alike words.


A friend of mine developed a visual learning resource to help her daughter who had a learning challenge.

She used the “memorable grossness” of stepping in Elephant poo to convey the meaning of VILE.


So remember – the Elephant poo version is with VILE with the E!

I remember “the other vial”  – by remembering it as a  smAll, nArrow contAiner.


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tony biancotti


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Teaching/Remembering words: Make it visual, make it colourful and make it funny!

Make it visual, make it colourful and make it funny!

That’s the advice from my good friend Melissa – about helping people understand  and remember what  similar (but different) words mean.

WARNING: You may like to save reading this until a time when you are NOT eating! 🙂

Mel + G

Melissa developed her own visual learning system (Looking Learning) to help her daughter Georgie who was born with a language impairment.

Melissa and I often chat about teaching words and language. I’m so interested because my professional communication consultant role includes helping people remember how to choose the right words.


Also, as a dad, I spend a LOT of time helping my kids develop their language.

I often “pick Melissa’s brains” because she  knows a lot about the topic  from a practical hands-on approach and because she cares so deeply about teaching kids.

She knows how hard it can be for the parents – so she’s keen to pass on all the lessons she has learned.

Melissa and her husband Terry have three kids who are now in the late teens and early twenties. My kids are 9 and 6.

Melissa advises (based on her experience):

“Work hard to get the basics right before grade 5 – because the rate of learning really takes off after that!”


Anyway, lucky I have Melissa’s “caring counsel” to help get me through the challenging  school years ahead.

I have so many questions for future catch-ups!

The main thing I got out of this catch-up with Melissa – besides her delicious homemade scones and Chai Tea – was how to help people remember (we were talking about kids – but the principles apply to adults too).

Melissa was particularly proud of her Looking Learning visuals to help understand and remember the difference between similar-sounding words VILE and VIAL


She says she thinks long and hard about how to convey the meaning of words. Kids (and adults) often remember “the extreme” .

Then there’s vial:


I immediately see the benefits in using visuals like this to help teach my son Orlando – who has challenges in focussing and remembering things – unless we take the time and effort.

My wife Monique  and I attended lots of  learning sessions about the different ways different children learn  – and how parents can help their kids by taking more time to make mental connections to help kids remember.

My wife is also passionate about the topic of helping kids learn. Our kids’ education is an important focus of our lives – as is the case with many parents.

And my son learns better  – if I help make the learning FUN.

Luckily FUN is my middle name!

Orlando hasn’t had to learn the word VILE yet – but I just know he will  love the image to describe VILE.

1. I’ll get Orlando to take a mental snapshot of the photo. (Visual connection- plus overall understanding of meaning  first)

2. I’ll ask him to describe what it would feel like and smell like to step in the elephant poo. (Extra strands of connection – using different senses)

3. I’ll get him to say out loud  3 times–

“That’s VILE.    VILE with an E.   E for Elephant”   (the auditory connection + the easy to remember E memory connection”.

Thanks again Melissa – only next time please let me finish my scones before you show me drawings of elephant poo.

That’s too vile!


If you or someone you know has kids who could benefit from help to learn English, please pass on Melissa’s details and Looking Learning website.

Here’s a link to a previous post with most background on Melissa the “mum on a mission”!

Her site can help:

1. People with learning challenges

2. People who just want to fast-track their kids at school

3. People who are learning English as a Second language

Also, you can follow this blog for future tips.




If you enjoyed this post – Let’s connect:

If you found this post interesting you can follow me and connect with me.

I blog about fun pop culture stuff as well as more serious  business communication tips.


tony biancotti


Linked In – under Tony Biancotti

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