Many people use the words “practice”, “exercise”, and “train” as if they were the same. For many people that’s OK because the difference is not important in their lives.
However, understanding the difference is very important for people learning a new language.
Learning a new language is a lot like going to the gym.
You “practice” when you are trying to make sure a form, method or technique is understood or correct. Usually it’s done slowly, with focus on what your body or mind is doing, and you usually try to reduce the number of variables involved so you can focus on the most important aspects, or focus on correcting one part of the form.
A third of the reason for doing most math homework is practice (if you’re curious, the other two thirds are assessment and retention.) You use the techniques you have just been taught to solve problems that must specifically be solved by those techniques to make sure you can perform the steps correctly.
Likewise, improving pronunciation often involves very slowly saying one sound or transitioning between two sounds to make sure that your mouth and tongue are doing what they are supposed to do when those sounds are actually in a word.
“Training”, on the other hand, is applying some form of challenge or stress to the mind or body to force improvement.
If you want to lift a very heavy weight in the gym, you start with a lighter weight that is still difficult, and increase the weight over time as your body adjusts to the challenge.
Likewise, if you want to improve the mind’s ability to process English (a critical aspect of all English reading, speaking, listening, and thinking,) you might force yourself to read and retain sentences faster and faster, with perfect accuracy (as I’ve done with BlinkTrainer.)
“Exercise” is different. It is used to maintain an ability or skill that you have previously learned, practiced, or trained.
The body and mind are very efficient. If you need to lift heavy things every day, your body will adjust. If you need to read a lot in a short period of time, your mind will adjust.
If you STOP needing to do those things, there will be adjustment, too. You will lose what you have developed.
This is particularly important to know for people who have studied English. Given how poorly most people study, it’s even important if you are a current student who just happens to miss a class.
If you don’t continue using English, challenging your mind to continue using the things it has learned and adjusted to use, the mind will get rid of those memories and that ability.
So all of these things are important.
Practice to make sure a technique, form, or method is correct.
Train to get better, faster, or stronger.
Exercise to maintain those abilities.
Note that in all three of these cases, assessment is always important, but for different reasons.