Reader Question: When English Isn’t Your First Language

Today I’d like to tackle a reader question from Evgeni Puzankov related to selling writing to English-language publications when English isn’t your first language. Can you do so successfully? “The question that plagues me throughout my adult life is whether one can actually make it in anglophone writing biz, while not being a native. I’m Russian and still live here. My mother sent me to

Slang and Other Nonsense in the English Language

There was a request in the comments of a previous post about understanding and using more idioms in the English language. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to dig into some of the slang and other odious expressions we bandy about – you know, the crap we say – or the words we speak that really don’t make much sense. A quick warning – if

Using Academic Language to Improve English

There is a strong correlation between how well you know your native language and how well you can write in English – at least formally. In essence, being highly educated in one language will make it far easier to become proficient in the English language. The root of this is the academic language that is surprisingly common throughout the world languages. Take the word “academic”:

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here. Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, got some adverbs here. Come on down to Lolly’s, get the adverbs here! I’ll admit I’ve used it in the classroom more than a few times although I don’t know how much good Schoolhouse Rock really does to teach teenagers anything about the parts of speech. Don’t know what I’m talking about when I refer

Pronouns, Antecedents and Other Quirks

Here’s one you don’t think about all the time – do your pronouns match your antecedents? Consider the following sentence I used today in class: The squirrel attacked him, and he was frightened. Yes, yes – the old attacking squirrel trick. Subject aside, the pronouns are words like him and he. The antecedent in this case is the squirrel or an anonymous him. That’s the

Humor for ESL Students

I know that Rebecca is the one who often teaches ESL but then I thought, well, I could unhelpfully contribute! So here I am! I’m going to write about how to do humor if you are not a native speaker of English but still want to be funny. I’ll teach you two different methods. Method number one: try to be funny like an American. This

Want to Improve Your English? Please Skip MTV

It’s a joke on too many shows these days that the alien or the foreigner learns English by watching MTV or the equivalent. It might have been marginally funny the first time, but it’s way past time for that joke to be over, and the underlying message is actually rather dangerous for those who are trying to sound like professionals. It’s hard to learn real

Simple Sentence Basics for ESL Writers

If you’re looking for an easy way to dress up your writing and to improve its readability in English, your sentences likely hold the answer. The fluent reader chunks text as she reads. This means that sentences should flow naturally as she’s reading and be easy to put together into sections or phrases. If the sentences are malformed or worded unnaturally, they become a challenge

Learning the Two Types of English

I’ve been certified as an English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher for at least six years (I’ve lost track of the official date on that certificate), and in that time I’ve worked primarily with those whose first language is Spanish. I’m not bilingual, which is a common misconception about ESL teachers. Instead I use special methods along with the English language to help students