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Mastering English as a Foreign Language...


I'm almost fluent in English.

I've read a fair amount of technical and non technical books.

But I sill do make spelling and grammatical mistakes, some are really obvious.

I would like also to improve my writting style.

Is there any books which might help ?

Not Shakspeer :-)
Sunday, December 14, 2003

http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/8121900093/qid=1071428093/sr=1-6/ref=sr_1_3_6/202-8578398-8584611

used this in school, i think 4th thru 7th grade.

Prakash S
Sunday, December 14, 2003

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/020530902X/ref=pd_bxgy_img_2_cp/104-7833671-1765562?v=glance&s=ebooks

This is probably the shortest most useful book on English you'll ever read. (I'm non-native speaker, too). Welcome to the club!

Floridian
Sunday, December 14, 2003

You can find the Elements of style online: http://www.bartleby.com/141/

Prakash S
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Cool! Although it's worth having a classic in a book format for just a few bucks.

Floridian
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Good luck in your efforts to improve your English skills, it's probably the best thing you can do to help your career.

Warren Henning
Sunday, December 14, 2003

The following annoy me no end. Get these right and you're OK in my book :-)

  * its/it's (belongs to it/it is)
  * practice/practise  (noun/verb)
  * loose/lose (adjective/verb)
  * your/you're/their/they're

In fact, knowing basic grammatical stuff like what is a noun/subject/object/verb/adjective/adverb -  really helps getting it right.

Ponty Mython
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Ponty Mython makes some good points. However, the practice/practise distinction is not made in American English, which always uses the "c" spelling. There are, of course, many words in which American and British spelling diverge.

John C.
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Amplifying on Ponty's list, here's my "list of shame":

- it's/its
- they're/their
- to/too  (seems to show up most often with 'to' where there should be 'too,' like 'this is to much')
- you're/your 

Know those four and you are doing better than most english speakers.

Also, as implied above, beware that UK English and USA English have some minor differences, most notably
color (US) vs. colour (UK) (and others like that)
optimize (US) vs. optimise (UK) (etc.)

Finally, the best thing you can do to "season" your english is to communicate. Use it. Participate on boards like this, write emails to people, get out with native english speakers and talk. The more practice/exposure you can get, the softer your accent will be and the more native you'll sound.

Best of luck!

Philo

Philo
Sunday, December 14, 2003

That its/it's thing is so ridiculous and illogical. Possesives are always apostrophized except when there is a name space conflict? What sort of a rule is that. Use "it's" for both forms. The context tells which it is just as context tells if practice is a verb or a noun.

Likewise, none of this he/she stuff - use the indeterminat gender singular form of 'they', like Shakespeare did and like it appears in the King James Version of the Bible. Grammar tyrants begone!

Dennis Atkins
Sunday, December 14, 2003

"...the practice/practise distinction is not made in American English"

Now I didn't know that. I guess that explains a number of things. It really got on my nerves the Licence Manager being called the "License Manager" in NT/Win2K/XP -- I thought it was simply someone down the line spelt it wrong and for legacy reasons that they hadn't "corrected" the spelling.

Or is it that Webster's dictionary lets people get lazy and just reports the common usage rather than defines it. My trans-Atlantic friends wouldn't get advice/advise mixed up would you?

Ponty Mython
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Ponty: Consider that while "advice" (n.) and "advise" (v.) are pronounced differently in Am.E. (the latter more like "advize"), "practice" and "license" have the same pronunciation whether used as a noun or verb.

One of my favorite differences between Am.E. and Br.E. is the use of singular vs. plural when talking about collective entities such as corporations. In standard American usage, "IBM is introducing a new product" would be appropriate. I believe that typical British usage would be "IBM are introducing a new product".

Dennis: the reason that its (possessive) lacks an apostrophe is not namespace conflict; it's that *all* possessive pronouns lack apostrophes in English: his not hi's, hers not her's, theirs not their's, etc.

Of course, lots of these rules are relatively arbitrary. English used to capitalize all nouns, not just proper nouns, in the style of German; that, of course, is no longer the case. German, by contrast, doesn't use apostrophes to indicate possession, though like English it does for contraction; e.g. "Wie geht's?" (Wie geht es?), but "Ninas schwester".

John C.
Sunday, December 14, 2003

It may help if you consider pronouns to be English's one remnant of strong typing.

The table is as follows, I think. Since I am a native speaker I may have it slightly orf.

The order is nominative, accusative, genetive, then reflexive.  The dative form is "to" followed by the accusative.

1st pers s: I me my myself
2nd pers s: you you yours yourself
3rd pers s masc: he him his himself
3rd pers s fem: she her hers herself
3rd pers s neut: it it its itself
1st pers pl: we us our ourselves
2nd pers pl: you you yours yourselves
3rd pers pl: they them theirs themselves

Some English dialects retain 2nd person s: thee, thou, thy, thyself. I believe this went out of fashion when England became a republic. Despite the restoration of the monarchy, it never came back.

Insert half smiley here.
Sunday, December 14, 2003

Elements of Style is a great book, but I wouldn't advise it yet. It's better suited for someone who is reasonably competent with the language and wants to become better.

If you're still trying to learn all the language syntax, I would go with a basic grammar book. My favorite is The Little Brown Handbook ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0321103505/qid=1071469039/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-4083114-1802454?v=glance&s=books ).

Don't be deterred by the high cost on the Amazon link above. Buy an older or used edition. Slang may have changed in the past few decades, but English grammar hasn't.

Nick
Monday, December 15, 2003

It looks like the previous edition ( http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0321125541 ) came with a CD.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, December 15, 2003

Dear Dennis,
                    The reason you have an apostrophe s "'s" for possessives is that the function of the apostrophe is to replace a missing letter. The genitive in English was originally 'es' , and the e was pronounced in Middle English. The 'e' then became silent and the letter was replaced by the apostrophe in the written form.

                    "It's" is short for "it is" or "it has". "Its" is short for nothing. There is no apostrophe in "my" or "your" or "his" or "her" so your suggestion that there should be for "its" is inconsistent as well as going against the norm.

Incidentally, I don't know where the original poster lives, or what salary he gets, but he ought to consider either going to a course at the British Council, or hiring a private native English speaking teacher for an hour or two a week. He should make sure his private teacher is a fully qualified one though, or he'll end up writing as badly as many on this board :)

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 15, 2003

OK you guyses convinced me about its. And that's been one of my prized high horses for some time so I don't let it go easily.

Dennis Atkins
Monday, December 15, 2003

more pet peeve

farther =/= further
methods =/= methodologies

Tapiwa
Monday, December 15, 2003

The use of the word Methodologies gets my goat. I don't know who first used it to mean Method, but its horrible. Methdologies means the study of methods, the use of it in any other way is bad English.

whattimeisiteccles
Monday, December 15, 2003

less/fewer annoys me for some reason.  "There are less apples in this basket than in that one" is just wrong.

2 cents
Monday, December 15, 2003

Dear 2 cents,
                    Your 2 cents worth is worth less/fewer cents than you think.

                      You've got to think of somenting akin to notional agreement. When we say "fewer apples" it means that we can actually count the number of apples in each basket. So if there are say four apples in one basket, and three apples in another, then it would be correct. However normally we are judging the number of apples in a basket by less precise means and we often use less rather than fewer because we are thinking of the quantity of apples as being nearer and amorphous mass than an exact number of discrete units.

                        In general less is becoming standard, and fewer is only used for special cases; whether it's always been like that, or is a change in usage, I don't have enough evidence to say.

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 15, 2003

2 cents, I'm with you on less/fewer.

Tapiwa, farther/further is controversial. Fowler (3rd ed.): "Distribution of farther and further...Scholarly opinions. The matter is not simple and opinions vary somewhat....The most recent standard grammar... expressed the view that the ar-forms [i.e.., farther, farthest] are chiefly restricted to expressions of physical distance....in so far as the a-forms of the adv. or the adj. are used at all, they are now more likely to occur in AmE than in BrE." Clarifications and examples extend for a full page. The American Heritage Dictionary (3rd ed.) reports, "Farther and further have been used interchangeably by many writes since the Middle English period. According to a rule of relatively recent origin, however, farther should be reserved for physical distance and further for advancement of a nonphsyical dimension....In many cases, however, the distinction is not easy to draw."

John C.
Monday, December 15, 2003

Stephen's point about less/fewer with countable vs. mass quantities is an interesting one. Since I already had Fowler open from my previous post, I will note that it regards the usage of less with an unprotected plural noun (i.e., countable, not mass) "regrettable, but prevalent among some standard as well as many non-standard speakers....The incorrect use is very widespread and seems like to be ineradicable." But it later reports that usage of the type Stephen describes (when the count is so large it begins to seem like an amorphous quantity) is commonly considered acceptable.

I think the canonically annoying version of this misuse in the U.S. occurs in supermarket checkout aisles labeled "15 items or less". If you can count the 15, it presumably should be "or fewer".

Anyway, all fun stuff, since language is really about conventions rather than hard-and-fast rules.

John C.
Monday, December 15, 2003

"Methodologies" is actually appropriate most of the time.

In fact, definition #1 at dictionary.com:
A body of practices, procedures, and rules used by those who work in a discipline or engage in an inquiry; a set of working methods: the methodology of genetic studies; a poll marred by faulty methodology.

"Development methodology" isn't a single practice - it's a collection of practices ("Best practices" is generally plural).

Philo

Philo
Monday, December 15, 2003

What distinguishes someone with native English skills is the ability to break the rules appropriately.

The less/fewer example is perfect. By rule, it should be 15 or fewer. Given how this has been abused over the years it now sounds strange.

pdq
Monday, December 15, 2003

Yeah and what's up with all those NY'ers and
Long-guy-landers mixing up "saw" and "sore"?

as in

I have a sore (pronounced 'saw') on my arm.

-and-

I saw (pronounced ‘sore’) you the other day.

apw
Monday, December 15, 2003

Dear apw,
                We English pronounce them exactly the same.

                I presume you are referring to the silent/non-silent 'r'.

                  The distinction between silent and non-silent 'r' was the basis of one of the most famous pieces of socio-linguistic research carried out by Labov in New York in the 1960's.

                      He put various researchers in Macy's and told them to ask people where something was in the department store, that in fact they knew was located on the third floor. The job of the researcher was to check whether the 'r' was pronounced or not.

                        What they found was that the most important variable regarding the pronouncing of the 'r' was the perceived class of the person asking the question. The higher that perceived class  , the more likely the person asked was to pronounce the 'r'. This was also interesting as until the middle of the twentieth century the pronouncing of the 'r' had been considered to be rather a rural inferior pronounciation trait. However perceptions had clearly changed by the time Labov did his research.

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 15, 2003

I've put phonetic spellings in quotes...

In Boston a "tuner" is the nickname of Bill Parcells and a "tuna"  is part your stereo.

pdq
Monday, December 15, 2003

And again in England we pronounce them both the same. The last syllable of both is the schwa, which is the most common vowel sound in English.

Incidentally, all unstressed vowel sounds, in RP at least, must be either the short i or the schwa. British English has twenty vowel phonemes (including dipthongs) but only two for unstressed vowels. Network English by the way has only fourteen vowel phonemes, and Canadian English, so I'm told, brings that number down to ten.

Stephen Jones
Monday, December 15, 2003

Speaking of pet peeves:

Q: "How are you?" 
A: "I'm good" (should be I'm fine...)

A question and answer sequence that has become so common that I find myself using it inadvertently as well..

Phibian
Monday, December 15, 2003

I think the less / fewer confusion stems from mathematics.  In math people learn to read "14 < 15" as "14 is less than 15". I've never heard anyone state it as "14 is fewer than 15".

So, if I have 14 items in my basket, I think in terms of "less than" 15 items out of habit.  Knowing the difference has helped me on the SAT's and GMAT's, but in everyday usage - forget about it.

Nick
Monday, December 15, 2003

It doesn't just sound wrong to say that 14 is fewer than 15, it is wrong.  14 isn't fewer than 15.  Firstly, numbers are not count nouns.  Secondly, the predicate "less" has a specific meaning when applying to numbers which is distinct from its use for mass nouns.

Of course, 14 items is fewer than 15 items, but here you're not talking about the numbers themselves, you're talking about collections of items.

Jack
Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Philo, farther down on dictionary.com

In recent years, however, methodology has been increasingly used as a pretentious substitute for method in scientific and technical contexts, as in 'The oil company has not yet decided on a methodology for restoring the beaches'. People may have taken to this practice by influence of the adjective methodological to mean “pertaining to methods.” Methodological may have acquired this meaning because people had already been using the more ordinary adjective methodical to mean “orderly, systematic.” But the misuse of methodology obscures an important conceptual distinction between the tools of scientific investigation (properly methods) and the principles that determine how such tools are deployed and interpreted.

Tapiwa
Thursday, December 18, 2003

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