1. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    English? Can you speak it?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Rebel Yellow, Apr 20, 2012.

    I have been starting to consider writing more seriously and in order to improve, I have been reading a lot more lately. To be frank the more I read, the more I realize how much I have to work on.

    I am now wondering what would be the best way to improve my English. I have recently bought a book about punctuation named "Eat, shoots and leaves" and I also put my hands a Harbrace college handbook. What would you recommend: should I get some more reference books or just take some lessons?

    I do realize writers can hire proofreaders, but I firmly believe it's a writer's duty to write as close to perfection as possible.
     
  2. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    More fiction. More good fiction.

    Also, pick up a good writing handbook or two. Every writer should have a current version of Strunk and White's The Elements of Style. I also find The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers useful, and The Little, Brown Handbook.

    Don't forget a good dictionary, or a couple of them. Do forget a thesaurus - it will trip you up far more often than it will help you.
     
  3. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Agreed completely.
    I've expressed my views (and those of linguists) on The Elements of Style and the untold harm I think it has done to US writers often enough. Fortunately I am not in the USA, and neither it seems is the questioner, so there's no particular reason for either of us to have it. "Good writing handbook" is right though -- I have a few good British writing handbooks, and presumably Yellow should get a good Canadian one.
    Agreed. There is a place for thesauruses (thesauri?) but they're not for beginners.
     
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  4. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In addition to fiction, try reading newspaper articles. Reading them is a good way to expose yourself to words that are perhaps more likely to be used in everyday speech.

    Also keep in mind that some fiction writers tend to break traditional grammar rules, so what you see in a novel/story may not be the accepted way of doing things.
     
  5. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    As a non-native speaker I find preposition usages and phrasal verbs far more difficult to master than learning new words :)
     
  6. AmsterdamAssassin
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    AmsterdamAssassin Contributing Member

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    If you have an iPad or Kindle, you might want to search iBooks or the Kindle store for 'English'. There are a number of free e-books, like James Champlin Fernald's English Synonyms and Antonyms, which will help you tremendously in broadening your vocabulary. The book I mentioned, for instance, will give you not only the synonyms and antonyms, but will also explain the nuances between the synonyms to make sure you'll use the right word in the right context.
     
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  7. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    Nothing helps you learn a language like speaking it. If you can find someone who speaks English and talk to them regularly that will be a huge benefit or better yet a few people.
     
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  8. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    Thanks for all the advice.

    I have just ordered them and I am sure they will be of great help.
     
  9. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Google "50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice" before you get carried away.
     
  10. Rebel Yellow
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    Rebel Yellow Active Member

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    I did google it and while I see Mr. Pullum's point, I fear he may be biased considering he has also published a grammar book. Furthermore, a book won't do any harm to the critical thinker and I don't really want to take sides on what seems to be a grammatical war between the USA and the UK. Of course if you have an alternative to propose, I will gladly buy it and compare both books for myself.
     
  11. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think the points he makes are UK or US specific: passive voice is passive voice on both sides of the Atlantic. Pretty much the standard reference in the UK is Fowler's Modern English Usage. The second edition (revised by Sir Earnest Gowers) is more idiosyncratic, more fun and considered more authoritative by pedants than the third edition (re-revised by R. W. Burchfield), but the third edition is a lot more usable and up-to-date. All versions get their description of the grammar relentlessly correct; the the second edition is more prescriptive than the third.
     
  12. marcuslam
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    marcuslam Senior Member

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    I'm guessing English is your second language. It's also mine, so allow me to share my experience.

    I migrated to Australia during primary school. When I arrived, the school provided me with ESL lessons. They helped, but not as much as they should have. Because of my reluctance to try new things, I stuck with friends who spoke my native language. For several years, I hardly improved. Then, one day, I picked up basketball as a sport. The basketball players in my school were Australians, so I braved up and joined them. Within months, my English became much more fluent.

    I think the fastest way to improve is to communicate with people using the language. You get to practice listening and speaking at the same time. The courage to just get in there will help you succeed. Good luck and have fun :).
     
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  13. The Tourist
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    The Tourist Banned

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    Well, it didn't work for me. I'm just shy of 62, and I don't speak English, after all, I'm an American.

    The UK and the USA are truly divided by the same language. The study of one is the antithesis of the other. We have become so dependent on slang terms, epithets and idioms that sometimes I cannot watch an English or Australian program and follow the action. In fact, "Mad Max" was dubbed because producers felt that many people wouldn't understand the Aussie twang.

    If the OP wants to write in the language of a certain country, they should seek the conversational equivalent, otherwise meeting a Sheila's china plate is going to be quite confusing. While I do have a china plate, I do not have a pan.
     
  14. Jenny Masters
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    Jenny Masters Member

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    The best way to learn any language is in a bar or in bed.

    You won't need proofreaders after a while.

    It gives you lots to write about too.
     
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  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Based on what goes on in my bed, that's the same as Cog's recommendation of a lot of fiction.
     

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