English teachers....help!

My best friend teaches high school English in Germany. She tends to turn to me when she has English questions, sometimes usage, sometimes grammar, etc. (She knows language is one of my obsessions…) I can give her a general reality check and tell her what I’m hearing/saying in Ohio, but I’m sure there are lots of resources that she could go to for a more accurate overall picture. She focuses on American English, but she also needs to know British usage. Wouldn’t hurt her to know about Aussie/NZ variations too.

So, Doper English teachers anywhere: where do you go for definitive answers to your questions?

Things she’s asked me in the past:
Do you capitalize school subjects? In other words, is it: “I teach math” or “I teach Math”?
How do you say <insert unusual German word here>?
How do you pronounce <unusual name>?

Her biggest issues seem to be around current usage and accepted grammar and style. She’s afraid she’s lived in Germany too long and is starting to speak English using German rules.

She teaches college prep courses (Gymnasium), generally 9th grade and up, so having a respected source for her information would be a plus. Also, are there any helpful message boards that she could go to? (I ran across one in my Googling and it was decidedly unhelpful looking.)

Thanks for any ideas/resources you can share!


For upper midlands dialect (which is what standard English is right now), most grammar/speaking guides for broadcast journalism will be useful.

Beyond that, it’s often hit-or-miss. Grammar guides are often useful and often have errors. I’ve yet to find one that didn’t get something incomplete or wrong.

I’d pimp the grammar community I co-mod, but it’s generally more about pointing out obvious gaffes than discussing serious topics (much though I wish this were not the case). If she has specific questions, though, I’m happy to give you or her a link to it. We’ve got a number of non-US speakers there, and they should be able to field her questions.

I bet a reference librarian would have some good answers to this. Unfortunately, I am not a reference librarian.

For the grammar/usage stuff, I’d get her a copy of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style.” It’s short and simple, and has clear explanations, with examples, of the most common style issues.

I thought you were being attacked english teachers and needed help.
That I could help you with, but this stuff, you’re on your own.

I’m thinking she needs to join here and post. She’ll get at least three answers to choose from in GQ and will need to decide if she is descriptive or prescriptive.

School subjects, in Britain: captials for English, French, German, but small for everything else (physics, maths, music).

There’s no fixed rule. Even the main broadsheet newspapers have differences between them, but at least the Time and the Guardian have their style guides online, which might help. The differences between them can be interesting, such as this on abbreviations:

Close examination of similar stories in the two papers will show up all sorts of inconsistencies in the ‘rules’ of grammar and punctuation.

Oh, and the Guardian’s entry under ‘capitals’ is quite substantial!

Just a quickie… it’s never “math” in British English, always “maths” (plural)

“Math” is totally US English.

Bolding mine.

Style and grammar are not synonymous.

No, but if you bother to look at the links I gave, you’ll see a lot of grammatical matters being tackled.

Abbreviations prescribed in style guides are a matter of style, as far as I am or have ever been aware. (Abbreviations in general are a matter of style; cf versus/vs/vs.) Style guides do not generally prescribe rules of grammar but rules of style for the publications in question. They aren’t saying “This is the right way to handle things” but “This is how we do things here.”

What I saw were style issues being addressed. Is there something I missed that I should know about?

Thanks for all the helpful responses; keep 'em coming!

I’d like the grammar community link, iampunha. Not sure if she’d have the time/patience to go there, but one of her colleagues might and I’d be interested in any case. If you don’t want to post the link, my e-mail is my user name at gmail.

The style guides are an interesting resource, GorillaMan; might be helpful for her more advanced students and probably her colleagues. She has a lot of business writing resources because she taught business English for a long time, but I don’t think she’s looked at journalistic style.


I taught ESL in Germany for 14 years and I know exactly what your friend is going through…at a certain point, your brain goes into “dumb mode” and I remember once standing at the blackboard and wracking my brain if the word was spelled “speech” or “speach”.

The only cure is a quick trip home, but short of that, the Internet is her friend.

Way back when I was teaching in Germany, the Internet was just a seed in Al Gore’s mind and we didn’t have it as a reference tool. I agree she should sign up here on the boards and learn to post questions in GQ…she should give herself the Doper name “LostInGrammar” or something similar, and post on a regular basis. Trust me, she is not the only ESL teacher in the world who occasionally gets stumped by simple rules and current language trends.

To add to the confusion, she is probably teaching “American English” using books printed in the UK…this was a problem most American teachers had back then. Over the years, you begin to get confused even more. There are a lot more differences between British English and American English than you would ever imagine.

iampunha, I’d love to see the community you moderate.

Even if it was a grammar book, which it’s not (hence the term “style” in its name), it would be a terrible one. Among other things, it actually claims that it’s always incorrect to pluralize “person” as “people” - that “people” is strictly a singular noun for a populace, so you have to say, for instance, “There are three persons at the door.” It also pushes the ridiculous nonsense that “hopefully” shouldn’t be used as a sentence-level adverb (as in, “Hopefully she’ll arrive on time.”) Even if it were remotely an appropriate book for the subject - which it’s not, as it presumes native-level proficiency in the language (since it’s intended to address written style rather than to help teach grammar) - the laughably incorrect notions it promulgates are a terrible thing to inflict upon the innocent.

It has some very rough style advice that’s useful, assuming the reader already knows the subject and can thus recognize the incorrect rules it espouses, but it certainly doesn’t strike me as a useful tool for teaching ESL.

SIng it DMark, if I get called on a misspelling I just explain “that’s the American spelling”* :stuck_out_tongue:

For EFL stuff in general try onestopenglish.

You can’t escape speaking or at least accepting Denglish, franglais or whatever after you’ve been in a country a certain amount of time - the only solution is really to make sure she keeps exposing herself to English language media as much as possible to hear how people are using the language.

*well at the start of my career

Style books like the AP’s not only get into specific issues of style, but also address grammar and usage issues. Examples include differences in the meanings of homophones; words that take specific parts of speech where other usage is wrong; and punctuation usage.

That said, however, I don’t think journalism style guides are appropriate references for an ESL course. They’re too specific to journalism, and much of the content assumes that the user is already very fluent in English and just needs information on very specific points.

gardentraveler, I second The Elements of Style by Strunk and White. I’d also suggest that your friend look into getting some American English grammar textbooks. And Cat Jones had an excellent idea about keeping up with American media to keep up with proper contemporary usage.


E-mail sent.

I don’t mean to berate anyone, but this needs to be emphasized. Grammar and style are plainly and fundamentally different concepts. Here is an example to illustrate:

AP style:

red, white and blue

Random other style:

red, white, and blue

Use of the Oxford/serial/terminal/list/whatever else comma is not an issue of grammar. It is an issue of style. Style guides discuss issues not of making sure your subjects agree with your verbs (something that’s anything if not clear-cut; the geographical difference alone sheds ample light on this) but what particular elements of the language that style has decided need to be done a certain way. Style guides also, as MsRobyn said, assume that you already know enough to be trusted with the copy a newsmedia organization puts out.

Elements of Style can be useful, but only if used properly, which is to say that to use it as one’s writing Bible is … well, I wouldn’t do it, and I’d advise against anyone else doing it. (Lest I give off superiority vibes, let me make very clear that I’m head copy editor of three student media organizations, not head copy editor of the Wall Street Journal.)

What is useful to any one person depends largely on what dialect of English you want to teach. Heck, before we get into issues of sentence structure and word choice, how about the issue of pronunciation? Where are these students looking at going with their knowledge? If they’re being taught American English (which is itself not American English but something closer to journalism English) and going to England, they’re in for a surprise. If they’re being taught slang like y’all and ain’t, they’re in for a hell of a surprise if they use such words in interviews at stodgy places.

In general, a reference guide is only as good as the person using it. Use it as a tool and you’ll be fine. Use it as a crutch and you’ll learn the author’s personal brand (however diligently that author works at employing only the most true-to-dialect form) of the language. Without knowing what dialect of English your friend is teaching, though, recommending any text is an exercise in academic darts: it’s as likely to score you a bullseye as it is to hit the guy drinking the beer five feet to the left of the target.

iambunha seems to have completely skipped the “read the OP” thing:

My emphases.

That’s great. However, bear in mind that American English contains a lot of dialects. Acceptable grammar varies by area. As such, teaching “American English” tends to mean a specific dialect whether the teacher is aware of it or not. It’s pretty hard to teach language without ending up teaching a dialect, and it’s a hell of a lot harder if you include speaking in your lessons.