Grammar as a “Foreign Language”

In most American cities and towns, school is out, and we are, or soon may be, on our various ways to see friends and family – the loved ones we think about so often, but haven’t seen for a while.

And when we think about them, how do we think about them? I’m pretty sure we do not think about the occasional, or perhaps even frequent grammatical errors they may make! When we see them again, after an absence, it’s always surprising to hear them making these errors.

So here’s something I hope you will think about even more: While poor grammar will, and very often does keep us from getting the job we really want, or need, or from achieving some of our life-long goals, poor grammar is not a character flaw. And with a little work, and a little “want to,” it can be fixed.

I was thinking about all of this when we re-connected with a friend for whom English is a second language. As usual, she generously started speaking to me in her native language immediately – a language I’ve been working on for years, but not always correctly from a grammatical point of view.  She has been willing to help me practice – especially to improve my grammar!

And I thought: Grammatically correct English can seem like a “foreign language” too. So what does my friend recommend to speed the “grammatically correct” learning process?

  1. Listen – to conversations, radio, television, movies, remembering that many of this speech is not grammatically correct, but can be helpful for pace, tone, and pronunciation. You can immerse yourself in something you find interesting, and pick up a great deal almost effortlessly.
  1. Read – everything from children’s books to periodicals, to textbooks and novels. Again, not all will be grammatically correct, but it will give you a good start, as you notice how the language goes together.
  1. Identify, and work on, one issue at a time. For example, if you are saying something like, “This will be fun for you and I,” when it should be, “This will be fun for you and me,” think about, and make up a bunch of sentences using the correct wording to practice this kind of sentence in various forms.
  1. Talk to Yourself – or the dog! I’ve found this one particularly helpful. When you are washing the dishes, taking a shower, going for a walk, or doing some activity that does not require a lot of heavy thinking, carry on a mental conversation with yourself, correcting, and using correctly, the issue you are working on.

To get started, visit my website free resources quiz section at to see which areas you might want to work on.

Give me a call, or email me if you have a question the answer key doesn’t answer.



Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations; executive coaching, consulting, writing, and editing services. Call Gail at 503/318/7412, or email to learn more.

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