Carnegie Mellon University

Resources for Non-Native English Speakers

Non-native English speakers sometimes encounter grammar issues in their communication but may find explanations from native English speakers circular. In other words, explanations that rely on native speakers’ intuition of their first language may seem to presuppose experience with the English language that non-native English speakers may not have and is only acquired through years of English immersion. To help English language learners find success in English communication, we have compiled several resources on grammar, word choice, and expressions. 

The resources below are divided into three sections: 1) English grammar resources for native English speakers that are also relatively friendly to non-native speakers, 2) English grammar and expression resources for international students whose first language is Chinese, and 3) vocabulary-building resources regardless of what your first language is.

Cornog, M. W. (1992). The Merriam-Webster dictionary of synonyms and antonyms. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster.

This is a compact manual for expanding your wording options. It is easy to carry around and not as exhausting to read as an unabridged thesaurus.

Longman Language Activator.  Pearson Education. 2002.

This source explains the nuances between similar expressions in detail and puts relevant words in a reticulate network through cross-reference. The explanation does not assume a native speaker's intuition of English on the reader’s side and takes the effort to specify and parse the “native speaker” intuition in plain, friendly English. This can help non-native English speakers not only understand words and phrases in a nuanced way but offers a glimpse into the “native speaker” intuition that is often hard to articulate.

英语语法手册 [A Handbook of English Grammar]. (薄冰修订)  薄冰 赵德鑫 编著 5th edition. 2002.

This book paints a systematic picture of the English language's grammar system. It can be difficult to find in print, so it may be helpful to check other grammar books by Bo Bing [薄冰])

中式英语之鉴 [The Translator’s Guide to Chinglish]. Joan Pinkham 编著,姜桂华 校. 

Although it says “Translator’s guide” in the title and although there is controversy over the word “Chinglish,” English learners can find this source helpful in getting a sense of many expressions that seem natural for native speakers but tricky for non-native speakers. This is a good source of English expressions and is not limited to grammar only. There are instances where communication issues are not (or not only) caused by grammar concerns but relate to language habits and certain conventions. This means that grammar alone will not be enough for successful communication. This manual explains many expressions that are liable to be misunderstood in communication between speakers whose first language is English and those whose first language is Chinese.

Hopper, P. J. (1999). A Short Course in Grammar: A Course in the Grammar of Standard Written English. WW Norton.

This book is often taught to native English speakers, but the structure is clear and the explanation concise. (A note for people whose first language is not English: Since the target audience of this book is native speakers, explanations of rules at times seem to resort too much to native speakers’ intuitions and feelings and therefore may not seem helpful to English learners. However, it can be a good source from which to get a sense of how native English speakers talk about grammar and what to make of their explanations.)