Carnegie Mellon University

Student Academic Success Center

Office of the Vice Provost for Education

Resources for Non-Native English Speakers

Are you a non-native English speaker? Do you find English grammar confusing, contradictory, or illogical? Have you had bad experiences learning English from a teacher who couldn’t connect with you? If so, you’re not alone.

Often, native English speaking teachers have difficulty understanding your experience. They don’t know how to explain the strange nuances of English — for example, non-phonetic pronunciations, illogical idioms, and word placement conventions — because they take these details for granted. To understand these customs, they rely on their own intuition, not clear and systematic rules.

This is why English lessons developed for native English speakers might make less sense to you. Often, non-native English speakers benefit from a more structured approach to learning English. To help you, we have compiled some straightforward resources on grammar, word choice, and expressions:

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

This is a short manual that expands your word options. It is easy to carry around, and it is easier to read than an unabridged thesaurus.

Longman Language Activator.  Pearson Education. 2002.

English has many similar expressions, phrases, and idioms. This source explains the nuances between them and helps you decide which phrase is appropriate for your context. It doesn’t assume that the reader has any native intuition of English; instead, it meticulously explains the “native speaker” mindset in plain, friendly English.

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 systematically explains the English grammar system. It can be difficult to find in print, so you can also look for 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.

Though there is controversy over the word “Chinglish,” this source effectively explains many expressions that seem natural for native speakers but tricky for non-native speakers. This is a good source of English expressions, and it also goes past simple grammar. Because communication issues are often caused by language habits and conventions, the manual explains many expressions that can be misunderstood between native English speakers and native Chinese speakers.

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 explanations are concise. The book sometimes resorts a little too much to native speakers’ intuitions. 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.