This article is from the alt.usage.english FAQ, by Mark Israel email@example.com with numerous contributions by others.
Non-native speakers are often unnecessarily cautious in their use
of English. Someone once posted to alt.usage.english from Japan,
asking, "What is the correct thing to say if one is being assaulted:
'Help!' or 'Help me!'?" Not only are they both correct; there was
a whole slew of responses asking, "Why the heck would you worry
about correctness at a time like that?"
It may happen that your post's greatest departure from English
idiom is something unrelated to what you are asking about. If you
like, say "Please correct any errors in this post"; otherwise, those
who answer you may out of politeness refrain from offering a
Although not so stratified as some languages, English does have
different stylistic levels. In a popular song, you may hear: "It
don't make much difference." When speaking to a friend, you will
probably want to say: "It doesn't make much difference." If you
are writing a formal report, you may want to render it as: "It
makes little difference." So it's helpful if when posting, you
specify the stylistic level that you're enquiring about.
If you prefer to make a query by e-mail, rather than posting to
the whole Net, you can send it to the Purdue University Online
Writing Lab. Send e-mail to "firstname.lastname@example.org". They also
have an ftp/gopher site, "owl.trc.purdue.edu", and a WWW page,
<http://owl.english.purdue.edu/>. A popular and pleasant site for
getting grammar questions answered is the Lydbury Grammar Clinic:
Another WWW page that may be of interest to learners of English
is The Comenius Group's Virtual English Language Center:
<http://www.comenius.com>. If you wish to improve your
English by exchanging e-mail with an English-speaker, you can post
a request to the newsgroup "soc.penpals". This is free (to you),
so you should not pay the fee for Comenius' "E-mail Key Pal
An elementary grammar of English, designed primarily for French-
speakers but useful to all, can be found at
<http://www.hiway.co.uk/~ei/intro.html>. Other grammars are at
The misc.education.language.english FAQ is maintained by Meg Gam
(email@example.com). At the moment, it lists resources of
interest to teachers (not students) of English as a foreign
language. If you can't find it in the standard FAQ places, send
Meg e-mail with the subject "m.e.l.e. FAQ" and no text.
There are some mailing lists that are primarily for people
studying English as a foreign language: CHAT-SL (general
discussion), DISCUSS-SL (advanced general discussion), BUSINESS-SL
(business and economics), ENGL-SL (discussion about learning
English), EVENT-SL (current events), MOVIE-SL (movies), MUSIC-SL
(music), SCITECH-SL (science, technology, and computers), and
SPORT-SL (sports). To subscribe to any of these lists, send a
message to firstname.lastname@example.org with, for example, "subscribe
DISCUSS-SL" as the body of the message.
Roger Depledge writes: "since you rightly show some concern for
the non-native speaker, you might care to consider adding to your
list of dictionaries the "Collins Cobuild English Dictionary"
(HarperCollins, 2nd ed., 1995, ISBN 0-00-379401-8), all of whose
plentiful examples come from their 200-million-word corpus. As a
freelance translator in Toulouse, I find it invaluable when my
native ear for English fails me. And for usage for the non-
specialist, I know of none better than Michael Swan, "Practical
English Usage" (OUP, 2nd ed., 1995, ISBN 0-19-431197-X). In its
favour I would cite the 26 reprints of the 1980 edition, and the six
pages on taboo words, including the priceless example, 'Bugger me!
There's Mrs Smith. I thought she was on holiday.'"
Anno Siegel recommends "The BBI Combinatory Dictionary of
English", by Morton Benson, Evelyn Benson, and Robert Ilson,
Benjamins, 1986, ISBN 90-272-2036-0.