A tale of two (actually three) English grammar texts

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Michael Franklin at the AMWA (American Medical Writers Association) conference in Columbus last month. He told me of a must-read grammar text, Understanding English Grammar by Martha Kolln and Robert Funk, that he had studied in graduate school. I nearly fainted when I saw the price at… Continue Reading

Is Marcia Riefer Johnston stalking you, too?

Last September, I had an eerie experience after posting a comment on an STC (Society for Technical Communication) blog― my comment appeared with Marcia Riefer Johnston’s name on it (Who is SHE? I wondered). We finally straightened it out, and that started a random, lovely, productive relationship with a fellow STC member and now, a… Continue Reading

A linguists’ joke

 “What do you call someone who speaks three languages?” (Multilingual)  “What do you call someone who speaks two languages?” (Bilingual)  “What do you call someone who speaks one language?” (American) Continue Reading

E.D. Hirsch is half right about vocabulary building

E.D. Hirsch Jr. recently wrote in the New York Times that the decline in American students’ vocabulary scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress signals a decline in equality for students―without wide general knowledge and vocabulary, he claims, students cannot go on to learn the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) subjects that they… Continue Reading

Why be bilingual?

After so many years of teaching writing, I am accustomed to feeling that I am the language expert in the classroom. I’m not saying that my perception is accurate; it’s just my perception. Imagine my discomfort when I volunteered in my granddaughter’s kindergarten Russian immersion class. Here were 5-year-old American children chattering in Russian and… Continue Reading

Only one-quarter of American students have solid writing skills

A recently released report (The National Assessment of Educational Progress at Grades 8 and 12) reveals that only 27% of eighth-graders and twelfth-graders perform at or above proficient level in writing. I’m not at all surprised by these data, although I do hope that all students eventually improve their writing skills. Based on my daily… Continue Reading

Should you use “and” or “but” to start a sentence?

One of my newsletter readers wrote to ask: Hi Bette:  Do you agree with the information below? (I’m from the old school, where I was taught never to begin a sentence with “and” or “but.”) Contrary to what your high school English teacher told you, there’s no reason not to begin a sentence with but… Continue Reading

Persuading through stories

I have never been overly impressed with my own persuasive capabilities, but recently I experienced a political success that I attribute to storytelling. Some background: On five separate occasions, I had recently had five near encounters with bicycles while I was walking on the sidewalk that loops through our condo development (there are several blind… Continue Reading