Tough Love

Here is some tough love from an English professor that is worth passing on to native speakers, whether still in college or out in the workforce:

Everything one needs to know to use the language clearly, correctly, and even stylishly is available in thousands of places, often free and rarely at a price of more than a few dollars. The nation is full of secondhand bookshops where $15 will get a used dictionary, an old copy of The Elements of Style, and a grammar handbook. Learning to write and speak clear, standard English is mostly a question of will. Some subjects require face-to-face instruction from an expert and hands-on practice under expert supervision. But when the subject is one’s own language, ignorance is a choice.

In some ways this idea applies to non-native speakers too. While you might need classes with a teacher, you should also study a lot on your own.

Source of quote: Art Scheck, “Old Books, Old Stories,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 12, 2009.

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  1. adriana said:

    “But when the subject is one’s own language, ignorance is a choice.”

    I do agree with Scheck’s quote, although I have to say that it is not that simple. A love for language and for its clear, correct and stylish use is something that we learn at young age (family, friends and school have a great impact on this) and we cultivate throughout our lives.

    Sadly, not all our kids are given the chance to appreciate the beauty of language and the importance of its correct use. Sometimes the family doesn’t teach them, or school doesn’t help, teachers can’t reach them…there are so many possible reasons!

    However, I also believe that if people keep their eyes open, life will teach them how important language is. And at this point it is up to every single one to learn the lesson, or just ignore it.

    Finally, I want to suggest this video from Amnesty International: The power of words. (

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Adriana. I need to pursue some of your ideas here further.

  3. Considering the level of linguistic competence I have seen in undergraduate history papers, The Elements of Style, a classic, will do just fine. Nonetheless, I am grateful for this reference to an interesting read.

  4. eisensei said:

    Hey Mark,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree that it’s important to use what works well for both you as a teacher and for your students and that depending on the year, class etc that what works best will definitely change. As I said in my blog, I am not sure if I would use such a methodology such as Dogme ELT solely, but I think that learning about different methodologies and talking to other professors/teachers can help us build up our teaching repertoire, so that we can have more choice as to what to use with our students so that we can better adapt to their needs.


    PS Would it be OK to link your blog to mine?

    • For others who don’t get the context of eisensei’s remarks, see this post about teaching English to non-native speakers on his blog, where I commented:

      And to you eisenei, I don’t usually respond to link requests. Sometimes I reevaluate and add links to this blog, but I take my time with that. Link exchanges are something that Google—and others—frown upon as an attempt to “game” their system with links, even if this is not necessarily even what you had in mind.

      If you are just getting into blogging and want to learn more, one useful resource is You might also check out a place like, which mixes the experienced and inexperienced, helpful and harmful, but generally instructional.

      • eisensei said:

        Hey Mark,

        Thanks for the links.

        I didn’t know link exchanges were frowned upon, and although I could guess the meaning, I had never heard the word ‘game’ in that sense before. I only requested the link because I thought your blog was interesting and would like to put it on my blog for easy access, although perhaps subscribing to it would be better now that I think about it.



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