My primary language is Dutch. Being born and bred in the Netherlands, it comes easy to me. Although there are some nasty pitfalls in the language, my gut pretty much knows how to solve grammatical difficulties. I’m not unique in this. Most people will naturally feel what is right in their own language.
When we learn another language though, it’s like being thrown in at the deep end. It is not that difficult to learn what translation each word has, but when it comes to forming sentences, it gets messy. Even more so when you start to write in that language.
For example, in Dutch, a dialog is preceded by a colon. That’s odd, isn’t it? Let’s take a look at the way the Dutch would construct a sentence with a dialog.
Mary scratched her head and said: “I don’t like fish.”
This is only true if the dialog is cited later on in the sentence. When the citation is the start of the sentence we proceed as follows.
“I don’t like fish”, Mary said while she scratched her head.
Here you can see in this case we place the comma after the quotation marks, which differs from the English rule to place it within the dialog tags.
These rules were confusing to me when I started writing in English. At first, I just wrote to get the story on paper, I didn’t think too much about it and let the language flow as I felt was right. Granted, the story I wrote was good, but it was also a grammar Nazi’s worst nightmare. All my dialogs were quoted the Dutch way! Unfortunately, I was already more than halfway through my book when I realized this.
Since then I’ve done a lot to improve my knowledge of English grammar. I read books about it, watched Youtube videos on the subject matter and even pestered my English friends with questions. But still, my knowledge is not entirely up to date. Fortunately, I found this organization called edX, which is an open source, nonprofit online learning destination, and massive open online course (MOOC) provider. EdX happens to offer a free course in English Grammar and Style, together with the University of Queensland. Lucky me!
Yesterday I watched the first two lectures of this course, and I’m impressed. The material is very clear and readable, even to a non-native speaker such as myself. Every lecture is transcribed, and you get plenty of support on the forums. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn more about English Grammar this way. Next to this, course edX has a wide range of other courses available on various academic subjects. It’s definitely worth checking their website out. Meanwhile, I will keep you posted on my blog to let you know how I progress.