English Corner – The Building Blocks of Reading Materials

“When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits.”

When you are first starting out in reading the English language, it’s important to incorporate reading materials into your weekly habits. It is a necessary complement to your learning and will help flex that muscle needed to retain both the grammar and the vocabulary that can drive your overall proficiency forward. It is not so much which reading material you choose but the fact that it should be appropriate for your reading level as a whole.

For example, it would not make sense to try something very difficult because you think you will advance that much quicker. Often times, if you go beyond your reading level in English, it will often cause an unnecessary step back and you will waste precious time in trying to understand a level of vocabulary and grammar that you are not yet ready for. It is often better to be err on the side of caution in terms of selecting multiple reading materials that you find yourself comfortable with and will challenge you yet you know for sure what the material is about and you can interpret the meaning and explain it to a teacher or a colleague.

If you are a beginner in the English language, I would start off your reading adventure with short poems and short stories, not more than a couple hundred words. Even if you are an adult as well, children’s books are a great way to get more familiar with the language level that you are currently at with basic vocabulary, phrases, and grammar principles. You may also want to read fliers and short email examples as well to become aware of the structure of those forms of writing.

I would also recommend short letters written about different subjects such as sports, weather, the daily habits someone has, and about going shopping or out to eat. It is key to read these short pieces of writing twice or three times to really understand the full meaning of what is being written. You may also want to read the story, the poem, or the letter out loud to work on your own pronunciation too to feel more comfortable absorbing the vocabulary that you are learning. A beginner should not be reading anything more than a few pages in length and at a very low vocabulary level. Preferably, a children’s book, a short email, or a quick poem are best for beginners in this sense.

For the intermediate learner, it is important to challenge yourself more and depending upon one’s age level, there are different options to consider. I encourage students who are younger to choose comic books, short stories, and even short mystery novels as well. Older students may enjoy reading magazines about sports, news, and even fashion depending upon their interests. I also encourage becoming more familiar with reading current events and news articles and being able to explain them to the teacher or to a friend.

Adding on to the difficulty means reading longer reading passages as well as longer letters or poems as well at any age group. You want to make sure that the reading level is higher so instead of at a 1st or a 3rd grade level, you should try to read materials that are at a 5th or an 6th grade level and perhaps up to an 8th grade level. Perhaps most importantly, at the Intermediate level, you should be able to hold a conversation about the topic you just read and to explain the main ideas and supporting ideas of the piece you read. Lastly, with your vocabulary, I would encourage being able to explain too your point of view for an article, what you thought about it.

The advanced learner should be at the point where they can read full books, magazines, and longer-form pieces of writing of at least a few thousand words or more. They should be able to understand and interpret vocabulary at the high school level. Depending upon which English-speaking culture they would like to learn more about, they should do their best to become familiar with writers of different backgrounds and be able to read successfully in a few genres, both fiction and non-fiction.

Reading and interpreting different kinds of texts that deal with different subjects and modern-day issues is also a key part of advancing in the English language. You should be a flexible enough reader at this point to be able to handle different types of reading that is longer than the other levels. From a 500-word poem to a 2500-word article to a 100-page book, being able to handle these types of reading at a high level will set you apart from the beginner or intermediate levels that you used to be at.

Another key to this advanced reading level is one’s ability to speak and write about what you just read with accuracy and by utilizing some advanced vocabulary and phrases learned from these reading exercises. If the professor or teacher were to assign you a persuasive, narrative, or argumentative essay for you to write about your reading assignment, you should feel comfortable by this point in doing so across a number of genres.

‘Building blocks’ take time to assemble and the same goes for building up your reading prowess. Again, it is necessary to start slow with short forms of writing from poetry to a short story to a quick email and then work your way up to a long article or a magazine and then on to the full novel or book that may take a month or two to finish. Getting better at reading in English is a key skill to have and is necessary to boost your proficiency and to do so in a comprehensive manner. It is not only true that your reading skills will get better the more consistent and driven you are with each page but your speaking skills should also improve and your writing abilities will be complemented if you can analyze, interpret, and describe what you have just written in your own words.

Patience is a virtue and reading are the biggest part of that quality when it comes to developing your English language skills. You may show quicker gains with speaking or writing but the long-term success of your English proficiency will be determined about how well you read, how you understand the reading, and what you can tell others about what you have read.

English Corner – The Basics of Business

“However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position.”

It is likely that you will want to improve your English for purely professional reasons at some point. If that’s not you, then this blog post will not apply to you. However, as you get older and you advance in your career or your business pursuits, you may find it to your advantage to know the basics of business English. In addition to the vocabulary and the grammar, you need to be aware of the major steps before you can advance in your position. I cover a number of these topics in both Business English private lessons and also in an online course specifically for this subject.

For this article, I am going to focus only on the basics of business English and how to get your foot in the door to give yourself a chance to either get hired, get promoted or at least feel more comfortable using your English skills in a professional setting. I am not going to make a huge list of items for you to accomplish but rather give five pieces of general advice for you to get started in this niche part of the language. If you can get these five tidbits down in terms of remembering and utilizing them, you should have no problem getting to the intermediate or advanced topics within the business English curriculum, which is covered in both private lessons and an online course.

Let’s start with the most obvious point and then become more and more obscure from point #1 to #5. Some of these points of advice will seem obvious to you and I hope that others will make you think of your own approach and how it could be improved. I believe you will find these five pieces of advice useful to get you started with Business English and to keep you learning these kinds of topics into the future.

  1. Network, Network, and Network Some More: Networking and connecting with others is the key place to start when it comes to getting started with developing your business English skills. Networking is the foundation for doing the most amount of business and it can take various forms. When you’re emailing, you’re networking. When you’re at an event meeting people and practicing your English, you’re networking. When you’re calling potential partners or future customers over the phone, that too is a form of networking.

The biggest skill you’ll need to develop and hone for the English-speaking business world will be to become a good networker in a non-native language. There is no better test for your speaking, writing, listening, and reading skills then to put yourself out there and network with others who are also English speakers, native or otherwise. Networking also takes a serious amount of effort so make sure you put in the time to practice whether it is for writing e-mails, developing your business cards, or remembering to show up for events.

2. Remember the Small Details: In business, you not only have to remember the big details whether its’ for a project, a trip, or a presentation but it’s even more important to be aware of the small details. Mastering the small, insignificant details can make the difference between a successful business deal or an absolute disaster. What are the small details? Well, they could be a number of things. I like to think of them as peoples’ names, technical details, the times and dates of meetings, and staying on top of your tasks each and every day.

Preventing yourself from slacking off or getting complacent falls under this category of remembering the small details. You may think that names, dates, or the technical details are not important but if you forget or you neglect them, something is likely to blow up in your face. You may also hurt someone’s feelings or cause someone else to feel overwhelmed when you make little mistakes. In business, even small issues can become big issues, so it is better to strive to be a perfectionist than to let the small things slide. It does not mean obsessing over every little thing, but it means treating every part of a task the same and not slack off when something does not interest you because it could mean you making more careless errors. The little details can also make you stand out in a good way when you remember them and earn you greater respect and comradery at your work when you don’t make those careless errors too.

3. Put in The Extra Time: Similar to the Art of Networking extensively when you are starting out in business, putting in overtime to network or to get some extra work done or to put more effort on a project can develop your business acumen a lot quicker. Being a reliable and hard worker on a team can make up for your lack of knowledge in certain areas of the target language like English. However, you should be willing to put in extra time to study and work on the English skills needed to develop your proficiency in business, regardless of what type of business vocabulary and grammar you need.

You will need more than just the normal eight or nine hours doing your job but to develop your English level for business, you’ll need to be studying and practicing an hour per night to get really good at the English needed for your career.For this practice, you will need to mix it up with speaking practice, writing for potential work projects, and listening to other native speakers and seeing if you understand what they are telling you. Extra time not just for your job but also for your business English needs will set you apart if you are willing to put the effort in on a consistent basis over weeks or months in order to move ahead in your career.

4. Mastering Pleasantries: No business can be done without the correct way of speaking to both colleagues, potential partners and your superiors. You have to know how to talk to and interact with each type of person in your office or in your company. This involves studying pleasantries and the different vocabulary words that these conversations involve. There are different formalities and informalities involved when you’re talking with others professional depending on who they are. How you talk to your boss is different to how you talk to your intern who is in college.

Being proficient in business English means being able to have both productive and appropriate conversations with people from the higher ups to the new folks who just arrived. Greetings and goodbyes as well as making small talk are all important aspects of successfully doing business. Any good businessperson also is well versed in cross-cultural communication especially through the medium of a global language like English. Most of business is done over lunch, dinner, or an adult beverage.In order to have productive conversations, it starts with knowing how to address people in your own company and in other companies. It all starts with mastering pleasantries and then you can keep practicing mastering the entire conversation later on.

5. Know Who You Are (Background and Experience): Before you can begin to write about yourself let alone develop your professional resume (CV) and cover letter, you have to be able to know who you are. Knowing who are you means knowing how to write about yourself without bragging too much or boasting of things you did not do. You have to be aware of both your strengths and your weaknesses. You also should know what your skills are and what you still need to learn about. This trait of business involves having self-awareness and giving a fairly accurate perception of who you are professionally to other people.

Before you develop a resume, a cover letter, or even a short writing sample, it’s important that you firstly recounter your professional background up to this point where you start writing out everything in English. You’ll need to be aware of how to tie all of your professional experiences together, come up with a longer ‘pitch’ of what you bring to the table and how a company or business would benefit from you being there. Lastly, it’s key to brainstorm about your experiences, your career goals, and what your professional profile would be before you start putting pen to paper. This fifth basic trait may be the hardest to pull off but if you are to become comfortable using English for business purposes, you need to know who you are as a professional and about what you offer before you start jotting it all down.

These five basics of business for English may seem untraditional but you have to know how to walk before you can run, or you have to know how to network before you can sign the big deal for your firm. Your English skills for business have to master pleasantries, networking, and brainstorming before you can master presentations, deal making, or writing a formal cover letter. Taking these five basics seriously and getting them down first will not only make you a better English learner but you’ll also generally become a better businessman or businesswoman for having taken these bits of advice into consideration and acting on them to improve professional.

Once you have the basics down, let me know if you would be interested in a private Business English lesson or in enrolling in a Business English course to take your language skills in this area to a higher level. The sooner that you get started, the quicker you can advance in your career pursuits!

English Corner – On Writing Memos

“What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world.”

What is a memorandum you may ask? A memorandum or ‘memo’ is a type of written message passed along in a business for internal changes and review. Being able to edit, write, and understand memos is a key part of being successful in the business world. Memos are usually shorter in terms of written length and can range from as little as 100 words to about 1000 words depending on the subject matter. Memos are not only used in the business world, but they also carry over to governments as well as to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at times.

While memos are not as popular anymore due to the rise of electronic mail (e-mail), they are still a fast, secure, and cost-effective way of communicating with other people in the business or company. If you are to work in a business setting, you’ll need to do a wide variety of vocabulary as well as have a good understanding of formal grammar and syntax.

Some key aspects of the memo include the header or title to sum up what the memo is about, the subject line to describe the focus of what the memo’s topic is, and then you have who the memo is addressed to with the To: line and then below that is the From: line to indicate who wrote the memo and where it is from. Then, you have the body paragraph(s) where the ideas of the memo are divulged and then the conclusion which re-states the ideas and sums up the purpose of the memo.              

You also want to make sure that the memo is single spaced or double spaced depending on the guidance you receive from your workplace. If there is an ‘attachment’ such as an image or a text, make sure it is attached to the memo before you send it out and that you indicate that there is an attached file when you write up the memo. Lastly, it is very important to leave your name at the bottom as well as the date at the top so that person who received the memo knows not only who it came from but when it was written to see how fresh or old it is.                                   

Memos place a high emphasis on timeliness but also orderliness while being able to sum up a large amount of information in a short amount of space. Most memos are only a page long but can get up to no more than five pages depending upon the subject or general content you are writing about. The style of any memo you write should always be concise and succinct.

You have to show analytical clarity with your writing. (It has to make sense to the reader). It may be sensitive material so you will have to be your own editor and not rely on others in the company. The content has to be informative, persuasive, and relevant to the audience. When you write or read a memo, you should expect for it to be impactful in some manner to inform the reader.

There are main questions you will want to answer in any memo that you write such as:

  1. What is relevant for the person reading it to be aware of from my memo?
  2. Why does it matter to the business / company / organization?
  3. What is the objective of the memo?
  4. Who is my audience for it?
  5. What is the issue that we are working on?

The most important thing to be aware of when asking these questions is what is the objective?, who are my audience?, and what is the issue I care about? If you forget the other questions, it is very important to remember OAI: objective, audience, issue. As long as you address those three main questions, your memo should be really concise and informative.

When it comes to the actual structure of the memo, the scope of your issue have to be addressed up front as well as the main points you want to focus on. The Subject of your memo should always be both descriptive and short (about 4 to 8 words)

1. Example: How to Increase Our Fourth Quarter Earnings

The ‘bottom line’ or summary sentence must be upfront or at the top of the memo. You should always have a good ‘hook’ to draw in the reader’s attention. You’ll also want to articulate the key points or the recommendations in the first or second sentences of your memo. You have to assume that the reader of the memo may only have time to read one paragraph of it especially if you are in government or in the business world for your career.

You should always be using specific facts and relevant information to bolster your bullet points. You’re going to want to paint a comprehensive picture of the situation at hand and what can be done about it. Always be able to articulate the risks of your reasoning, the possible consequences to your action points, as well as the counterpoints (additional context) if your memo calls for it. The memo should have a logical flow and is not as structured as an essay or article. Lastly, remember to utilize precise language and avoid unnecessary words.

When it comes to what you should always do in memo writing, the Do’s are quite obvious from a writer’s perspective: Choose your words carefully. Be brief and clear as much as possible. Anticipate and address the reader’s questions in them. Avoid leaps in logic and assumptions based on the memo’s content. Proofread or edit your writing thoroughly and consistently. Use correct grammar throughout the entire memo.

The don’ts of memo writing is a bit more difficult but also involve some common sense in addition to having the structure and the techniques memorized. Perhaps most importantly, don’t summarize but analyze instead. Don’t ever use either abbreviations or acronyms to save some space as it is important to spell all the words out to retain their meaning. It’s important to not have unclear terms that will confuse the reader or audience. Keeping any run-on sentences at all in the final version is also a big no-no. You also would not like to have unprofessional or unrelated jargon (vocabulary) that is not related to the memo in the text of what you have wrote.

Memo writing is an advanced form of English writing, but it can be quite useful to know how to do if you are willing to put in the work. For business, government, or NGO purposes, good memo writing will be essential to your career so please make sure to study the structure, the techniques, and the overall uses for memos even after reading this article. Good luck to you and I hope being able to write formal memos will further your business and career goals as an English writer.

English Corner – Creating a Resume

What is a resume? To sum it up, it is the backbone of your professional background and experience summed up in a one or two-page document which you will be showcasing to potential employers and/or co-workers. It is not the sum total of who you are as a person but rather who you are as a worker and what professional skills you have to offer and to whom your skills would be useful for. In order to get a better job, to get a better salary, or to get that promotion to take the next step in your career, a good resume could make the difference between a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer when it comes to you getting that employment opportunity.

The resume is how you showcase yourself to the professional world and let companies and organizations know what your value would be to them. It’s a document that is the heart of your application, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle to getting a job. The ideal resume by U.S. standards is 1 to 2 pages length and nothing longer than that. The CV (Curriculum Vitae) is different from a resume.

Again, a resume should highlight your professional experience, educational background, job skills and knowledge, and your technical capabilities. You can create different resumes depending upon the job you’re applying to especially if you can only highlight certain previous work experiences. Without the interview or direct networking, the resume and the cover letter, if requested, are the only ways that you will be able to reach potential employers.

It’s a summation of who you are professionally, what you can offer in business, and should showcase your work effort and drive. It is also a great way for employers to verify that you are qualified for the job opening and that you would be an asset to them rather than a liability.

Compared to less qualified candidates, if your resume looks good on paper, you’ll be able to stand out for a potential interview when your qualifications are better than the other applicants.

When you first beginning writing out your resume, you are going to want to make sure to use action words to highlight those professional experiences and your previous accomplishments you’ve had as well. These actions words should not be the same each sentence and you should never repeat the same one more than once. Also, it is important to use the present tense or past tense correctly based upon if you are still doing the same job or if it was done previously and that you are no longer there.

There are hundreds of action words in the English language and learning a good amount of them is a great way to ensure that you have a good resume. In order to keep the interviewer interested, you do not want to repeat the same action word twice or three times so be sure to do your best to learn as many as you can and know what the meaning of those words are too.

Your action word is a key component of making the resume look legitimate to the reader. The action word should always go at the beginning of the sentence (i.e. next to the bullet point) during the ‘work experience’ part of the resume. If you are currently working at a job but are applying to change to a new job, the action word must be in the present tense. However, if you are writing about previous work experience in your resume, your action words should be in the past tense. Without using action words, your resume won’t look as persuasive or as actionable as it could be otherwise. Your employer will want to know what you bring to the table based on your past work experiences.

Here is a list of good action words you can use in your resume if they apply to what your profession does, it is a small sample list but includes many words that commonly come up in professional resumes and accurately depict what some jobs do:

  • assemble
  • assist
  • build
  • cook
  • drive
  • fly
  • operate
  • program
  • repair
  • sell
  • sew
  • supervise
  • translate

Action Word – Sentence Examples

  • Assemble the cars in the manufacturing plant before they can be inspected.
  • Assembled over 10,000 cars in the manufacturing plant before they were inspected.
  • Cook meals that were prepared by hand without any outside training.
  • Cooked dozens of meals per day that were prepared by hand without any outside training.
  • Lead a Sales team of five people to sell medical device products to clients.
  • Led a Sales team of five people in selling hundreds of medical device products to clients in biomedical industry.
  • Develop software products to make it easier for customers to order their groceries online.
  • Developed ten different software products that made it easier for customers to order their groceries online.

In the introduction of a resume, you will want to be able to do many things well to set it up on sound footing before getting to the heart of your resume by introducing yourself and your current skillset. You will want to have a statement of one to two sentences discussing who you are and what you can offer to the employer. It’s basically a summary of your resume and a short summary of what your professional skillset is.

“My name is John Anderson and I have over 10 years of experience in digital marketing focusing on SEO, social media, and advertising campaigns. I am a dependable, hard-working, and motivated individual looking to expand my knowledge and expertise.”

Remember to include at the top of your resume your full name, address, e-mail address, and cell phone number so the employer may be able to contact you.

Headline Example:

John Doe

22 Winston Way, Toronto, Canada 24589

   John.Doe@gmail.com

                                                  +( ) (   ) (   ) (    ) –> Phone Number

 The body part of your resume should focus on two major parts: your professional experiences as well as your educational background. At the top of your resume, you’ve introduced yourself and your professional profile but now you want to go more into detail.

Make sure to include relevant bullet points regarding actions you undertook in each of your previous jobs as well as what goals you were able to accomplish. Remember to write in complete sentences and use a timeline in chronological order from most recent to furthest away in terms of commitment.

For example: Bachelor of Arts Degree, Stanford University; Biochemistry (Major), Physics (Minor). 2011 – 2015.

In the conclusion, you want to highlight what your area of expertise is. You want to leave the reader aware of what kind of professional abilities, skills, and technical capabilities you have. Also, if you have any awards or earned any professional honors, you will want to list them in chronological order from most recent to furthest in the past.

If your work has been published or if you have any items in your professional portfolio, you’ll want to highlight the title of these articles as well as for which publication they were featured in. Depending upon what kind of employer you are focusing on, it’s sometimes beneficial to list what kind of hobbies and interests you have even if they are not professionally related. Regarding coding or foreign languages, you should highlight by the end of your resume which languages you know whether its Python (coding) or Spanish (foreign language) to stand out from the competition.

With a great resume, you will have a much better chance of landing that dream job. While it is not guaranteed, if you can explain yourself well professionally with good vocabulary with the correct action words as well as few or no grammatical errors, it’s likely you will be called in for an interview or be able to take that pivotal next step towards landing your next employment opportunity.

English Corner – Embrace Your Errors

It’s natural to make mistakes. As famous English poet Alexander Pope once wrote, “To err is human.” To err or to make a mistake is unavoidable and the earlier you accept the fact, the faster you will be able to move on. If you can’t acknowledge your mistake, you won’t be able to fix it which will help you to become a better English learner. The 1st step in the process of improving your proficiency is realizing you are going to make mistakes and to be ready to correct them so that it does not happen again.

The ability to make yourself vulnerable is key when it comes to learning a new language. The vulnerability to put yourself out there and making yourself susceptible to making mistakes will do more for your English language learning than anything else. If you do not try at all or if you refuse to participate, you will definitely not improve at all. It is okay to be nervous, shy, and even worried about these mistakes but you should know that there are countless others who have come before you, made the same mistakes but they learned from them, and they were able to use these mistakes to fuel their improvements and use them as motivation to become better listeners, readers, speakers, and writers.

When you make an error, stop yourself and ask: ‘why is this an error?’ Also, realize ‘how could it be fixed?’ and then lastly inquire to yourself about ‘what can I do to avoid this mistake in the future?’. If you stop, answer, and process these three questions, you will be well on your way to avoiding further errors and helping also to allay your fears of making them in the first place.

An English teacher can only do so much for each student especially if they have 30 to 40 of them in the classroom. The individual student must take it upon themselves to face their fear head on, make the inevitable mistakes, and to learn from them through perseverance and practice. A teacher can only do so much to motivate his or her students but it is up to the student themselves how far they want to take their language learning. The classroom is a place of equal standing among language students but it is outside of the classroom where those who put in the most effort, who will likely make the most mistakes, but who spend the most time fixing those mistakes who will have the most lasting success.

Learning a language is hard work but it can be among the most gratifying things worth accomplishing during our lives. It can be messy, uncomfortable, and challenging process but that goes for life itself as well. There will be setbacks and obstacles laid in your way but you must not be afraid of making mistakes. Being able to make mistakes and to bounce back from them shows a spirit of character and determination that is not easily quenched. If the fire of learning is in you, you won’t be dismayed when you use the singular noun instead of the plural noun or you put the verb at the beginning of the sentence instead of in the middle.

Hopefully, you will have caring teachers to light your path forward along with friends and family at your side when you stumble and make those mistakes. Embracing your errors is not an easy process by any means but it’s a necessary part of the learning process. Looking back on your past mistakes, you will be grateful that you made them because they taught you a lesson and they made you a better learner. Without the chance to make mistakes, there is no true mastery. I hope that all of you English language learners reading this article to know that when you fail, simply brush it off, try again, and push forward until you succeed.

English Corner – The Oxford Comma

One of the key debates in English grammar is the role of the ‘serial’ comma or what’s otherwise popularly known as the ‘oxford’ comma. Depending on whom you might ask, there are constructive arguments to be made as to why the Oxford comma is useful or why it may not be necessary at all. It all depends upon your personal preference in using or not using this kind of comma but it is important to be aware of how it is used and why it is used. Having proper grammar is a key part into developing one’s fluency in English and the Oxford comma is often considered to be necessary to developing that skillset.

The Oxford or serial comma is the last comma for a list of things, people, or places. I’ve listed some examples as to make it clear what this kind of comma is. The Oxford comma is always the last comma and cannot be classified as a serial comma if there is only one comma in the sentence. There has to be at least two or more commas in the sentence to have an Oxford comma take its’ place as the serial comma.

Examples

  1. Please bring your books, pencils, and some paper to class tomorrow.
  2. Remind Jimmy, Patrick, and Tina that they have a Math test today.
  3. I had a salad, an appetizer, steak, and dessert at the restaurant tonight.

As you can see from the examples, the Oxford comma is highlighted and bolded as the last of the commas in the sentence whether the subject(s) are people, things, or places. The thing with the Oxford comma to understand is that it is not mandatory to use and that there is a lot of debate over whether it should be even used at all. The use of the Oxford comma is stylistic and different style guides differ in terms of their views on the serial comma.

For example, the AP style guide for English grammar does not mandate the use of the Oxford comma. However, this is in contrast to other style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style or The Elements of Style, which mandate and support the use of the Oxford comma. Certain professional organizations and agencies such as the United States Government Printing Office and the American Medical Association are supportive of the Oxford comma and encourage its’ use in their employees. Depending upon whom you work for or what line of work you’re in, views on the Oxford comma are likely to differ.

The debate over the Oxford comma extends to across the pond in the United Kingdom where there is also a divide over if it should be used at all. The Oxford Style Manual and the MHRA Style guide support the use of the Oxford comma whereas well-known national publications such as The Times Style Manual and The Economist Style Guide oppose the use of the Oxford comma. When it comes to the serial (Oxford) comma, British and American style guides both fall on opposing sides of this debate.

The main argument in support of using the Oxford comma is based around how it can clear up any ambiguity that comes with using ‘and’ instead of another comma to finish up the sentence. Supporters of the Oxford comma generally wants to make them understood without confusing the audience regardless if they’re writing a newspaper article or a research paper. I’ll give you an example to see how a sentence’s meaning could be ambiguous without the Oxford comma being used.

Example

I love my siblings, George Clooney and Katy Perry.

Because there’s no Oxford comma here, it’s definitely strange if you read it out loud. Instead of the intended meaning being that you love your siblings separately and then you also love George Clooney and Katy Perry who are known celebrities, it comes off as being that your siblings are George Clooney (brother) and Katy Perry (sister) which is likely not true.

Let’s look at the same example with the Oxford comma implemented into the ending of the sentence.

Example

I love my siblings, George Clooney, and Katy Perry.

From this re-written example with the Oxford comma included, it becomes more clearly that the subject known, as ‘I’ loves his or her siblings, George Clooney, and Katy Perry. It’s clearly distinguished in this case that the siblings are not the famous celebrities and that they are separate people. However, if you are really opposed to the Oxford comma, you can re-structure the sentence so that it can make sense grammatically and you won’t have to insert the serial comma for it to work.

Example

I love George Clooney, Katy Perry and my siblings.

In this re-written example, you don’t need the Oxford comma to clear up the ambiguity.

Unlike other debates, this debate within English grammar about the Oxford comma will never end. There are always going to be supporters and opposition to its usage. However, it’s important that every English learner or teacher be adaptable to its usage or non-usage. If your student wants to use the Oxford comma, they should be able to because it’s apart of how they learned English grammar and they are technically allowed to do so. If the teacher doesn’t want to teach the Oxford comma to their English students, they also should not have to if they don’t believe in it. We can learn and teach English in a world where the Oxford comma can exist and not exist.