Ever wondered what it takes to get better at grammar?
Worried that grammar apps have replaced human proofreaders?
Intrigued by how one becomes a grammarian?
We’re answering these questions and more today in our interview with Ellen Feld from Grammar Lion!
After becoming a mom, Ellen was looking for a career change and found a way to combine her love of teaching with her excellent grammar knowledge. She created an online grammar course to help people communicate better, and every day her students benefit from her passion.
I’m stoked to be able to collaborate with a fellow grammar nerd to bring you this interview.
If you want to learn why grammar is so important, even in an age where grammar apps exist, keep reading!
Hi, Ellen! Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in your line of work.
Some people know me as a grammarian and online instructor, but I’m a creative writer too — poetry, fiction, personal essays, and children’s books.
Right out of grad school, I taught developmental writing to college students. The first intimidating stack of student papers (and they were paper then) was the catalyst for my interest in teaching grammar. I had no idea how to comment constructively on essays written by students who hadn’t been taught basic writing skills.
I’ve never believed writing is all about grammar. It’s not. Good grammar doesn’t make good writing, but good writing demands good grammar.
I was lucky to have had an education that included grammar rights and wrongs. But I didn’t have a grammar language to share with students. I started studying the same textbook the college assigned to its students. Then I made grammar part of how we worked on refining writing.
(As a writing instructor, I ask students to create first, free from the boundaries of rules. Grammar comes into the redrafting and editing stages.)
Fast forward — I was a mom exploring a career change. I enrolled in my first online course because I wanted to learn how to build web pages. Distance education was a new thing. I liked the medium so much that I knew I wanted to use it to teach. I found a platform and got to work developing my first online grammar course.
That’s awesome! The internet has opened up so many opportunities for people to learn new skills without having to attend classes in person. What do you do now and whom do you help?
I’ve been teaching grammar online for 18 years, and I also work as a developmental editor.
Students come to my course from across the globe. They’re a truly diverse group. From teens to octogenarians, they represent a range of ages, education, and work experience.
Most of us have to do some kind of writing, whatever our role or job title is. We have applications to fill out and forms to complete. We have to email bosses, patients, staff, teachers, government officials, family, or friends. We don’t have to write white papers to have reason to use our grammar smarts. We all want and need to be understood.
Our writing represents who we are.
I couldn’t agree more. Anyone who writes anything can benefit from using good grammar. What’s your favorite part of your job?
I have two favorite parts: (1) I love the connection with students. It’s virtual but tangible; and (2) I’m gratified every time a student experiences pride and joy in learning something they can use in their real world, whether it’s mastering the apostrophe or understanding the difference between lay and lie. I tell them to celebrate. Small changes add up to a big change.
Is there a demand for people with good grammar skills? What kinds of companies are looking for people with good grammar skills?
There sure is! What kind of company doesn’t value good grammar skills? Just this past week an HR manager of a relocation company told me she was seeing a lot of “nearly cringeworthy” email exchanges among staff. Nobody wants emails like those going out to clients.
Do you think it’s possible to use your grammar and punctuation skills to earn an income from home?
More and more of us work remotely. And it isn’t all phone and Zoom; it involves written communication. People need basic writing skills so they can communicate with confidence.
For any remote worker doing any kind of writing or editing — from fundraising to responding in a chat box to helping an indie author — good grammar will come into play. People with grammar skills are a tremendous asset.
If you’re just getting started with a home-based business, grammar skills can help you build your brand and show your communication strength.
There are obvious benefits to having a foundation in grammar for work requiring transcribing, proofreading, or straightforward messaging. But there’s a broader need for good grammar. Employers expect their people to wear many hats. We’re supposed to create “publication ready” writing. We need good grammar to accomplish that.
Even jobs that seem to have nothing to do with writing ultimately require writing and editing skills. A designer may have to proofread a blog. A virtual assistant may be asked to create sales copy.
What about all those grammar apps that are available now? Are people who are good at grammar not needed anymore?
Every day I use Word’s spelling and grammar check and the spell check in my email program. It’s hard for writers to see their own mistakes, and apps can help.
In the future, artificial intelligence could surpass an editor’s abilities. Until then, people are better than apps at understanding context and meaning. We can process nuances. We can decide if something is right or wrong and judge the validity of an app’s decision.
To do any of that, we need to know grammar rules and understand how to apply them. Grammar apps often fall short on application!
I think apps are great for a quick first and/or final check. For that deeper round of edits, our human brains are best.
The robots haven’t taken over yet! 😉 Do you think you can learn how to be good at grammar, etc. or do you have to be born with eagle eyes? What kind of traits do people who are good at grammar have?
It helps to have an eagle eye and the patience for doing close detail work. But good grammar comes from knowledge and skills that anyone who wants to can develop.
We often like what we’re good at and get gratification from being good at something. Not everyone loves grammar, but a lot of people are surprised by how much they enjoy it when they come to it today because they’re motivated to learn how to use it now, whatever they do.
An eagle eye is a must-have! For those who are a good fit, how would you recommend they improve their grammar skills?
Be ready to learn, but be patient with yourself. We don’t earn our grammar black belts in an hour. We go to class and we practice.
Use tools like books, quizzes, and online grammar courses. Read and question what you read.
Keep resources like an online dictionary at your fingertips. It’s free and will teach you about a whole lot more than spelling.
Be discerning with online resources. There’s a lot of bad info floating around. Use reliable sites.
Don’t worry about memorizing. In my course, I encourage students to focus on comprehension. I equip them with the resources to research what they’re unsure of or don’t remember. This is part of grammar empowerment.
I always say that! You don’t need to memorize every single rule; you just need to be aware of them and know how to find the answers. What makes your course different from other online grammar courses?
The truth is grammar books and courses all have pretty much the same material.
The first difference is presentation. The course is comprehensive, straightforward, and serious. We get down to the nitty-gritty. It’s not lofty; it’s practical. There’s no passive video watching. Students in this course read their lessons — written words are the best medium for actively learning this subject.
The biggest difference comes in my personal approach. I was a college instructor. I offer the distance learning equivalent of what I offered in the face-to-face classroom. I’m accessible. There’s a real person behind the screen who wants her students to succeed. I’m rooting for them. Really. And I think students know this.
Students have options in my course. They can be entirely independent and complete their course without ever interacting with their classmates and me. Alternatively, anyone who wants support can get it. I’m always ready to help. Our course discussion board is for real questions seeking real answers. I respond to every message. Students who prefer a more private approach can email me.
Everybody’s invited to Grammar Lion on Facebook, where the learning continues. My email door is always open to students. When their course time ends, I’m still here for them.
Ellen’s love of teaching really shines through in her words! You will definitely be in good hands if you sign up for her Grammar Lion: A Grammar Refresher course. I’ve gone through the course content and it is SOLID!
You might be wondering why I’m promoting someone else’s grammar course…
Here’s why: There isn’t much overlap between the Proofread Anywhere courses and Grammar Lion. Grammar Lion isn’t a proofreading course; it’s an online grammar course. You’re not going to get the same information about how to use your resources, getting practice, and starting or growing a proofreading business. That’s what Proofread Anywhere courses are for!
With Grammar Lion, you’ll fill in the gaps in your knowledge — those grammar concepts you never quite grasped.
Our students are huge fans of the course!
If you’re struggling to improve your English grammar or you want to get into the nitty-gritty and learn the whys and wherefores of grammar rules, Grammar Lion: A Grammar Refresher is the course for you!
You better act fast: Grammar Lion is a steal right now, but I don’t know how long it will remain that price!