Many colleges and universities in the United States have writing centers to help students improve their skills. Some materials are available free at Web sites like the Purdue Online Writing Lab, or OWL. The site is connected to the Writing Lab at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. It includes resources that can help non-native English speakers.
VOA's Art Chimes recently spoke with the director, Linda Bergmann. She said the Purdue Online Writing Lab is a collection of workshops, worksheets and instructional materials.
For example, even native speakers are often not sure when to use "lie" and when to use "lay." The site gives these example sentences: "After laying down his weapon, the soldier lay down to sleep." "Will you lay out my clothes while I lie down to rest?"
The problem is that "lie" also means to not tell the truth, as in "I lied to my mother." So you would say in the past tense "I lay on the bed because I was tired."
The Purdue Online Writing Lab also explains how to use an apostrophe correctly in possessives and other cases. People often add an apostrophe to "its" in a sentence like "The group made its decision." There should be no apostrophe because what you mean is that the decision belongs to the group. "It's" with an apostrophe is short for "it is," as in "It's raining."
The Purdue Online Writing Lab also explains how to organize papers and avoid plagiarizing other peoples' work. And it provides a guide to higher education in the United States, including explanations of commonly used terms.
Director Linda Bergmann says the goal is to provide as many tools as possible. They include basic language skills of agreement of subject and verb, use of commas and other punctuation and complete and incomplete sentences. The Web site was started in nineteen ninety-four and has plenty of fans.
Linda Bergmann says: "We get a lot of thank you notes from people around the world. And also some schools in other countries use it as a writing handbook, as do some schools in the United States."
In all, the Purdue Online Writing Lab offers over two hundred free resources for writing and research. The address is owl.english.purdue.edu.
For a link, and to learn more about higher education in America, go to our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com.
And that's the VOA Special English Education Report.
(Adapted from a radio program broadcast 11Feb2010)