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Common Mistakes Made Learning English By Different Regions of the World

July 13th, 2013

Learning English can be challenging for people from all over the world. A difficult aspect of studying English in the United States is being in a classroom with people from other countries and regions of the world than your own. This can be a very rich experience, but at the same time, very intimidating. People from different regions of the world make different common mistakes when learning English. This fact might be intimidating for English learners because they don’t see other people making the same mistake as them. However, the important thing to keep in mind is that each region of the world has their own set of mistakes when learning English. Also, language across the globe are vastly different from one another and it’s important to remember that people who natively speak a language that is closely related to English will have an easier time learning it as a second language.

Languages that share many cognates (words that look almost identical in both languages) with English are Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, German, and perhaps some Creole dialects. People coming from these countries will be able to easily define words simply from having a base knowledge of them in their own language. Any words that have a Latin, Greek, or Germanic root will be easily understood by speakers of these cognate-shared languages. For example, words that end in “-ion” have a Latin root in English and Romantic language-speakers will have almost the same word in their language. In English, we have “connection”. In Spanish, they have “conexión”. In English, we have “mention”. In Portuguese, they have “mencione”. In English, we have “relation”. In Italian, they have “relazione”. As you can see, these words are very similar in spelling and structure, so people who speak those languages could easily define those words simply by knowing their native language as a base for learning English.

However, even speakers of cognate-shared languages make common mistakes when learning English as a second language. Romantic language-speakers often make mistakes with prepositions in English. For example, in English, we say “according to” and in Spanish, they say “according with”. Even in non-Romantic languages, there are subtle preposition differences. For example, in German, they say “according after”. Preposition trends like this can be difficult to learn because they don’t make sense in cognate-shared language-speakers’ native languages.

Another common mistake of Romantic language speakers, specifically people from Spanish-speaking countries, is replacing “m” word endings with “n”. For example, instead of saying “him” they might say “hin”. Instead of saying, “come” they might say “cone”. This mistake is common of Spanish speakers because not many words in Spanish end with an “m”, but many words do end with “n”. This mistake is based on the tongue’s muscle-memory and can be a difficult habit to break. However, if you are a Spanish speaker, focus on words that end with “m” and preposition accuracy.

People from other parts of the world have different problems than Spanish-speakers. Chinese speakers, for example, have a difficult time pronouncing the digraph “th” as in “think” or “this”. This sound does not exist in Chinese, and therefore creates a problem for the Chinese palette. Instead of pronouncing “th” in the conventional, English sense, they pronounce it as “s”. This can cause confusion, however, because there are words that exist in English that may be accidently said. For example, if a Chinese person mispronounces the word “that”, it will sound like “sat”.  Another example is “think” and “sink”. While some English-learners may not think pronunciation is as important as other aspects of language-learning, it can cause serious comprehension problems and hinder one’s ability to have a fluid conversation with a native-English speaker. So, if you are a Chinese person, be careful with your “th” words and try to pronounce them correctly with the tongue slightly sticking out between your teeth.

While sharing some common mistakes, not all Asian countries make the same errors when learning English. For example, Koreans have a very difficult time pronouncing the difference between “l” and “r”. Of course, a stereotypical Korean mistake is ordering “rice” but accidentally ordering “lice”. This is a perfect example of how this pronunciation problem can hinder comprehension in social situations. The best part is, Koreans typically only switch the sound of “l” and “r”, so at least they are already accustomed to pronouncing these letters… unfortunately in the wrong words, though! If you are a Korean person, focus on the “l” and “r”. Simply switch the letters in your mind, and you will pronounce the word correctly. For example, the word “correct” and “collect” can easily be switched in the brain the pronounce them correctly.

West of Asia-proper, we find the Arabic-speaking countries. Arabic, while sounding completely different from English, does share some cognates with Spanish, surprisingly. However, there are some letters in Arabic that do not exist in English, and vice versa. The most difficult pronunciation error to correct for Arabic-speakers is the “p” and “b”. In Arabic, the soft, aspirated “p” sound does not exist. Therefore, all words with “p” are pronounced with a “b” instead, which can obviously cause comprehension difficulties in social settings. For example, the word “pot” may sound like the word “bought” if mispronounced by an Arabic-speaker. If you are an Arabic speaker, try to soften your “p” sound. It is made with only the lips and air. Do not vocalize nor let any sound come from your throat when pronouncing the “p”.

These common errors from many different regions can cause comprehension difficulties and can make your life more difficult when learning English. Try to focus on your region’s specific, common error and try not to focus on the fluency or abilities of people from other regions.