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Common Mistakes People Make When Learning English

March 25th, 2014

As established in other areas of this website, learning a language can be very difficult. It forces a person to let go of their dependency of their first language (L1) and begin to be able to fully function in their second language (L2- in this case, English). This article will mention the most common mistakes made by ELLs (English Language Learners) and what they should do to avoid making these common mistakes.

Progressive tenses –

When using the progressive tenses in English, ELLs often forget to use the verb “to be” before the gerund. For example, ELLs often say “My brother studying English” instead of the correct form “My brother is studying English”. This also happens in the past and future progressive tenses. For example, “I eating when my friend came” instead of “I was eating when my friend came”, or “Kathy will running all night” instead of “Kathy will be running all night”. ELLs must remember to put the verb “to be” in its conjugated form in the progressive tenses. A gerund (the –ing ending word) must be accompanied by the verb “to be” in progressive tenses or it is not correct. Sometimes ELLs intend to use the simple tense but instead choose to put an –ing ending on the word. This is a very common mistake and must be avoided. If you want to say something in a simple tense, do not add an –ing to the ending. Another mistake connected to this one that ELLs make is overuse of the verb “to be”. For example, “You are go to school” instead of “You go to school” or “You are going to school”. An ELL must make a separation in their minds between the simple and the progressive tenses.

The “s” –

Every ELL from every country no matter the language background makes mistakes with putting the “s” at the end of words. Even people who speak languages that have “s” at the end of some of their words still make the mistake by not using it in English. ELLs specifically struggle with plurals and he/she/it simple present tense forms. Even when ELLs know the grammar rules surrounding these concepts, they will not be inclined to pronounce nor write the “s” at the end of the word. It’s quite a phenomenon, actually. The biggest surprise is that ELLs that speak a language with plurals with “s” (like Spanish, Portuguese, Italian) often do not use the “s” in English. ELLs must be reminded that putting an “s” on the end of a word can change the way a person understands what he/she is saying and can even change the meaning of a word. Simple rules involving plurals are often overlooked when an ELL is speaking perhaps because it is easy for forget or they do not think it is important to put the “s” at the end of the word. An ELL will be incline to say “I have five pencil” instead of “five pencils”, even though they know the grammar rules concerning plurals in English. As mentioned before, it’s quite a phenomenon. Forgetting the “s” on the third person singular in the simple present tense is more understandable because it is an exception, not a rule. For example, the word forms for other conjugations of simple present tense verbs do not end in “s” (I eat, You eat, They eat, We eat), while the third person singular is the only one that does end in “s” (He eats, She eats, It eats). However, the existence of an exception does not excuse an ELL to haphazardly make this mistake without correcting it. It is not correct to omit the “s” in the English language. In fact, there are 18 “s’s” in the first three sentences of this paragraph alone! Imagine how frequently the “s” is used in English! One of the biggest differences between a native English speaker and a non-native English speaker is the proper use of the “s”.

Articles –

There are some ELLs from specific regions of the world that have a harder time with articles than others. However, it is a widespread problem throughout all cultures of ELLs and it can be difficult to eradicate due to the English-heavy origin of this particular grammar point. ELLs will often not use articles at all or will use them in the incorrect or uncommon places. For example, a person from the Middle East is inclined to say “The life is beautiful”, whereas a native English speaker would say “Life is beautiful”. A person from Korea, Japan or Thailand would be inclined to say “Teacher gives us homework” instead of “The teacher gives us homework”, or “I’m going to baseball game” instead of “a baseball game”. As previously mentioned, this can be a difficult problem to fix due to the exceptions in rules about articles and the fact that English is an article-heavy language. ELLs should remember that, in general, articles precede singular nouns. “Baseball game” and “teacher” in the previous examples are both singular nouns and therefore should be preceded by an article. In the previous sentence, “article” is a singular noun and therefore carries the article “an” before it. Use an article before singular nouns. This is a safe rule to go by even if there are a few exceptions.