6 Most Common Mistakes made by English Learners
The Most Common Mistakes in English
Non-native English speakers have it tough. The English language lacks consistent rules and has a structure like none other. Often, there are phrases that exist structurally in many other languages, and that non-natives transfer into English. But these most common mistakes in English, that non-native speakers use time and time again, don’t always match up to what you think they should. However, English can be a useful language, particularly in business, so it is well worth the time perfecting it!
Disclaimer! 99% of the time natives still understand the intention behind what you want to say – correcting these mistakes will just be helpful in making you sound like even more of a native!
1. I am waiting here since 2 hours
Imagine you’ve planned to see a friend at 12 – but you’ve been waiting there for 2 hours! How are you going to explain to them how long you’ve been there?
What you think you’re saying: I arrived and began waiting 2 hours ago
Correct construction: I have been waiting here for two hours -OR- I have been here since 12.
This one is common and can expose you as a non-native quickly!
2. It’s ok?
What you think you’re saying: Is everything all right?
Your question will sound more like a statement (‘it is ok’) than a question, despite a change in the tone of voice. Annoying, I know.
Correct construction: Is it ok?
Yeah, unfortunately you always have to invert the verb in English for a question.
3. Can you explain me the rules?
What you think you’re saying: I do not understand the rules, and I will need an explanation
Although very much understandable, this sounds a bit odd to a native speaker. You only explain something to someone, so this sentence almost sounds like you yourself are the rules and you are asking them/you to be explained… which doesn’t make any sense in any situation.
Correct construction: Can you explain the rules to me? (i.e. you are the INDIRECT object)
N.B. : the opposite rule applies with the verb ‘to ask’; i.e. Ask to me a question -> Ask me a question
4. Are you English?
What you think you’re saying: Are you from the United Kingdom?
People from outside of the UK often generalise by asking if you are from England, or sometimes London, even if they mean to ask if you’re from anywhere in the UK. This is not exactly a language issue so much as a common cultural misunderstanding, but be careful with this one; people can get offended!
Correct construction: Are you from the UK/Britain?
5. How do you call [word] in English?
What you think you’re saying: I do not know the word for this [thing] in English, please tell me
This one has a funny translation, as it can sound like you’re asking how you are able to call something (i.e. an orange) on the phone.
Tricky, and maybe one of the most common mistakes in English. In most other European languages, the ‘how’ construction exists. However, in English there are two options:
How do you say [word] in English? -OR- What do you call [object] in English?
Just to help it get a bit more confusing, if you are talking about a person, you’ll want to say:
What is he/she called? OR What’s their name?
6. I’m going to take a coffee with my friends later
What you think you’re saying: I’m going to buy/get/drink a coffee
What you’re really saying: I’m going to steal a coffee OR I’m going to transport a coffee from one place to another.
This applies to any use of the word ‘take’ when talking about going to get food or drink. To English natives it sounds funny in the reverse too, when you first learn phrases such as ‘tomar un café’. However, using the verb ‘take’ is possible when ordering food or drink:
Waiter: What would you like?
You: I’ll take (i.e. have) a coffee and a chocolate chip cookie.
Even so, us polyglots know all too well what it feels like to try and reconcile two (or more) conflicting grammatical structures. And if you’ve understood everything in the article, you’re already ahead of the game! If you want something more challenging, you can make our language test to see how good is your english, or our English pronunciation quiz!
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