For more common mistakes that English learners make, take a look at Are You Making These 4 Advanced English Mistakes?
You know the expression “we learn from our mistakes,” right?
Like when you spent an afternoon talking to a complete stranger on the phone about your personal life because you thought it was your mother.
Or when you weren’t paying attention at the supermarket, and you went home with 1 litre of diesel instead of the bananas you wanted.
These are mistakes that we learn from (hopefully).
And it’s the same with learning a language, of course.
Making mistakes is really one of the best things you can do.
When you make mistakes, you realise what problems you have.
And when you realise what your problems are, you can fix them.
But of course, you need to notice that you’re making a mistake in the first place.
If you don’t notice your mistake, then you’ll just keep making it, and then how can you fix it?
And that’s why I spent this morning going through these books:
These books are where I write down the mistakes my students make during our online lessons.
And after looking through these books, I discovered something interesting.
A lot of the mistakes that my students make are similar.
They’re not exactly the same, but they all represent some common misunderstandings about English.
The types of mistakes were the same for high and low-level students from lots of different countries.
And you know what that means, right?
That means you might be making these mistakes, too.
So let’s look at five of the most common English mistakes my students make:
Classic English Mistake #1
“I’ve got a lot of work to catch up.”
First of all, can you spot the mistake?
What should the sentence say?
We’ll take a look at how to fix this later, but before that, let’s have a look at the problem.
First of all, think about the verb “look.”
As you already know, we can use the verb “look” without an object:
“Can I help you?” “No, I’m just looking.”
Or with an object — but when we use an object, we have to use a preposition:
“Wow — look at his head. It’s massive!”
It’s like this verb is really sensitive and needs to have some “protection” from the object.
Now, let’s use it in a question:
What are you looking at?
“Wait! Why do we have the preposition there?” you might or might not be saying. “I thought we don’t use a preposition if there’s no object!”
Well, actually there is an object in this question. The object comes later when the question is answered. But it’s still there — floating in the air like a balloon.
And that means the verb must have the preposition — to prepare the verb for contact with the object when the answer finally comes:
You’ll usually find the “invisible object” in three types of sentences:
What are you waiting for?
I’d like to know what you’re thinking about.
Infinitive of purpose:
We’ve got a lot to look forward to.
So what about the original mistake:
“I’ve got a lot of work to catch up.”
Can you fix it?
Answer in the comments!
Classic English Mistake #2
“Just a moment — I close the door.”
OK. Take a minute to look at this sentence and think about what’s wrong.
Good — let’s move on.
This sentence is actually correct in many languages, including Turkish, French, Italian… In fact, English is the only language I know that does things differently here. (Edit: Russian also does something similar. Thanks to Andre for pointing this out.)
Let me explain.
First of all, we need to look at the situation.
Why did my student say this?
Was closing the door a plan?
Or did she say it because she wanted to describe something she does every day?
Actually, neither of these things. (Although I’m sure she closes at least one door every day.)
This was a spontaneous decision.
She decided to do something and then said it at more or less the same time.
This is a common situation in life, right?
Every day, we volunteer to answer the door, or suddenly need to check our phone for some information, or offer to help someone from time to time, right?
Most languages use the present simple tense for these situations.
But in English, we use “will.” (Don’t forget to contract)!
So you’re sitting at home with your flatmates or family and the doorbell rings. You say:
“I’ll get it.”
Or someone asks you if you want to come with them to watch the new Star Wars film on Friday, but you need to check your calendar. So you say:
“Maybe — I’ll just see if I’m free.”
Then you realise that of course you’re free. It’s Star Wars. Nothing else matters!
So remember — next time you want to do something spontaneous, just add a little “ll” sound to the end of that verb.
Classic English Mistake #3
He doesn’t listen. He just talks, talks, talks, talks, talks.
Again — let’s take a minute to think about what might be the problem here.
Done? OK — let’s go!
Actually, this is something that a first-language English speaker might actually say.
The problem here isn’t that it’s incorrect.
Or that it doesn’t sound natural.
The problem here is that when students say this, it sounds a little more aggressive than what they wanted.
I like to call this “machine-gunning.”
Partly because the technique involves using repetition, like a machine gun.
But also partly because it sounds kind of cool.
There are two ways to use this technique.
There’s the standard way and there’s the aggressive way.
Most of the time, because we’re all calm and awesome people, we prefer to go for the standard way.
How to do that?
The technique is really simple — we simply add “and” between the verbs.
So instead of:
He tries, tries, tries but never succeeds.
He tries and tries and tries, but never succeeds.
OK. So can you fix the original mistake?
“He doesn’t listen. He just talks, talks, talks, talks, talks.”
So there we are — 3 classic English mistakes I hear a lot from my students.
Make sure you’re not making them, too!
So now it’s over to you. Here are the original mistakes again.
- I’ve got a lot of work to catch up.
- Just a moment — I close the door.
- He doesn’t listen. He just talks, talks, talks
Can you fix them?
Answer in the comments!
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