With about a billion English language learners from all over the globe, English is the most popular second language worldwide. Indeed, millions of native speakers of all languages have acquired proficient English skills for business, family, or personal reasons. But achieving fluency in English doesn’t come without its fair share of difficulties. Below are some of the most common mistakes which among English language learners.
Using the wrong preposition
The English language contains a whopping 150 prepositions (or even more, by some estimates), so it’s no surprise that learners often use the wrong one. Prepositions with overlapping meanings, such as in, at, and on, are the ones that are most often used incorrectly.
Mixing up closely related adjectives
English has many adjectives that are similar in both meaning and form, such as bored/boring or interested/interesting. Given that these pairs vary by only a couple of letters, it’s easy to accidentally use the wrong one.
Forgetting about gender-specific pronouns
In many languages, object pronouns (e.g., him and her) and possessive pronouns (e.g., his and hers) are the same. For instance, in Spanish, “his book” and “her book” are both translated as “su libro”. Therefore, remembering that these pronouns in English take on genders can be taxing for some students. Often, learners will resort to the masculine form, which is typically taught as the “default” form.
Word order in questions
Forming questions in English is tricky. In many languages, you can simply stick a question mark at the end of the sentence, and your statement becomes a question. In English, however, asking a question often entails a change in word order. Specifically, English features subject-auxiliary inversion, meaning that the subject (e.g., “you”) and the helping verb (e.g., “are”) switch places; thus, the statement “You are going to the store” becomes “Are you going to the store?” when it’s framed as a question. This is easy to forget, so learners often create ill-formed questions like “You are going to the store?”
Omitting “dummy” subjects
A peculiar feature of English is that all sentences need a subject, even when it doesn’t make sense to have one. For example, in the sentence “It is necessary to always have a subject in English,” the word “it” is called a dummy subject: it doesn’t carry any meaning, and simply exists so that the sentence has a subject. This is a complex grammatical concept, and thus learners often struggle with it. It’s common to hear learners omit dummy subjects, forming sentences like “Is raining” or “Is very interesting.”
Knowing when and how to use articles
The English language contains 3 articles: short words like “the”, “an”, and “a”, which precede nouns and confuse learners. As an English teacher knows, it’s exceedingly difficult to explain the precise rules regarding when to use “the” versus “a” — and there are plenty of exceptions. This is especially difficult for learners whose native language does not have articles, such as Chinese.
From prepositions to articles to pronouns to adjectives, there are a lot of places to go wrong when learning English! However, don’t let this discourage you — as with any language, practice makes perfect.