10 easy-to-fix English language mistakes made by non-native speakers

Today on the blog we have a guest post from Jobs in Childcare, an international jobs board for teacher, tutor, governess and nanny jobs in the UK and abroad.

No matter how good your English is, there are a number of mistakes which you need to take care to avoid.

If you want to sound natural when speaking English, be sure to avoid these classic errors that almost all non-native speakers make!

  1. Thanks God!

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone get this one right!

‘Thanks God’ gives the reader/ listener the idea that you are standing next to God and saying ‘thank you’ to him as he hands you something. Remember, you aren’t simply saying: ‘Thanks, God! You rock!’

The correct thing to say is ‘Thank God’: one of the rare cases of using the subjunctive in English.

However, ‘thanks God’ is possible in the 3rd person (e.g. Peter thanks God for his wonderful family every single day).

So that should clear that up. Thank God for that.

  1. ‘Saying’ someone

Another classic mistake is the misuse of the verbs ‘say’ and ‘tell’, and in particular ‘saying someone’. You cannot ‘say John’ that his house is on fire, you can only tell him.

The easiest way to think of it is as follows:

  • You say something (e.g. I said ‘Hello!’)
  • You tell someone something (I told Eric to meet me at the park)

It is also worth bearing in mind that there are also several fixed phrases which only use ‘tell’:

  • To tell a story
  • To tell a lie
  • To tell the truth
  • To tell the time
  1. To take (food)

When ordering in a restaurant or cafe, you often hear non-native speakers of English announcing that they will ‘take’ the pepperoni pizza. This makes native speakers think of going around the counter, grabbing the food and running down the road with it.

A native speaker would most often use ‘have’ in this instance.

‘I’ll have the salad, please!’

apple on a stack of books
Don’t take the apple!

  1. How do you call?

Another classic mistake. Asking ‘how do you call?’ gives the impression of asking for instructions on how to call someone on a phone. The correct way to ask is ‘What do you call..?’. Another useful variation to learn as a stock phrase is ‘How do you say..?’

Example: ‘Excuse me! How do you say ‘туристическая достопримечательность’ in English?’
Answer: ‘Tourist attraction!’

Side noteRussian is hard.

  1. Explain me

‘Explain me’ is a common mistake which, when used incorrectly, seems existential to the confused listener. ‘Explain me. Why am I the way I am? What is life?’

A much better way of phrasing this would be ‘explain to me’ or ‘explain ________ to me’.

Example: ‘Can you explain the plot of the film Inception to me?’
Answer: ‘No. Nobody can.’

lady surrounded by question marks
Explain ME!

  1. A 6 years old boy

This is a mistake that non-natives have trouble with even when they have attained a very high level of English.

The boy is 6 years old. However, he is a 6-year old. Generally, when units of measure are used as adjectives or as part of a compound noun, they are singular.

So, it’s a 6-month contract, a 50-litre engine and a 6-year old boy.

  1. Isn’t it?

‘They will all go to the cinema together, isn’t it?’ is, sadly, grammatically incorrect.

Unfortunately, you can’t use ‘isn’t it’ as a tag to turn a statement into a question.

There are languages where this works (such as French, n’est-ce pas?) but in English the question tag has to line up grammatically, using the correct tense and the correct subject pronoun.

Therefore:

He’s angry, isn’t he?

They’re fast, aren’t they?

We will go tomorrow, won’t we?

  1. I want to go also

“I wanted to go to work…but I also wanted to stay in bed.”

Sound familiar? Hopefully, because it’s correct!

The temptation is often to add ‘also’ onto the end of a sentence, as you might do with too (I’m hungry, too!) but the word also, as a general rule, should be placed after the subject of the sentence.

  1. Last week I have been to the cinema

Confusing the present perfect and simple past tenses is another common error, as many languages do not have an equivalent of the English present perfect tense.

The rule is, if you are talking about a finished action that you know was  completed at a specified time in the past, you use the simple past tense. The correct way to form the exact time expression above would therefore be:

“Last week I went to the cinema.”

The present perfect, on the other hand, you use when referring to something with a relationship with the present (e.g. ‘I have lost my homework’ [the effect is in the present: I don’t have it now], or ‘I have been to Italy’ [I’ve been already and, as implied, I may go again someday]) or when you are building sentences with keywords such as already, just and yet.

  1. I would like one cheeseburger

Non-native speakers often ask for ‘one’ something. ‘One ice cream please’, is a common example.
However, one is only need to confirm the quantity, the amount of what you are asking for. The natural way to order a single unit of something would be to use the indefinite article ‘a’.

So you would want to order ‘an ice cream’. Again, you don’t need to specify the quantity unless you are ordering several items.

 

We hope you found all the above suggestions useful! Which parts of English do you find most difficult? Which mistakes do you often hear people making? Let us know in the comments section.

To find out more information visit: www.jobsinchildcare.com