Common Errors Made by ESL Students

Hello all of my IELTS and TOEFL learners! It can be difficult learning a new language; it isn’t just learning a set of sounds that you then attach to words in your language, it is becoming a different person and thinking in a whole new way.

When we start learning a new language, we start out by attaching different words to our native language’s vocabulary and keep it in the same structure. You still have the same skeleton (grammar) and the same muscles (vocabulary). Then an extra problem is that we often only speak the foreign language with people who make the same errors, thereby reinforcing those errors! ☺

To break you of these bad habits, here are some of the most common mistakes I hear from my ESL students.

Articles (A, An, The, Some)

Undoubtedly, articles are hard to master. The English Article is used to indicate the grammatical definiteness of the noun. In Chinese, there are no articles to indicate this, because all nouns are considered uncountable. Mandarin may have words like Yī wǎn tang to classify a bowl of soup, but in English we need to say “a bowl” if we want to count something like soup. The word “some” does the same thing in English as Yīgè.

• The – is used to talk about a particular noun that you or I may already know, whether it is because it is unique or because we have already talked about. For example, the moon; the dog at your house; the street you drove on last night.

• A, An – is used to talk about a noun that is not any particular one. It could also be used to talk about something for the first time. Most importantly, it can also be used to talk about something when you don’t need to know its identity in order to talk about that thing in general (e.g., a dog is a good pet to have; a plant needs water to grow; a car is a convenient mode of transport)

• No Article – You don’t use an article when you want to talk about several things. The easiest way to remember this is that in English, you do not need to use an article when you are referring to a generic class of things or unspecific group (e.g., dogs are nice animals; plants needs water to grow; cars are a convenient mode of transport)

The Verb “to be”

So all Chinese speakers know the verb (shì) 是, or “to be” as we call it in English. However, in English, we use this verb a lot more than you do in Chinese. For instance, if I say, “How are you” Nǐ hǎo? You respond “I very good” Wǒ hěn hǎo. However, you should say “I am very good”. I know that in Chinese, all adjectives sort of have an implied “to be” in them; but in English, when you want to describe something you need the verb “to be”.

Time and Place Errors

Often I read my students’ essays and I see an incorrect combination of words expressing time and place together. For example, “I yesterday at the mall ate some soup”.

The one main rule to take away here is just put the expressions of time and place at the end of the sentence. Never put them between the Subject-Verb-Object. Also, place should go before time.

So, the correct structure would be Subject-Verb-Object-Place-Time: “I ate some soup at the mall yesterday”.

You can also put the time at the beginning of the sentence if you want: “Yesterday, I ate some soup at the mall”. However, it is just safer to put it at the end ☺

OK, so that is it for today’s correction of common errors. Till next time, happy learning!