Having a client which uses learning technologies to teach English (goFLUENT) has prompted Bob Little Press & PR to do some research into language learning. Among other things (which may well be revealed later), the research has revealed the ten most common grammatical mistakes made by those learning English as a foreign language. They are:
1 Omitting the definite – and indefinite – articles
Example one: ‘I am brand manager.’ It should be: ‘I am a brand manager.’
Example two: ‘I am in office tomorrow.’ It should be: ‘I am in the office tomorrow.’
2 Misunderstanding the ‘Present Simple’
Example: ‘I study at the University of Berlin.’ It should be: ‘I am studying at the University of Berlin.’ Students seem to believe that an action such as ‘studying’ takes a long time and therefore they should use the Present Simple tense. They don’t feel that it is temporary action.
3 Misunderstanding the ‘Present Perfect’
Example: ‘I live in Paris for ten years.’ It should be: ‘I have been living/I have lived in Paris for ten years.’ It’s easy to merely use the present tense and forget about the ‘ten years’ which we ‘bring with us until today’.
Example: ‘Tell me before you will leave.’ It should be: ‘Tell me before you leave.’
Expressing the future after conjunctions related to time is a problem – especially if there is interference from one’s mother tongue.
5 Including inappropriate indefinite articles
Example: ‘I have a dinner at 12 o’clock every day.’ It should be: ‘I have dinner at 12 o’clock every day.’
6 Direct and indirect questions
Example: ‘Can you tell me where are the books?’ It should be: ‘Can you tell me where the books are?’ Many learners of English seem to feel that this is an indirect question where the subject comes before the verb.
7 Mother tongue interference
Example: ‘My car is repaired today.’ It should be: ‘My car is being repaired today.’ Students whose mother tongues are the languages which use perfect and imperfect aspects of verbs have problems in feeling that the activity is ‘being done at the moment’ because of the strong influence of their mother tongue.
8 Hidden cultural undertones
Example: ‘What is your qualification?’ It ought to be: ‘What are your qualifications?’
There can be a pejorative meaning in asking someone to explain their qualification – in other words, suggesting that they may not be qualified at all. It is less aggressive to use this term in the plural.
The English language is littered with euphemisms (a mild or vague expression substituted for one thought to be too harsh or direct) which will catch out any unwary – or unskilled – language student.
English speakers have a fondness for understatement (expressing things in restrained terms or representing something as being less than it is). Again, this will catch out any unwary – or unskilled – language student who is using the language at its ‘face value’.
This is a composite ‘top ten list of grammatical mistakes’. In reality, the top ten grammatical issues differ depending on the learners’ mother tongues – and how much that language’s grammar structures conflicts with those of the English language. Speaking in very general terms, students whose mother tongues have more complicated grammar structures tend to find learning English easier. However, everyone tends to have some initial problems with conditionals, wish clauses and reported speech.
Of course, the most valuable piece of advice to anyone learning English as a foreign language is ‘Don’t lose your accent’. According to the British playwright, George Bernard Shaw, language is the barrier and source of distinction between the social classes in society. Shaw, who illustrated this in his play, ‘Pygmalion’, believed that the type of language spoken by a person indicates his origin and social class. So, keeping a ‘foreign’ accent when speaking English makes the speaker classless in the eyes of native English speakers and, thus acceptable in any form of English society.