One of the reasons that English has quickly become the international language is the relatively simple grammatical structure. Even when words are used out of order, or sentences spoken poorly, English learners can usually make themselves understood. Uninflected adjectives mean you never change them based on gender or speaker, and there are plenty of similarly easy parts to learning English.
However the mixed origins of the modern English language can be a challenge, with Latin influences combining with Saxon structures and Norman French words too. English is Germanic, Roman and Scandanavian all at once!
Check out some of the most basic mistakes that English learners make below.
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Prepositions - on, in, above or inside?
With an estimated 150+ prepositions to take into account, learning correct preposition use is one of the major tasks facing new language students.
Plenty of the prepositions are simple to learn and use correctly. 'Above' always talks about something being higher than the other thing. 'Below' can be relied upon for the opposite, when an object is lower than another.
The real challenge begins with prepositions that can be used to give multiple meanings.
You can 'walk around the table' but you can also arrive 'at around 18:00' - the first means to avoid hitting something, and the second gives an estimate about of something will happen.
One useful way to try to understand which prepopsition to use and when, is to understand more about the situations they are used in. Location, for example, is typically discussed using 'at' as well as for time.
"Let's meet AT the cinema"
"Let's meet AT 19:00 tomorrow"
Learners should try to integrate the common contexts that prepositions typically appear in, as well as avoid trying to translate them into their own language. While it might sometimes help, normally it delays true language acquisition. Learn the prepositions in sentences, using real references.
Gender pronouns - he or she or it?
Although English learners can enjoy non-gendered adjectives (something which can be a real challenge for English native learners of Spanish), many English students struggle with our gendered pronouns.
When English learners are speaking, it can often be difficult to get the 'she', 'he' or 'it' right! It only gets harder when you have to change the verb to a plural in certain situations.
In Spanish the pronoun is often included in the verb conjugation, but in English it's separate. Spanish possesive pronous (his, hers) use the same word, so it's not a natural process to create a separate pronoun in English.
Consistent correction will help you develop these habits, and specific practice with gender pronouns to reinforce will go a long way too.
The ‘dummy’ subject - is or it is?
Another fun little challenge that learners have to overcome in English is the 'dummy' subject.
In Spanish, 'It is interesting' becomes 'Es interesante'. English sentences need a subject, and so when there is not one, a 'dummy' subject is used to keep grammatical sense.
This isn't true if the sentence is imperative, like 'Go there now".
When we say 'It is cold' - the 'it' we are referring to has no meaning, and only exists to ensure a subject in the sentence. This is quite a strange grammatical concept, and it can take time for learners to adapt to always adding this 'dummy' subject in their sentences.
We also use words like 'There are' and 'There is' as dummy subjects. We should say
'There is a women there' NOT 'Is a women there'.
How to use articles - the, an or a
In English, these articles are used just like an adjective, modifying the noun to give the listener extra important information.
When we say 'Do you want to watch the movie?", the listener knows it is a reference to a specific movie, perhaps one you have discussed earlier that day.
If you say 'Do you want to watch a movie?', then the listener will understand this as a general invitation, and knows the movie choice is not specific.
We also use these articles to say we are part of a group or organisation. In Spanish 'Soy profesor' becomes 'I am A teacher' with the addition of the article 'a' before the profession.
When you want to refer to a specific noun;
The dog, the building, the person, the elephant, the bar, the group - we always use 'the' as the article.
When you want to refer to a general noun that is part of a group, we use 'A' if the noun begins with a consonant, and 'An' if it begins with a vowel.
'A bottle of water' or 'a piece of cake' or 'an elephant in a circus'.
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