What are the seven most common mistakes foreigners make when speaking English? Let’s take a look at them and learn how to avoid them in everyday conversation.
Do you find yourself getting funny looks by native speakers of English? Are you frustrated by all the times you’ve been asked to repeat yourself when you speak English to a native speaker?
It is only natural for people who learn English as a foreign language to make mistakes when speaking. Not only do us foreigners often have trouble pronouncing certain words, but we also tend to find the grammar a little bit confusing.
No matter what your native tongue is, there are usually differences in the way sounds are produced in your mother language versus English. Furthermore, English has some important sounds that may be non-existent in your mother language. As such, native speakers of English find the different accents of foreigners to be hilarious because they are often interpreted versions of a way to pronounce English. The complicated grammar only makes us sound worse.
So! Let’s go over some of the common mistakes we foreigners make when speaking English.
Mistake #1: Aspirated letters
In some languages, like Italian and Russian, h is silent. It does not have a real single sound of its own.
What happens when we speak English? We of course do not aspirate the h in words such as “hot”, “honey” and “house” as we should.
Think about this when your American friend invites you for lunch and he thinks you are very “angry”, instead of being very “hungry.” To some foreigners’ ears, those words sound identical if not pronounced correctly.
Mistake #2: Are there any sounds or not?
When we study a language, we have to deal with some phonemes which are difficult to pronounce.
Why? Because they do not appear often in our own language.
In grammar textbooks, these sounds are often explained by being linked with our native language, or through instructions which literally show you where to move and leave your tongue in relation to the teeth and palate.
Not so easy, right? The typical English sound th, as is stated in textbooks, is pronounced by placing the tongue near to the top of the teeth, producing a sound like dh. It is a very difficult sound for some foreigners and it does not often appear in most other languages.
When it comes to phonetics, foreigners usually pronounce it in three ways: some of them pronounce it as a f, while other ones use the laziest way, substituting it with a d. Still others pronounce it the the funniest way, using a weird z. I have to say, this pair of letters is probably the most difficult to pronounce perfectly and students should not be upset if they can never say th the right way. It is not a competition.
Mistake #3: Rolling “rrrr”
The English r is soft and casual. It does not ever have a rolling sound.
In addition to this, if it appears at the end of a word, it sounds like a very low, almost silent vibration.
Mistake #4: I’m explaininG somethinG importanT
Some foreigners get used to pronouncing each letter of a word, no matter whether those letters have a single sound or whether they merge with other letters in order to make another sound.
This is typical when it comes to -ing words. Even if you know you should not pronounce the last letter g, you keep doing it, right?
Now let's add three extra points regarding grammar:
Point #1: The speaker is not the first
Another typical mistake comes when we speak English and place ourselves before others in the sentence. English is completely the opposite. In English, we say “Jack and I live here” and not vice versa. Remember, do not be selfish… In English, you are not the first!
Point #2: To do or to make?
These two verbs help to increase the confusion of a lot of students. In several languages these two verbs correspond to only one verb.
How to distinguish it? We can think roughly that “to do” is for general ideas, referring to work of any kind. It is more abstract. “_To make_” is more for creating, building, constructing. You make a mistake, you don’t do a mistake!
Point #3: People have the power
How to turn a word into its plural is one of the first rules we come across when we learn a foreign language. But English, like any language, has some exceptions. For example, the word “people” is a plural noun, so “people are smart.” It’s not “people is smart”.
To sum up, it is worthwhile to focus on these points. Try comparing them to the equivalents in your native language, but do not worry too much if you do not sound native after few years.
Languages is a science. You need time and patience to learn it and eventually you will get some positive results.
Hero Image by Racchio (CC BY-ND 2.0)
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