I've been a professional English teacher for over 5 years, teaching students from around the world, many from Europe, South America and Asia. I've compiled this list of recurring mistakes my students make, these are problems that I've encountered frequently but don't worry! They are simple to fix.
English is everywhere and super useful, for studying abroad, career opportunities and travel! If you've got the basics covered but want to improve your sentence accuracy and pronunciation, this post is for you! Read through the examples, play the audio and practice saying each phrase a few times, can you spot an error you've made before? Let us know in the comments!
For more help and support on your language learning journey, join our free language learning group on Facebook!
10 common grammar mistakes
X I have 22 years.
✓ I am 22 years-old.
In English use the verb is/are | was/were to talk about someone’s age past or present. Use am to talk about your age in the present. Some languages directly translate this sentence from ‘have’, but it’s not correct to say you ‘have’ an age in English.
X The dog barks every five-five minutes
✓ The dog barks every five minutes
In English, don’t repeat the time interval twice to explain how regularly something happens. Using ‘every + time’ already shows that the action repeats.
X I have more five minutes of class left.
✓ I have five more minutes of class left.
In some languages the number goes after the word ‘more’, but remember that in English the number goes before!
X I am learning to swim since I was six years old.
✓ I have been learning to swim since I was six years old.
When talking about an action in the past that is still ongoing, use ‘have been + (verb + ing) to form the present perfect continuous tense.
X I said for him that he should help me.
✓ I said to him that he should help me
Unlike in some languages where there is one word that can be used to say ‘for, do, to’, in English use ‘to’ when quoting what someone has said to someone, fortunately this is the same past, present and future:
Past: I said to him that…
Present: John is saying to Jim that…
Future: I will say to him that…
X Some people like to go to the library for read books.
✓ Some people like to go to the library to read books.
Another mistake involving ‘for’ and ‘to’. In English when you give a reason for doing something you use the preposition ‘to’ and not ‘for’.
X I need new shoes, let’s go to the shopping.
✓ I need new shoes, let’s go to the shopping mall / centre
You can say, "Lets go shopping", using the verb shopping to invoke the action of buying things without referencing any specific place, but in English, talking about where
you want to go shopping, you say: shopping mall (US) or shopping centre (UK).
X He was driving too fast, I couldn’t do nothing about it.
✓ He was driving too fast, I couldn’t do anything about it.
Be careful with double negatives in English, if you say you couldn’t do nothing, you are really saying you had to do something, likewise with a double positive, if you ‘could do anything’ then you are really saying every possibility was an option.
? Did you ask him about the tickets?
X B: Yes, I asked.
✓ B: Yes, I asked him.
In English always include the personal pronoun when returning an answer about an action involving a person.
X Can you go there to get the keys?
✓ Can you get the keys, over there?
Always mention the object you are talking about first, when using ‘over there’ to reference a place.
10 common pronunciation errors
This sound doesn’t exist in many languages, so many people may use /s/ or /z/ instead when speaking English
The path has a bath I think
This is a common fault from Brazilian speakers, the ‘r’ sound in Brazilian Portuguese comes from lower in the throat and with more friction than the smooth English ‘r’. To English speakers the Portuguese speakers sometimes sound like they are producing a ‘h’ sound instead.
Rodents really like to ride big, red roller coasters.
3. Silent ‘r’
In British English, we don’t pronounce ‘r’ when it is written before a consonant sound, or if it is at the end of a word.
Sport, water, teacher, worth, tractor.
Though there are some exceptions (honour, vehicle) it is normally pronounced audibly in English:
Harry has a very happy hippo
5. Dark L
Many students typically round the lips at the same time as saying a final /l/ sound, giving a sort of ‘w’ sound. Don’t use your lips, produce the sound by pressing the tongue behind the top teeth and roof of the mouth.
Hi Carl, hold my small ball while I call all my friends.
The English /p/,/t/ and /k/ sounds are often ‘aspirated’ – when a native speaker says these sounds, they release quite a lot of air just after the sound, this doesn’t occur in many other languages:
Ken kills Kim for a cold kitten
Pretty Polly picks a pickled pepper
Tom talks to Tim two times in ten days
Sometimes students turn ‘d’ into a /dʒ/ sound, but in English, the /d/ sound stays the same no matter which vowel comes after it.
Don’t delay the delivery of dry ducks
The most common vowel sound in English is weak – the schwa /ə/, but it can appear in unpredictable places and with the spelling of any vowel, Portuguese speakers may replace it with a more predictable vowel based on spelling.
Banana, potato, camera, divide, different
9. /i:/ vs. /ɪ/
English has two close vowels: /i:/ and /ɪ/, where some languages only use a sound closer to /i/, so many non-native speakers need to relax the mouth more to make /ɪ/.
Green / Grin
Lean / Limp
Feet / Fit
Seep / Sit
Keep / Kit
Meal / Mill
One of the frustrating things about learning English is that the relationship between the spelling and sound is less straightforward compared to many other languages. Learners, remember that not all letters will be pronounced the way they look and some will even be silent!
Here are some of the most commonly misspelled words in English, can you spot the written letters that are different from the sound, and that catch people (even many natives!) out?