Do You Make These ESL Common Mistakes?

Help from ESL TOP TEN: Learn From Your Mistakes!


It's all in the details. Here are some great ESL TOP TEN quick fixes for some of  how those nasty, oh-so-common mistakes. 

Mistake # 10:  

"I want to lose my weight."


Correction for #10:
"I want to lose weight."


Here is an easy fix. If you are used to saying "my weight" just drop the pronoun my and you've got it!  Now, say it out loud ten times and never make this sneaky mistake again! Are you ready? Here goes, "I want to lose weight." "I want to lose weight." "I want to lose weight." Only seven more times and you'll feel light as a feather!


 Mistake # 9

Mismatching Questions and Answers  


Probably every student of English has been taught and memorized the classic, "Hello. How are you?" "I am fine."  That's a great start. But many of you know that there are lots of other ways to greet people.  Just be careful that your response matches the question. 

Someone Asks: "What's up?"
You answer: "Fine!"



Someone Asks: "What's up?"
You answer: "Same as usual."

or "Not much."


Here is a quick list of a few of favorites with the correct, natural English response.  Remember, the meanings are all pretty much the same, and these are used to acknowledge the person you are addressing.

Q: How are you?
Answers:  Good. / Great. / Not bad, thanks.

Q: How's it going?  
Answers:  Good. / Great. / Not bad, thanks.

Q: How are things?
Answers:  Good. / Great. / Not bad, thanks.

Q: What's up?  
Answers: Hi. / Hey. / Not much. / Same old, same old.

Q:  What's going on?
Answers:   Hi. / Hey. / Not much. / Same old, same old.

Best book for you: Ya Gotta Know It - an amazing book for any student that wants to learn popular, informal expressions, phrasal verbs, and slang.

Mistake # 8

"I am here since..."


"I've been here since..."

Ugh! Who decided to give the English language 12 different verb tenses?  Of course, ESL students get them confused! Well, here is one very important tip to keep in mind. In English, whenever we connect the present moment in our life- meaning right now, this second, today, this month, this year- to the past, we use a perfect tense.  It's one of the most rules you can depend on.  So, if you want to tell someone how long you have been learning English or sitting at the cafe waiting for your best friend, you should be using a present perfect tense.  

Here are two examples: "I've been studying English in the US for two months."  (See? In this sentence, the past is connected to the present.)  

Or, "I've seen Star Wars 3 times."  (Same thing.  Here the speaker is talking about some point in the past until now.)  No more "I am staying here since August"; which means another big step towards fluency for you.  Congrats!


Best book for you:

 greencheck2Focus On Grammar (Level 1 to 5)

This book was my grammar bible. Its explanations of the main grammar points are clear, detailed and often include visual timelines to help learners.  And, to top it off, there are a lot of practice exercises. 

Mistake # 7

Use Of Will For Future Tense e.g. "What Will You Do Friday?"


"What are you doing Friday?"


Almost all the ESL students I have taught over the years have been told that "will" is the most common future-tense form.  Although "will" is great for making requests, promises, threats, offers related to the future, "be going to + base form" is the form to use when talking or asking about plans and intentions.  

Here are a few example sentences to show the difference between these two forms in this ESL common mistake.

Will for an offer:

That bag looks heavy. I'll carry it for you.

Will for a promise: 

I know you have to move to your new apartment on Friday. Don't worry, I'll help you!

Be going to + base form for a future intention: 

When I grow up, I'm going to be a teacher.

Be going to + base form for a plan: 

I'm going to meet Maria next weekend for coffee.


Mistake# 6

"...Good In Playing Soccer...."  


"I'm Good at Playing Soccer."


Every ESL student seems to hates prepositions because often there are no rules about which one is best for regular speech.  So, it's a matter of exposing yourself to as many prepositional collocations as you can.  You can do this by reading in English, watching TV series, and finding opportunities to speak.  The adjective 'good' is followed by 'at' and a noun when expressing ability, making the example sentence "I'm good at playing soccer."


 Mistake# 5

Unnaturally long

E.g. "When I was a university student..."


 "When I was in university…"


There is nothing wrong grammatically with this sentence, but it sounds unnatural.  To express the same idea and save a couple of wasted breaths, just say, "When I was in university…" That's it.  Same goes with high school, elementary school,  and college.

Mistake# 4

Not Using Contractions / Robot Speak e.g. "I am a student."


"I'm a student."


If you take the time to listen with your full attention, you'll notice that almost all spoken English is informal, and one of the easiest ways to adjust your speaking is to start using contractions whenever it's possible.  So, rather than using "it is", say "it's," notice how "I am" becomes "I'm," and instead of "I have lived" use "I've lived" and so on.

Mistake# 2

Overuse of certain words.

E.g. "Life here is nice because my home-stay is nice and the food is nice too."


"Life here is wonderful because my home-stay is great and the food is delicious too."


The deadly sin of overuse for convenience sake.  I tell my students all the time to avoid using the words 'nice,' 'good' and 'bad.'  These words are boring, especially when repeated and tell the listener little of importance.  Instead, if you're talking about a person, be more precise. You might describe them as friendly, helpful, caring or generous.  If it's food that you want to talk about, how about delicious, tasty, rich or yummy.  A great activity to help expand your vocabulary is to make lists of words you already know related to particular topics.  Then, when the subject comes up, push yourself to use one of the words from the list you brainstormed. 

ESL Common Mistake# 1

"What you did last night?"  

In questions, the subject and the auxiliary verb or helping verb, (which is a form of 'do', 'have' or 'be') change places. 


"What did you do last night?"


To correct this mistake, all you have to do is ask, "What did you do last night?"   If you have problems with this, I suggest that you take a few minutes and write down 20 questions, paying extra attention to the word order.  After you finish, show them to an English speaker to make sure you got it.  Or, you can type them out in a word program like Microsoft Word and run a quick grammar check on them.  I also recommend you check out the fantastic on-line tool called Grammarly.  Though the service is not free, it'll help you find and correct all those mistakes you tend to make again and again.  


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