Every Esl teacher will tell you that mastering English should be a lifelong proposition: one that requires attention to rules as well as deviations thereof.
Any English learner, whether a native speaker in primary school or international student at university, is equally firm in the assertion that, to learn English properly, one must use a variety of techniques to continuously improve language skills.
Wouldn't it be helpful to have a handy guide to follow as your learn? A roadmap detailing what pitfalls to avoid?
Here we do our best to condense into one convenient list the most frequent errors of spelling, speaking, reading and writing in English.
As a bonus, you will find helpful tips for English pronunciation and explanations of the more obscure grammar rules.
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Get your notebooks ready: here we go!
Commonly Mis-pronounced Words in English
The most up-to-date Oxford English dictionary contains entries for nearly two hundred thousand words.
Common Words that Suffer Mis-pronunciation
You would think that unusually long words, or words borrowed from other languages would most often not be spoken correctly.
Actually, it is everyday English words that sometimes challenge English speakers' skills.
The word usually tops the list. Learners of English and native speakers both tend to pronounce it 'u-shur-ly' or 'u-woo-ly'.
To learn correct pronunciation of words, learning to recognize syllables is key!
Syllables are the smallest units of sound that a word can be broken into, usually consisting of at least one vowel and one consonant.
Some words, such as society – another commonly mis-pronounced word, have a single vowel as a syllable: the e. Divided into units, that word sounds like: so+ci+eh+ty.
Here are other words that could benefit from recognizing and enunciating each syllable:
- February – often pronounced febuary, is fe+bru+a+ry
- Library – misspoken as liberry, is li+bray+ry
- Prerogative – not perogative! pre+ro+ga+ti+ve
- Preemptory – correctly pronounced pre+emp+to+ry
- Supposedly – most often said supposably sup+po+sed+ly
- Probably – invariably shortened to prolly or probly is actually pro+ba+bly
Native speakers of English use this technique to teach their children how to speak properly. English teachers further encourage their students to sound out difficult words, one syllable at a time.
You can improve your speaking skills, as well as your spelling skills by doing the same.
On Building Proficiency in Writing and Speaking English
International students, especially younger ones, are encouraged to rely on the International Phonetic Alphabet as a way to learn vocalization of English words.
Learners at intermediate level and higher tend to resort to recordings of words that most dictionary apps provide, to get an idea of correct pronunciation.
While helpful at the outset of your English language studies, as your fluency increases, these tools could actually impede your progress.
The soundbites from dictionary apps are generally the whole word, as spoken in conversation by native speakers, rather than each syllable spoken individually – a method that would truly assist English learners in saying words correctly.
As you grow more fluent in your second language, you will need a way to quickly assimilate new vocabulary.
Sounding words out will do that.
The Most Common Rule Exceptions in English
Esl learners sometimes get frustrated because no rule of English grammar or vocabulary is consistent: there are always exceptions.
Those who teach Esol classes often bemoan the fact that, as soon as their pupils master a rule, an exception manifests that defies explanation, leaving their students pondering Teacher's own English language abilities.
Even native English speakers often break grammar rules and spell words incorrectly. If nothing else, that proves that such rules can be difficult to remember and apply.
As you study English, you will need to learn grammar and spelling rules as well as remembering their exceptions.
In fact, it might be easier to commit rule exceptions to memory before you get in the habit of applying the rule unilaterally.
Rule Exceptions in English Spelling
I before E except after C / Or when sounded as A / as in 'neighbor' or 'weigh'
This little poem is designed to help English students remember a primary spelling rule.
The rule holds true for words such as believe, achieve and piece, and 'a' sounding vowel combination words like: freight and weight.
Height, neither, weird, foreign and efficient are all examples of words that do not follow the famous rule.
Doubling Final Consonants
Students learning English as a second language are tortured by words ending with a consonant.
Should the consonant be doubled or should one simply add the suffix?
The final consonant is doubled ONLY when both of these conditions apply:
a. a single vowel precedes the consonant – stop, admit, benefit
b. the word's last syllable is stressed, or it is a one-syllable word.
Benefited is a word that everyone struggles to spell correctly. Although this word meets one of the criteria for consonant doubling, when speaking this word, the first syllable is stressed.
Admit is a two-syllable word with the stress on the final syllable. According to the rule, consonant doubling is called for, making it admitted.
The application of these spelling rules would not be heard in normal English conversation but matter much in English writing.
You could lose points on an exam or essay simply because of poor spelling!
Tips for Effective Language Learning
You are learning English as a second language. Your goal is most likely fluency, if not mastery.
To achieve your aims, you should:
- Strive for reading comprehension
- Practise your writing skills
- Develop an expanded vocabulary
- Exercise your spoken English every chance you get.
- Challenge your listening skills
If you are enrolled in college, you might seek out courses in English for academic purposes.
If you hope to use English for a more formal purpose, you may want to acquire a business English vocabulary.
The British Council addresses many of your English learning needs, from basic English to business English courses.
Additionally, you can take English classes at your local library or community center.
Many universities offer people learning English as a foreign language a choice of curricula to choose from.
Might there be such a campus close to you?
If not, you could try to learn english online: many websites host English language courses; you might even find free exam preparation materials.
English is the most prevalent language taught online. - duolingo
With your computer, tablet or smartphone, you can learn everything from basic words and phrases to why nouns sometimes act as adjectives.
Taking lessons online in addition to your other language courses might even help you advance faster!
Commonly Made English Grammar Mistakes
Many Esol students report that learning English grammar is their biggest stumbling block to achieving language fluency.
With so many rules for verb conjugation, pronouns, punctuation, and word order, it is easy to understand why.
Verb Tenses and How to Use Them
Students who learn to speak English are first taught the simple tenses: past, present and future.
For non native speakers of English from countries whose verbs never change form regardless of pronoun or when the action took place, the few rules that govern verbs and their usage in English serve to confuse rather than clarify the issue.
Further studies in grammar reveal that verbs fulfill several functions besides indicating action.
To gain proficiency in English verb usage, remember:
- Simple tenses are only used to describe events or conditions that are generally true.
- The continuous tenses are used the most in general English conversation
To improve your English, you should learn how to use verbs correctly. A quality English program such as Ielts test prep will coach you in the proper use of verbs and their tenses.
Irregular verbs tend to be particularly troublesome for people learning English as a foreign language.
For more on the topic of regular and irregular verbs, conjugation and usage, you can refer to the British Council website, or other language learning resource you normally use.
You could ask your Esol teacher more about verb usage, too.
Vocabulary Gone Awry
I am literally so happy I could fly!
The word literally is often used in slang to express a quality or extremity.
That was literally the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen.
While trendy and popular, using such words as slang is not proper usage of vocabulary.
While the sunset in question may well have been the most beautiful that the speaker has ever seen, it is unlikely that anyone could actually fly on the wings of happiness!
To improve your English, try to resist following popular linguistic trends... at least until you have a firm grasp of the language.
Following the British Council's podcasts is a good way to improve your English listening as well as your spoken English.
On their website, you will hear conversation between native speakers over common, everyday subjects such as cooking or shopping.
You can follow these conversations by printing out and reading the accompanying transcripts. Doing so will sharpen your reading skills and writing skills.
These podcasts do not use incorrect grammar phrases or promote the use of slang, unless the topic itself is the proper usage of slang phrases.
However, they will get you familiar with the idiom and its usage.
Practice and Practise
English vocabulary has several word pairs that are the same, but for one letter.
Practice and practise is such a one, as is advice/advise.
Spelled with a c, these words are nouns that can be used as adjectives:
I always ask my Esl teacher for advice.
You should take some practice quizzes before your exam.
Contrast those with:
My Esol teacher advised me to practise my reading and writing.
Although there is no difference in the way these words sound, whether spelled with s or c, in writing them, the difference is crucial: one letter will decide what type of word it is.
Even native English speakers use the verb in place of the noun sometimes.
Word Order is Important!
In English, arranging words to form sentences follows this form: subject-verb-object, except to phrase questions.
You probably learned that exception in your earliest English language classes.
What follows takes us a step further in understanding word order.
The cute little brown dog begged for treats.
Listing adjectives requires a certain order for them to make sense. The qualifications are:
- Quantity or number
- Quality or opinion
- Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material)
- Purpose or qualifier
According to this list, the color of the dog is less important than its size; therefore little precedes brown.
Similarly, the opinion that the dog is cute is far more meaningful than any of its other attributes, hence it is the first adjective on the list.
Whether studying for Ielts or learning English for everyday use, this is one of the grammar lessons you should exercise often, until you can use serial adjectives like a native English speaker.
A Word on Improving English Spelling
More than half of the words in English can be spelled by the way they sound.
Breaking words down into syllables can help you spell English words even difficult words correctly, every time.
Whether you take English courses online or at a language school, spelling will feature heavily in your curriculum.
To practice your spelling, you can write your favorite expressions and idioms – without copying!
Is Learning English Really so Hard?
With all of the grammar rules and spelling foibles, learning the English language certainly is challenging.
To improve your English, you should select learning materials based on your goal.
Do you aspire to being an international student at Oxford? If so, ESOL practise exercises would be for you.
Has an American firm enlisted you? Then Business English and TOEFL quizzes would suit your needs better.
If you wish to improve your language skills, you can take English lessons online or in a classroom.
Proficiency in English comes from work and dedication.
Practice your English daily, enroll in English classes, play word games online, and learn new vocabulary every day.
You will soon find that learning English really is easy to learn.
If you are looking for additional support with English, you can find a range of English courses in London and throughout the UK on Superprof.