Mistakes in learning English

I teach English to foreigners.  The purpose of this post is to tell you some common mistakes I’ve seen with students learning English.

Mistake number 1 in learning English

There is only really one mistake in learning English, that is studying things that are not important.  People study text book English not real English.  This post will outline some common examples of studying textbook or school English rather than real English.  I will pick on the perfect tense.

The typically student who studied English as a foreign language in school spent many years studying English verb tenses and conditionals.  They study one tense at a time, then move to the next one.

This is the wrong approach, a mistake.  The primary tense in the English language is the simple tense. Sometimes you might use the continuous tense.  However, most Americans including myself don’t know the perfect tense and if they do they use it incorrectly. British English goes overboard with rules.  English is changing and not like that anymore. It is a flexible universal language.

Further, 80% of the world speaks American English, sorry.  All films, music, business comes mostly from the USA. Sorry again but this is a fact.  English is evolving into an international English based on simplified American English without old fashion Cambridge English rules from the last century.

Think about how your own language, has changed from the past? Do people speak the same way they did in the last century? Then why study outdated English?  Studying the wrong things is the biggest mistake in learning English as a foreign language.

In fact, when I first came to Poland, even though I graduated first in my class and have a master’s degree and was an honors English I didn’t know what the ‘perfect tense was.  It was Polish people that told me about the perfect tense.  They told me this is very important, you must know the perfect tense.  I said really why?

My nephew who grew up in London and went to the best private school in London and studied English when he came to Poland he heard there was something called the perfect tense, but did not know what it was.

The mistakes in English is studying textbook grammar not real world English.

The sixteen English tenses are important only in text books and on some stupid Cambridge exam. This type of grammar is not important if you want to speak to a native speaker. If fact if you over use this formal grammar to a native speaker you might sound ridiculous.   The simple tense is the primary tense in the English language.  If I want to sound really elegant or old-fashioned, you could use the perfect tense, I guess.

And what about conditionals. How often do we use conditionals?  Maybe if I say something like ‘if I had been born in England I would have spoken English as a child ‘. But do we really talk like that? To talk that formal is a mistake ESL. Learn the language that is spoken now with people on the street.

Learning English grammar is about prepositions and articles

In my opinion the most important thing after you learn the simple and continuous tense in the English language is to learn propositions and articles.  That is the basis of English grammar.  Not reported speech and the other stuff they teach you in text books or language schools.

Every English sentence has at least one proposition or one noun article. many Polish or Russian people think, because they do not have noun articles in their language, articles are not important.  What I tell them is it is like a foreigner who speaks your language without noun cases. It is all wrong.

Many people learning English think they speak ESL fine, but they make mistakes and in every single sentence with articles and propositions.  English native speakers have learned to tolerate this but it is very intermediate English.

On the other hand, they may be able to tell you about the perfect tense and conditionals and about reported speech, however, what good is that if they can’t speak English.

What about phrasal verbs? They are simple verbs with two words, that is all.
Idioms? They change all the time, learn them with practicing speaking to a native speaker or reading.

Avoid mistakes and learn real English

The therefore if you want to speak real English my recommendation is on the grammar side learn articles and propositions perfectly.  Also learn the simple and continuous tense.

Next, read a lot.  Read a lot of books things that you really love to read. Not the Internet, its not radical enough.  Try not to read children’s books in English unless that’s really what you are into because often times these are too juvenile in fame to keep your attention. Do not read English classics, they are too old-fashioned language. Read Stephen King rather.

Vocabulary learned from lists you will not use, you need to activate them. Or speak with a native speaker. Activate vocabulary with this method of learning English vocabulary. Basically you take a hat and with that hat you, draw vocab words out of a flashcard. The person who is working with you needs to guess the word you drew out, only by describing it. The act of description in a foreign language engages more areas of your brain. I call this the hat trick for learning. If the descriptions are sensory focused even better as it connects to deeper areas of the brain. Dr. Win Wenger writes about this on his image streaming site.

Next practice with a native speaker. Do not learn with some foreign language teacher that is going to teach you about conditionals and tenses and speak to you in an accent that you will understand. Learning from someone speaking your own language will not teach you real English too well, unless you are a beginner.  In this case, it is very OK to learn from someone from your own country.

Summary of how to learn English

  • Learn the simple tense and continuous really well
  • Learn prepositions and noun articles perfectly.
  • Read books every night in the English language, books you love and speak to native speakers

Because what good is it if you can understand someone from your own country speaking with your accent in English from your own country, but then you go to new York city and you don’t understand anybody?

What do you think of my post about learning English?

Author: Mark Biernat

I live in with family between two worlds, US and Europe where I create tools for language learning. If you found my site you probability share my passion to be a life long learner. Please explore my site and comment.

3 thoughts on “Mistakes in learning English”

  1. To use spoken American English: “You gotta be kidding me”. Perhaps you should learn the difference between your and you’re, too and two, old-fashioned vs old fashion, etc. before telling people how to learn English.

    … Try not to read children’s books in English unless that’s really what [your] into because often times these are [two] juvenile in fame to keep your attention. Do not read English classics, too old [fashion] language. Read [Stephan] King rather.

    1. It is very funny you write this. Why? I write some of my posts with a voice to text program. I even wrote about this program a few posts ago. I do this as my am a programmer and on the computer a lot and my hand sometimes hurt when I type. Therefore I speak into my computer and it writes for me. I am not writing the mistakes rather it is how the computer hears it. Obviously little mistakes like ‘to’ or ‘too’ or ‘two’ get by if I do not proof read it. Thanks for your comment, even if it was a little holier than thou.

  2. Game. Set. Match.

    The Galileo guy/lady should at least give a my bad follow up; as a remark of “didn’t know.”

    I think this post is pretty on point considering that I have to speak this way on the interwebs, however, if I needed to submit my final essay for a technical writing class, a business proposal for an IPO or something, I wouldn’t be caught dead with this entire paragraph anywhere near my final product.

    I think there is something to be said about the way we use our own language, in that, because of the space industry and computer industry (amongst a myriad of innovations of applied sciences and technology) the need for advance paced language took hold. Through the simple and perhaps misguided study of Latin and Middle English during our last few decades, a breed of new copywriters and editors were born. This new breed of ambitious and antsy upstarts wanted to test their meddle: discover what it means to create, reinvent words for products and journals or try to defend to the teeth for the reverence from whichforth shouted kings of distant paths.

    I am definitely not an English major, though I can write a standard issue compare and contrast fairly well i guess. An A, is an A; sometimes you can say it means something else entirely through one novel. The Scarlet letter, (seeing how it seems to have resurrected in the box office) may have started the domino effect that effed this all up. All these damn acronyms are starting to make my effing head spin.

    Did you know that on Jersey Shore, the shame-based hilarious endeavors of a bunch of misguided youths in search for that perfect time (much like us all), can say ‘G.T.L.’, ‘D.T.F.’, and a hit singer’s name is ‘B.O.B.’

    C’MON! It took me effing-ever to figure out that meant ‘Gym. Tan. Laundry.’, ‘Down. To. Eff.’, and that ‘Battery. Operated. Boyfriend.’ was not the correct name for the hit songwriter Bobby Ray.

    That shaiza was a bit much to handle, therefore, I may resolve to give up the fight on learning the truest English forever. I tried to read Finnegan’s Wake and almost wanted to jump off something.

    Just to stop the constant looking up of words and grammar exchange. OMG.

    A ridiculous amount of “eff”-type words were constantly used throughout this little parody. You all know what I am doing there. It is censoring my curse words. But you ALL know what I am probably saying. What’s that aboot? I am just saying. They even do this in Harry Potter books. Are we gonna morph our laws to start including “eff” in the curse words? Nope. Apparently a recent FCC ban was lifted in that the censorship of profane words were so vaguely amended into regulation that it was too broadening to uphold. Thereby, networks are to use their own discretion and avoid any gratuitous use of George Carlin’s, “ugly” words.

    This was such a cool post that I must say silly things after it. Thanks for your work, and yeah, street level english may be the way to go to get out there and be somebody; considering if you were to play the LiL Jon and the Eastside Boyz at a formal wedding reception, somebody’s getting pissed off because of all the “Skeet, Skeet, Skeet” going on. That would be a FAIL.

    Best Regards,

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