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 Then why study outdated English?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 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?