"I’ve learned so much from my mistakes … I’m thinking of making some more." -Cheryl Cole

If you are one of the plucky persons who embarked on a course of how to learn English, you should be applauded!  You may have signed up for an English as a Second Language (ESOL) programme or course, or you’ve joined a class taught by an accredited professional tutor.

Today non-native speakers of English outnumber people for whom English is a first language. English currently occupies the prime slot world-wide as a language of business and is also the language of choice for the travel industry and online communities.

For a growing number of students, their growth in the language is a didactic event and not simply a pastime. The language is seen as an avenue to gain exceptional literateness which may lead to enhanced employment opportunities. It is deemed to be a pathway to some of the most prestigious universities on the planet or an opportunity for younger learners to attend an international school.

If students study English, there is for them a greater likelihood of multi-lingual and multi-cultural encounters which will ready them for cross-cultural interface, which is so much a part of the world we live in today.

woman hiding behind leaves
A large number of students are reticent to speak aloud which may lead to even more errors. (Source: Unsplash)

For educators, the acceptance of English, across the globe, has produced a wide range of opportunities to teach English. An important point to note is that numerous English Second Language teaching programmes and companies enlist the services of English tutors who have completed certified training courses such as TESOL or TESL and TEFL. Mother-tongue English speakers are regularly pursued to teach language instruction. It is also the case that candidates, who have become proficient at English as a second language, may also be taken into consideration to teach.

Many people believe that the learning of English is easy when compared to other languages. Nonetheless, like with all foreign languages, coming to grips with the fundamentals of the English language involves practice, focus and dedication because English is often inconsistent.

No matter why you’re learning English, organised classes are absolutely essential for you to succeed at becoming proficient in the language.

Nonetheless, whenever you attend your ESL classes, pay careful attention to learning English the correct way. If you can avoid the mistakes ESL learners typically tend to make, you will not become disheartened and you will learn successfully.

A proper understanding of English would include listening skills, speaking skills and pronunciation, as well as reading and written work. These aspects need to be mastered for you to become proficient in the language. This kind of focus will see you making rapid strides towards becoming bilingual.

Whether you’re a rookie or a practised English learner, to successfully master a second language you must expose yourself to range of different teaching methods which have been proven to assist ESL learners.

Your main goal, as an ESL learner, is to do your best and to avoid making the same mistakes repeatedly.

You will make mistakes, but what’s important is to learn from them! Growth will come from this and set you on a path to success!

Why ESL Learners Make the Mistakes They Do

As we’ve stated earlier, acquiring a new language is not without its pitfalls. Experiencing frustration and slipping up, committing errors, pronouncing English words incorrectly are all a part of learning.

Learners of a language, which is foreign to them, slip up for some of the reasons reflected below:

  • Not all people all garrulous; some individuals, because they are shy and nervous, are reticent to speak out. The fear of making a mistake also results in learners making more mistakes.
  • People who are multi-lingual often jumble the different foreign languages when attempting to learn fluency in English.
  • Who loves English grammar? Our guess is no-one! You’re not the only one who has a complete abhorrence of grammar. The massive vocabulary and all the grammatical anomalies (irregularities) are some of the main reasons for the mistakes that ESL learners make.
  • The conjugation of verbs was not properly done early on, so the student now commits fundamental errors when writing.
pencils in pot on top of a pile of English books
Read as many books as you can to improve your vocabulary. (Source: Unsplash)
  • A key feature which influences the learning of any new language, is daily use. This ongoing practice polishes the student’s use and understanding of the language’s nuances. Those, who neglect this daily practice, will continue to commit glaring errors when they speak, read and write.
  • Speaking is one of the most difficult parts and, because English is often variable, and where there is no plausible explanation for the odd pronunciation of certain words, the only option is memorisation. It is here where many ESL students fall down and make mistakes in pronunciation.

These are but a few reasons as to why ESL learners stumble. However, to learn a foreign language is daunting, because your brain has to be programmed to communicate in a totally different way.

Your success will be founded on dedication to the task at hand, focus and determination to succeed. Don’t forget, English can be great fun and falling down will be a major part of your learning! Remain humble, willing to learn and you will soon reflect on your silly errors and have a hearty laugh!

How To Respond to Committing Errors In English

Do you know someone who is flawless, always does things the right way, first time, and never seems to make mistakes?

Most people would answer, “No way!”

Mistakes happen in so many scenarios daily; they’re a part of everyday living.

A lot of people want to avoid making mistakes, yet they are so important as we learn through them and grow because of them.

We are very likely to make mistakes when we learn something new, from driving a car to learning a foreign language. What remains important is the attitude which you adopt towards those missteps, not how many you make.

We cannot change the mistakes we’ve made, but our attitudes towards them can be altered.

Adopting a positive attitude is all-important and errors must be regarded as a pointer which reminds you to try again. Your focus should, therefore, be to rectify your mistake and ensuring that you don’t repeat it.

Don’t beat yourself up! Admit your error, try to fix it and move on!

Realise that since you’re learning something new, in this case a language which is strange to you, you will stumble and sometimes even fall.

Have fun and, with a forward-looking and mellow attitude, you will soon be wishing for more missteps which will lead you to a greater degree of fluency.

No-one is perfect; everyone makes mistakes. Laugh about it and let the learning continue!

We will now check out common errors made by ESL learners.

Mistakes Made When Using Irregular Verbs

To come, to go, to say, to be, to get, to make, to want, to have... English verbs tiring you yet? 

No matter at what level you are or have studied, verbs are crucial to the structure of the English language and are indispensable to one’s understanding of it. They are, also, very important when composing strong sentences which are a joy to read.

Also, regular verbs are far easier to use than irregular verbs and students, generally, slip up more when using the latter.

Vocabulary, conjugation and grammar all combine to create a flawless sentence and, thus, it’s easy to make a mistake since there are so many components which go into the mix, including scores of verbs and conjugations beyond number.

woman listening to headphones whilst sketching
Practise and memorise Irregular verbs to be able to use them correctly. (Source: Unsplash )

Sometimes the most talented learners also battle to remember all of the great number of verb conjugations.

Below are a few examples of irregular verbs which are often difficult for students to wrap their heads around:

  • To wake: Awake / Awoke / Awoken
  • To be: Was / Were / Been
  • To blow: Blow / Blew / Blown
  • To drink: Drink / Drank / Drunk
  • To break: Break / Breaks / Breaking / Broken
  • To see: See / Saw /Seen

The chief concern with irregular verbs is each must be learned individually, because there isn’t a rule that can be figured out as with regular verbs.

This is disconcerting and, considering that they number more than 200, time-consuming.

These days, people are busy on a daily basis and hardly even find the time to slow down to study. In spite of this, when learning English, you must set yourself a goal when thinking about irregular verbs. If, for example, you set yourself the goal of learning three irregular verbs a week, you will have mastered 150 by the end of the year!

To round off, since they are so numerous, it’s important to pay particular attention to their mastery rather than messing up when we use them. All the evidence points to the mastering of irregular verbs as being crucial to successfully learning a language like English.

Grammatical Errors

Grammar; what is it?

Grammar is the structure and system of a language, and fundamentally relates to how words are used in sentences, and how they change depending on the context.

English grammar, the bane of many an ESL learner’s existence, is key and must be studied carefully for the language to be spoken and written properly.

The two examples below are worthy of closer scrutiny:

Its or It’s

  • Its denotes possession - e.g. The dog chased its tail.
  • It’s contains an apostrophe and is the contraction of ‘It is’. - e.g. It is cold outside. → It's cold outside.

Look vs See vs Watch

  • ‘See’ is when you spot or become aware of something you were actually not looking for.
  • ‘Look’ is used when we direct our eyes towards something.
  • We use watch when looking at and paying attention to something.

English grammar is very wide-ranging, so that these examples represent but a small percentage of the mistakes most commonly made by ESL learners speaking or writing English.

Mistakes Made When Speaking

“Learn a new language and get a new soul.” Czech Proverb

To speak English correctly is possible, but takes time and application. English speaking is often difficult for speakers of other tongues, and oral mistakes are often trying and may discourage a new ESL learner tremendously.

As a learner you should stay positive and know that if you’ve used the correct context, a native speaker will still be able to figure out what you were trying to say.

It will help you if you listen to native speakers and how they respond to you carefully to gain some direction, in terms of verb tenses, proper sentence structure and vocabulary.

Below are errors commonly made by non-native speakers of English:

Future tense

  • The future tense is used in reference to the future. You can't say, for example, I will go to church yesterday because yesterday describes a time in the past.

Lend or borrow

  • 'Lend' is used when you give something to someone on the basis the he or she will return it once they are done with it.
  • 'Borrow', on the other hand, is used when you ask someone to use an item which he or she owns on the basis that you will return it when you’re done with it.

Formal or casual English

  • Informal English is only appropriate amongst family, friends and acquaintances, e.g. Hey bru, howzit?
  • Formal English demonstrates respect and correct etiquette when speaking to an older person or in an formal setting, e.g. Good morning, madam. I am pleased to meet you.

Mistakes Made When Writing

While the aim of most ESL students is not to write award-winning novels, writing English effectively is an important part of their learning. They should pay a lot of attention to it if they wish to be successful.

Since the English language can be highly irregular at times, many learners encounter difficulties at the start when they have to write short texts or sentences.

Examples of these errors are:

  • Casual or Academic English
    1. Abbreviations are never used in academic or formal writing; abbreviations should hardly ever be used in written work.
  • Capitals
    1. Places, people, names and certain things have to be capitalised.
    2. Capitalise I, the pronoun, always.
    3. Capitalise the first letter of every sentence.

These are but a few of the errors commonly made by ESL learners. Since people are unique, each individual will experience a distinctly different writing mistake to another.

Mistakes Made When Listening

Many people admit they can comprehend a foreign language, but when they speak it, make complete idiots of themselves.

three friends laughing and talking
Listen closely to native speakers in many different environments to help you recognise new words more quickly. (Source: Unsplash)

While we may be able to understand a bit of a foreign language by watching movies or television shows and listening to music, English has many nuances that can only be properly understood by training with a professional teacher or tutor.

English has, for example, numerous words that sound alike, but have totally different meanings. They are called homonyms. Because they are wide-ranging, they are divided into homophones and homographs.

Below are words, either homophones or homographs, that are commonly confuse the ESL listener:

Their, there, and they're

  • 'Their' indicates possession, referring to something that is owned by someone. e.g. This is their house.
  • 'There' refers to where something is situated.  e.g. The car is over there. 
  • 'They're' is a contraction meaning 'they 'are' or 'they were'. e.g. They're taller than we (are).

Here and hear

  • 'Hear' is when we listen using our ears.  e.g. I can hear music playing.
  • 'Here' refers to where a person, place is located. e.g. The book was here a minute ago.                                                                       

To, two and too

  • Two is 2, the number, spelled out. e.g. I have two pigeons.
  • To, a preposition, refers to going or coming to a place.  e.g. Zola went to the movies last night.
  • Too is an adverb that means in addition to, or also. e.g. I want an ice-cream too.

Except and accept

  • 'Except', a preposition, states that something must be excluded.  e.g. All the boys, except Anwa, should report to the gym.                           
  • 'Accept', a verb, means to receive or take something. e.g. I accept your apology.

 This handful of homonyms briefly sketch why ESL rookies, when they listen to natives speaking, find English decidedly confusing!

Tips to Avoid Making Horrible ESL Mistakes

A new learner should always be open to accept the tips from competent teachers or first-language speakers. This will accelerate the acquisition of the basics and obviate being discouraged by making avoidable mistakes.

So, without saying anything further, let's look at mistakes that absolutely must be avoided:

  • Seeing the learning experience as a job or a task: 

Many students start learning as a means to an end, without any real passion.

Little do they know that the best way to learn English is to view it as a thrilling way to unlock previously closed doors. You will become far more interested in your lessons if you see ESL learning as an avenue to better understand famous songs, television shows, movies and new cultures.

  • Under-valuing listening skills:

When you understand what is being said, you can fully participate in conversations. A large number of learners take their focus off important listening exercises and merely pay attention to inane comprehension questions.

The ESL student's learning experience must be a daily activity including watching news broadcasts, YouTube videos, podcasts, TV shows and listening to the radio.

  • Taking on board too much vocabulary:
the word hello written on paper in calligraphy
At the start of your ESL journey, focus on the words that are essential for making yourself understood. (Source: Unsplash)

In most languages, only small number of words (a few hundred) are used again and again to be fully understood. In English, for example, only around 300 words are necessary in most circumstances. That is why it is worthless, at the start, to learn countless words that won’t be necessary for daily interaction.

These are just a handful of tips necessary to enjoy successful ESL studies and to obviate embarrassing mistakes at the outset!

No matter what level you’re at as an English learner, you will discover that the English language has many little details and peculiarities as you progress towards proficiency and, hopefully, mastery. Accept that the language is difficult and, because it is filled with irregularities, you will make mistakes as part of your learning.

Remaining humble and positive are two crucial attributes to hold onto.

ESL learners must spend time becoming skilled at the ABC’s of English daily and try to side-step mistakes that might impede their progress.

To conclude, it is vital to say that learning a foreign language opens up so many opportunities and, because English is regarded as a world language, it’s a wonderful place to start!

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Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.