Have you ever wanted to know how to speak English fluently? If so, then this article was written just for you and others like you, who are fascinated by this interesting, sometimes puzzling, international language.
What will be required of you? You cannot be lackadaisical about the way you approach this task. You have to be serious about your intention to learn English as a second language and methodical about the way that you go about your lessons every day. So, a lot is required of you once you embark on the course of learning ESOL (English as a Second Language), including loads of determination and perseverance.
To be successful, you must have a plan and stick to the plan!
You may wish to pursue English lessons simply to be able to converse with others and, thus, make yourself understood. You would then, in the main, want to ensure that you have a good grasp of the basic skills that will serve as a basis for daily communication, as well as a foundation for future learning. You will, in collaboration with your English teacher or tutor, design a course of action to achieve your identified goal. Working closely with your tutor and following their advice is crucial, if you want to make a success of your course and reach your goal.
Your tutor’s input will be key in terms of structuring a course of study for you to follow. Their experience and expertise will lop off any aspects of the language which can be regarded as “nice-to-haves”. Since their aim is to assist you, they will devise a course which expressly attends to your immediate needs and which builds upon a solid foundation, which they will help you establish. Bring your enthusiasm and grit to bear on your studies and you will soon be tasting the sweet fruits of your labour.
Regardless of your reasons for engaging in English lessons, your daily grind must include the elements of reading, listening, speaking and writing. Work on these skills daily and you will find yourself progressing steadily, while also growing in confidence. Let us now have a look at skills and ideas which will assist you on your way.
The Most Common Errors to Side-Step in English
Someone once said: “The world owes a lot to people who have made mistakes”.
This is true in every field of human endeavour. Consider the person or people who first tried to bake a cake, build a car or a space rocket, or raise a child. The are hardships along the way, as well as unforeseen, unexpected challenges. Ask any mechanic about his struggles, after having overhauled an engine, trying to simply get one of the smallest nuts or bolts to grip, thereby securing the engine, in place or preventing a vibration.
The pathway to learning English or any new language is not going to be all rainbows and butterflies. Along the way, there will be hiccups and stumbles. What matters is that you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, get up and keep going. Making mistakes as you continue to learn a new language must be considered to be part of the learning process.
“Do not judge me by my successes; Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” - Nelson Mandela
Learn to ‘roll with the punches.’ Keep trying (to speak English) and make a note of words and phrases that may be new, strange or problematic to you. Always bear in mind where you started from. Do not compare yourself to someone else, whose starting point and background may be totally different to yours. Focus on your learning and remain focussed and positive!
What Can Cause an ESOL Student to Stumble
- Fear of making a mistake and, so, never speaking aloud
- Not having built up your vocabulary enough
- Falling back on your mother-tongue and, therefore, mixing English with it
- Lacking practice and a low level of interest
- Not following your tutor’s advice or instruction
- An inadequate grasp of English tenses and language conventions
- Mispronouncing words
- Misunderstanding spoken words
English can be quite tricky for anyone learning it as a second language. With its many tenses, rules, exceptions to rules and inexplicable (to some) spelling, even first language speakers can trip when conducting an English conversation.
Common errors include:
You and I As Opposed to You and Me
- You and I saw this movie last year. You and I form the subject of the sentence.
- Jim brought this cake for you and me. You and me are the indirect object.
Tip: Remove the other person (retaining “I” or “me”) and see if the sentence makes sense. It works in most cases, except where I is followed by a plural verb.
There, Their and They’re
- There are my books. (Adverb of place)
- Their books are on the shelf. (Possessive determiner)
- They’re my cousins. (A contraction of the words they are).
To, Too and Two
- I am going to the shop. (preposition)
- It is too late to go now. In this instance too is an adverb of degree. It could also mean ‘as well’ or ‘also’, as in “I was there too.”
- She owns two cars. (the number two/ 2)
You’re and Your
- You’re a star! (You are)
- Your sister just arrived. (Possessive pronoun)
Other Common Errors
- Getting the word order wrong, because you translated from your mother tongue: “I now just heard her say that” as opposed to “I just heard her say that now.”
- The articles an, a and the are often omitted by non-native speakers.
With regular practice and the guidance of a good teacher or tutor these common mistakes can be avoided and overcome.
Our Pick of Some Really Unusual English Words
An experienced and enthusiastic tutor is a great advantage which a serious ESOL learner should employ to his or her advantage. Your teacher will design a course of study which will lay a good foundation for all your future learning in English. Your task is to hone your listening and reading skills, which will impact on your speaking and writing skills. Fundamental to your success is your commitment to a daily programme which practises and enhances these skills.
Not many will describe English as a weird or strange language. It does, however, have a number of oddities which just seem to defy explanation. For example, why say, “You (singular) are my friend” and write or say exactly the same when ‘you’ is plural: You are my friends". Yes, no question about it, this language sure has its very own, unique idiosyncrasies.
So, let’s take a break from all the serious stuff and take a look at the wackier side of the language of the Bard.
- Cats and dogs: “Yesterday, it rained cats and dogs.” – it rained heavily.
- Under the weather – to feel unwell. In some communities, it may even refer to one who has imbibed too much the night before.
- Barking up the wrong tree: This means to make an error of judgement, like hunting dogs which would bark up a tree in which the hunted prey was not.
- Beat around the bush: When someone does not speak directly.
- Over the moon: Taken from the nursery rhyme where the cow is so happy it jumped over the moon, this term means to be deliriously happy.
- Hit for a six: This is when something overwhelms you completely.
- Blow your socks off: a similar meaning to ‘hit for a six’.
- Easy does it: This encourages someone not to rush a task. For example, this may be said to someone who is carrying a cupboard down a flight of stairs.
- Ups and downs: A saying often used to explain that in life there are good times along with the bad.
- Waffling: Similar to the word “chatter”, someone who is “waffling” is saying a lot, without getting to the point.
- Kicked the bucket: This means that someone has died.
- Cry over spilt milk: There is no sense in upsetting yourself over something that has already occurred and which cannot be changed. You can’t unspill the milk, can you?
- Steal someone’s thunder: This expression means that someone has taken someone else’s idea.
- A piece of cake: This is when something is easy to do.
Another interesting phrase is “blow your socks off”, which doesn’t mean that you should stick dynamite in them. The saying can be said to refer to something which is amazingly good; something which makes a positive and deep impression.
English is a language that is filled with little gems such as these to lift your spirits when your energy levels are flagging.
Let’s now have a look at some extraordinarily long English words. Yes, the English language is peppered with them. The great news is that you don’t have to know or learn them, as most people can hardly read or say them out loud.
- Honorificabilitudinitatibus – refers to the state of being able to achieve honours, and is the longest word in all of William Shakespeare's works.
- Antidisestablishmentarianism – this means to be opposed to the separation of the church and the state.
- Floccinaucinihilipilification – the habit or action of valuing something as worthless/of little value.
- Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis – a lung disease caused by the inhalation of fine sand or quartz dust particles.
- Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu – The name of a hill near the town of Porangahau in New Zealand.
Fun to know, these words have an interesting history, but are not really useful as they have either been shortened or there are simpler words that have the same meaning. They may be great to be able to slip into an English conversation with mates (buddies) at the local bar as an interesting titbit, signifying not much more. Yes, they are worth playing around with and having fun with, but you should not spend lots of time or energy trying to memorise them.
Complicated English Pronunciation Rules
English is widely regarded as an international language, especially since it is increasingly being employed as the language preferred for business interaction between global corporations. Due to this growth and globalisation, greater numbers of students are enrolling to learn it as a second language or as a language to teach. Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) has a become a course that has gained tremendously in popularity in recent times.
For your language teacher, your being successful at learning, say at English as a second language, is a source of great pride. He or she would want to you to succeed at your studies. Thus, he or she would want you to conquer some the more difficult aspects of the language, such as the pronunciation of some difficult English words.
Let us take a look at some of the complicated rules of English and ways to prevail over them.
ESOL learners will definitely require guidance when trying to pronounce these words:
Some counties, towns and cities in England also have some really tricky pronunciations. Attempt these before reading their pronunciations.
- Worcestershire is pronounced “wuss-ter-sheer” (note: not “shy + er”)
- Leceister is said “Lester” not “lay-cess-ter”.
- Gloucester: “-cester” is pronounced ‘sturr’, so the place name is said “Gloss-turr”.
- Holburn is “Ho-bun” as the L and the R are silent.
- Durham is pronounced “Durr-am”.
- Marlborough, although quite a long name, is said quite quickly: “mall-bruh”.
- Reading, the largest UK town by population size (2018 census), is pronounced “Redding”. Huh?
Don’t worry if you initially struggled with some of these pronunciations - some locals do too.
Aditionally, there are several other words that are readily confused when written and pronounced. They include:
- Advice (guidance) and advise (counsel or direct)
- Council (noun: city governors) and counsel (verb: to advise)
- Counsellor (advisor) and councillor (representative)
- Practice (noun: drill, rehearsal or exercise) and practise (verb: prepare or exercise)
- Lose (misplace) and loose (untied or baggy)
- Every day (each day) and everyday (common, ordinary or normal)
- Affect (influence or disturb) and effect (achieve or result)
Tongue twisters are great for practising your pronunciation and improving your fluency. This is not just kids’ stuff: they are also employed by politicians, actors and public speakers, who want to come across confidently and clearly to their listeners. These short poems use words that commence with a particular letter and should be practised quickly and regularly. Here's one.
Practise and enjoy!
Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
A peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers
Where’s the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?
Sure is fun, hey? However, let’s move on though.
Some English Abbreviations to Know to Speak Like a Native
Almost every South African would have heard of the SABC or Eskom. They may even know what ESOL means. These are, of course, English abbreviations which are very worthwhile knowing and are used almost daily. You should also ensure that you understand what ROTFL means, when you’re texting your new-found English buddy. Let’s check some out some others!
Initialisms and Acronyms
Initialisms are words that are made up of the first letter of each word in a phrase. They are spoken by pronouncing each letter:
- SABC – South African Broadcasting Commission
- ATM – Automated Teller Machine
- CD – Compact Disc
- ENT – Ear, nose and throat specialist
Acronyms can be spoken as words and represent words or phrases that have been shortened.
- Eskom – Electricity Supply Commission
- NASA – National Aeronautics and Space Administration
These words can be used interchangeably with their acronyms, with many people having totally forgotten the original word.
Everyday English Abbreviations
- RSA (Republic of South Africa)
- AU (African Union)
- USA (United States of America)
- l (litre)
- g (gram)
- m (metre)
Social Media Purposes
- BTW = by the way
- CYA = see ya (you)
Life in General
- RSVP is used to request that an invited guest confirms whether he or she will attend an event.
Abbreviated Words in a Business Context
- ASAP requests that someone respond As Soon As Possible
- CV is the abbreviation for Curriculum Vita (Vitae = plural)
- FYI indicates that something is For Your Information
As real as your challenges may become, don’t ever throw in the towel. Revisit your reasons for wanting to learn English and use that motivation to re-energise yourself and to keep you on track. Yes, the struggle sometimes is very real, but know that you’re never alone in this quest for self-improvement and empowerment. Show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, every time!