The 5 Most Common Errors That You Probably Make When Speaking English

Les presentamos hoy el texto de nuestro colaborador Ryan Sitzman, quien lleva ya varios años enseñando inglés en Costa Rica. En esta ocasión Ryan nos habla de los errores más comunes que las personas de habla hispana tenemos a la hora de hablar inglés. Un artículo muy interesante y práctico para poder verificar estos errores.

The 5 Most Common Errors That You Probably Make When Speaking English
by Ryan Sitzman

Today I want to talk about something very important: errors. I know that doesn't necessarily sound fun or exciting, but if you're not a native English speaker, you're probably making a lot of small mistakes when you speak--and you may not even notice them.

The good news is, these errors usually don't affect communication, so if you make them, people will probably understand you. Still, it's best to correct them as soon as possible, so that they don't become cemented and more difficult to correct later on.

Today we'll look at two vocabulary errors, two grammar errors, and one pronunciation error.


Common Error #1: Confusing in, on, and at

The Problem:

I teach English to Spanish speakers in Costa Rica, so this is an error I notice all the time. English uses three common prepositions to indicate location or times: "in," "on," and "at." The problem is that in Spanish, there's basically one word for these three ideas: "en."

There are also other prepositions, of course, but they don't cause as much trouble for Spanish speakers.

The Solution:

First of all, determine if you're talking about time or location.

If you're talking about time:

-Use in for months, years, and centuries, as well as some parts of the day. (in July, in 2004, in the 21st century; in the morning, in the afternoon)

-Use on for specific days. (on July 6th, on Monday)

-Use at for specific times and some parts of the day. (at 11:34, at 5 pm, at noon, at night, at midnight)

If you're talking about location or places:

-Use in if something is contained or inside a physical place, as well as for cities, countries, etc. (in my house, in the box, in the airplane, in Mexico City, in Spain)

-Use on if something is touching the surface of a physical place, as well as a few other special cases. (on the table, on the second floor, on the computer screen, on Mars, on an island)

-Use at if you're talking about a general area, or an idea that is not tangible. (at home, at work, at school, at the beach) Note that for "at the beach," for example, you may actually be sleeping in your hotel room, eating in the restaurant, lounging at the pool, or walking on the beach, but the whole area can still be described as "the beach," so you would say "I'm at the beach" to refer to your general location.


Common Error #2: Confusing words ending in "-ed" and "-ing," like "bored" and "boring"

The Problem:

My students often say things like "this week was tired" since in Spanish they'd say "Esta semana fue cansada" or something similar. But there's a difference between "bored" and "boring," "tired" and "tiring," and other similar combinations.

The Solution:

Pay attention to the context.

If you're talking about a person or activity that causes an emotion or feeling, you should use the word that ends with "-ing." For example, you could say:

-"The movie was boring."

-"It was really exciting to talk with people from so many other countries."

-"We had a good time doing volunteer work, even though the work was tiring."

If you're talking about a experiencing or receiving an emotion, then use the word with "-ed." In those same examples, just change the perspective:

-"The audience was really bored by the boring movie."

-"We were really excited to talk with so many people from other countries."

-"We were really tired after doing the volunteer work, but we still had a good time."

Other similar combinations include amazed/amazing, confused/confusing and fascinated/fascinating.


Common Error #3: Forgetting to add an "-s" to verbs

The problem:

Many students simply forget to change ("conjugate") verbs when the subject is he, she, or it (also known as "third person singular"). This is probably the most common error of any kind that I notice my students making.

This may be because in Spanish you have to change verbs all the time (yo como, tú comes, usted come, etc.), and in comparison English generally only has one change. But still, don't forget that change!

The solution:

If you are speaking in the present tense and the subject is he, she, or it, then 98% of the time you need to add an "-s" or "-es" to any verbs that you use with those subjects.

For example, if you say:

"My cousin live in Germany and he work in a car factory"

...then just be sure to add the "-s" to the verbs:

"My cousin lives in Germany and he works in a car factory."


Common Error #4: Question Word Order Problems

The Problem:

Forming questions in English can actually be pretty complicated. There are different rules for Yes/No Questions and "Wh-" Questions, and the word order also changes if you have an introductory phrase like "Could you please tell me..."

But for today, let's keep this basic. If you're asking simple Yes/No Questions, you need to pay attention to the word order.

The Solution:

If you are making a basic statement (an afirmación in Spanish) in English, the word order is pretty simple. It's usually:

(Subject) (Verb) (Object/Complements)

For example, you can say:

-"Jane likes dogs."

-"We eat pizza."

-"They are happy."

Those are very basic, but you get the idea.

Now, if you want to ask a "Yes/No" Question, you need to change that word order a bit to:

(Auxiliary--do/does/are/is/can, etc.) (Subject) (Verb) (Object/Complements)

The main point is, the Subject moves from the first to the second position.

Using similar examples, you can say something like:

-"Does Jane like dogs?"

-"Can we eat pizza?"

-"Are they happy?"

Many students ask "questions" like "Jane likes dogs?" and just add intonation to the statement to indicate they're asking a question. That's acceptable in Spanish, and people in English will probably understand that you're trying to ask a question. But it's not technically correct.


Common Error #5: /S/ and /Z/ Pronunciation

The Problem:

English has some sounds that don't exist in Spanish, and this is the most common problematic sound. Basically, Spanish only uses an /s/ sound (imagine the hissing sound a snake makes) when pronouncing the letters "s," "z," and sometimes "c." Just think of the word "cervezas," in which the "c," "z," and "s" are all basically pronounced the same.

English also uses an /s/ sound for many words that use "s" or "c," such as in "sound," "place," or "scene," but there are also many times when the letter "s" is pronounced like a /z/ (imagine the buzzing sound a bee or insect makes).

The Solution:

Basically, you have to realize that an "s" isn't always pronounced like an "s." Sometimes it's pronounced like a "z." It can be a bit difficult to determine if a word is pronounced with an /s/ sound or a /z/ sound, but here are a few tips to help you.

Generally speaking, if the letter "s" is at the end of the word and follows a "voiced" consonant (one that makes a vibration in your throat when you pronounce it), then you should pronounce the "s" like /z/. For example:

-dogs (pronounced like "dogz" since the "g" has vibration that makes the "s" vibrate into a /z/)

-cars (pronounced like "carz," since the "r" sound makes the same vibration)

Compare these to words like:

-cats (pronounced with the "s" like /s/, since the "t" doesn't make a vibration in your throat)

-books (also pronounced with an /s/, for the same reason--the "k" doesn't cause vibration)

The same rule usually applies if the "s" follows a vowel sound, since all vowels cause vibration. In that case, the "s" will also be pronounced like /z/. Think of words like:

-please (pronounced like "pleaz")

-countries (pronounced like "countriez")

-those (pronounced like "thoz")

Notice that I said that the rule usually applies. One of the most difficult things about English is pronunciation, so there are almost always exceptions to general rules.


So, that's it for today. No one is perfect, but if you use the ideas in this article, I think you'll find that you can quickly improve some errors that you may have been having.

What about you? Do you make these common mistakes? If so, how have you improved them? And what are some other errors that you find yourself making? Thanks for reading!

Ryan Sitzman vive en Costa Rica y trabaja como escritor, traductor, y profesor de inglés y alemán. Además le gusta escribir, leer, sacar fotos, tomar café, y viajar. Puedes ver más en su página



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