Filipino's most common English mistakes
The American English Club is going strong. Since we launched in July, more than 1000 new members have joined the club. Many are actively writing, taking quizzes and studying the English lessons available on our website. We have received a lot of wonderful feedback, including comments from one young lady who won an essay contest after studying our lessons. I'm so proud of you, Shiela!
With such a large number of people writing, I have started to notice a few trends. So I'd like to take this opportunity to point out some of the most common errors I see. Many of these are simple careless mistakes, while some involve English grammar rules that you may not be aware of. But they can all be avoided, with a little study.
In no particular order, here of some of the most common mistakes:
Capitalization: Proper nouns should always be capitalized. Proper nouns include people's names, like John and Mary; official names, like 'the Air Force', and official titles, like 'Foreign Secretary'.
Capitalize the word 'secretary' in this sentence: "She is the Executive Secretary", because it is her official title. But do not capitalize it here: "She is an excellent secretary".
Two very common capitalization problems I see in Filipino writing are not capitalizing the first word of a sentence, and not capitalizing the word 'I'. I'm sure this is a habit carried over from SMS and Facebook messages. It seems to be ok to do it there, but it is never acceptable in real writing!
One more point about capitalization: Do not capitalize a word to add emphasis. Italics, bold font, and underlining are the proper ways to draw attention to a word.
Punctuation: Everybody gets confused about punctuation at one time or another, but the rules are really simple. The most common problem I see (and I see it alot!) can be summed up with this rule:
Use a period, exclamation mark or question mark to end a sentence, and use a comma to separate information within a sentence.
A sentence is basically a single statement. A period, exclamation mark or question mark lets the reader know that the statement is finished, and that a new statement is about to begin. Just like the spoken pause we use in speech. A comma, on the other hand, is used to separate items in a list, like this:
"I saw horses, cows, pigs and chickens on the farm." (Notice that there is no comma between the last two items in the list)
Or to show that a piece of extra information has been inserted into a sentence:
"The mayor, Maria Gonzales, is my mother."
One more thing about punctuation: Never, ever use three dots to separate sentences. I see this almost every day in someone's writing. Again, I'm sure it's a carryover from SMS and Facebook writing. This is just plain wrong.
Tense: English tenses can be very confusing, but most of the problems I see do not involve the complex tenses. First, when you talk about the past, make sure your verbs are in past tense:
Wrong: "When I am a kid, I study hard."
Right: "When I was a kid, I studied hard."
This is a very common problem among Filipinos, but you can avoid it if you just pay attention. Make sure, too, that you don't bounce back and forth between present and past tense. If you are telling a story about the past, all of the sentences in your story should use past tense verbs. When you proofread your work, think about each statement. Ask yourself "Is this action in the present or the past?"
Prepositions: English prepositions are always confusing to non-native speakers. There are so many, and each is used in a different way. IN, ON, AT, OVER, UNDER, BETWEEN, TO, TOWARD and so many others. The best way to learn prepositions is to read a lot! Try to notice the patterns when you see a word like TO, and try to recognize how is is different from the word TOWARD. Yes, there is a difference.
Another great way to learn is to join the American English Club. Many of the lessons, exercises and other activities are completely free, and I guarantee you will learn if you participate! You can submit writing assignments and receive feedback on your work within a day or two. And you can work at your own pace. Some of our members visit every day, while others check in every few weeks. But remember this:
A lot of practice = A lot of improvement.
A little practice = A little improvement.
No practice = No improvement!