English may be one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, but it isn’t necessarily the easiest language to learn. I know this first hand from my work at The Language Lab. When I coach high-level executives to improve their written communication, I’m always reminded of how confusing English can be. There are just so many exceptions to so many rules!

Over time, I’ve seen many people make the same grammar mistakes. Although some of these mistakes may be unintentionally humorous, they’re no joke for the person making them. The executives I work with are highly skilled, but some are also held back by their inability to clearly articulate ideas in writing.

Five of the most common mistakes have to do with “parts of speech”: nouns, verbs, pronouns, etc. Fixing these mistakes can involve the tedious part of learning a language: memorization. And before you’re able to get to the solution, you need to understand the problems.

Five Challenges to Decoding English

1. Is It One, Or Many?

In English there are nouns that don’t have a plural form. They’re called “non-count nouns.” For example, the word “feedback” is a non-count noun. No matter how much feedback you get from your boss you will never get “feedbacks.” Similarly, the noun “information” may refer to many things, but it is never called “informations.”

2. Those Pesky Articles

In English, nouns follow what we refer to, as “articles.” (The, a, or an.) A common error I see is people either leaving out the article, or using the wrong article. For example, take a look at this sentence: “After company management team report we will move ahead.” It’s missing an article, the word “the” before the word “company.” In the sentence, “I will be invited to have a dinner with the vice president,” the article “a” before dinner isn’t necessary. The executive in question will simply be “invited to dinner.”

3. Getting The Right Preposition

Prepositions are words that we use all the time in English, to indicate a relationship. The book is on the table. The dog is under the table. Those two words, “on” and “under,” both prepositions, tell us where something (the dog, the book) is — in relationship to the table. And when the wrong preposition is used, it can sound unintentionally funny. For example, “tomorrow is good to me for our meeting,” instead of “tomorrow is good for me for our meeting.” (Or, heaven forbid, “the dog is on the table instead of under it!)

4. I Go, I Don’t Goes
Incorrect verb tenses are another common error in written communication for those whose first language is not English. For example, “I just get out of the meeting,” instead of “I just got out of the meeting.” Or, “My stay in the hotel were unsatisfactory,” instead of “My stay in the hotel was unsatisfactory.”

5. Me, Myself And/Or I?

Pronouns are words that take the place of nouns. For example, you might refer to Sandra as “she.” There are various kinds of pronouns (which you can learn more about through The Language Lab courses. [LINK: http://www.thelanguagelab.ca/courses/]) But the first person singular, I, myself, and me, is where difficulties frequently arise. For example, look at the sentence “thank you for meeting with Fred and myself.” It should be, “Fred and me.”

The above five challenges to mastering written English are not met overnight. I should also point out that even those of us whose first language is English find some aspects of the language tricky. So there is no shame in realizing that you need help decoding how English works. The important thing is to understand the problem; then to set about solving it. I’m happy to say I’ve seen many a business executive, whose first language is not English, who achieve these objectives, through diligent work and, yes, through taking courses at The Language Lab.

Need help decoding problems you have with written or spoken English? Contact me, Sandra Folk, at The Language Lab.

One thought on “Five Challenges: When English Is Not Your First Language

  1. Nivedha S

    Hi Sandra,
    Yeah, I totally agree with you. Even I have seen people who have very good orientation skills yet they lag when it comes to writing and making some of the most obvious mistakes. What would you suggest for them to avoid those things?

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