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Danny: Common Mistakes Made by English Learners

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James Baldwin was an American writer and a civil rights activist who was born in 1924 and died in 1987 at the age of... well, you do the maths. He wrote a number of novels which dealt mainly with sexual and racial issues in the United States...

Now, I know that a lot of you, at this point, may be thinking something on the lines of – ‘now hang on a minute! What’s this rubbish? What happened to all the self-righteous ranting and sarcastic outbursts? We don’t want a history lesson about some guy called James Baldwin... we want some cutting remarks about... I don’t know... um... boy bands or something!’ Well, bear with me for a moment, would you? I’m building up to it. I just need to chuck in some ‘real stuff’ every now and then to justify the onslaught of withering harangue that comes later.

Besides, this month’s topic is one of a delicate nature.

Because this month’s topic is...



So, James Baldwin...

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve read any of his work, or if I have, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. One thing of his that I have read, however, is a quote that comes from his collection of essays called ‘Nobody Knows My Name’, which he wrote in 1961. It goes as follows...

“The price one pays for pursuing any profession or calling is an intimate knowledge of its ugly side”.

Basically, every job, no matter how glamorous or fantastic it may seem, has its downside. Take Hollywood film stars, for example. They may drive around in convertibles so fast and shiny that they look like they’re breaking the speed limit even when parked, and they may have Jessica Alba on speed-dial and they may spend more money than you earn in a decade in one afternoon in Aspen... but they also have to wake up very early in the morning to spend a whole day shooting in the middle of a swamp somewhere in Louisiana, and they have to live in fear of doing something as basic as picking their nose because they might wind up splashed across the front page of every trash mag worldwide under a headline that reads ‘Whatsisname In Shocking Nose-Picking Horror!!!’

Pilots. They may look dashing and heroic in that uniform of theirs, which is designed purely to make them look dashing and heroic, but when a wing has fallen off somewhere over the Atlantic and you’re trying to land what’s left of the plane in the middle of a lightning storm... well, let’s just say that the uniform doesn’t look so dashing or heroic when you’ve wet yourself twice already and still can’t locate the runway.

Surgeons may seem almost God-like in their ability to deftly manipulate various internal organs like a Rubik’s Cube... but when the patient has been sewn up and the surgeon is snapping off his gloves in a cavalier fashion and then he turns around and notices that the heart that should be pumping away in the chest cavity of the blissfully unconscious man on the operating table is actually sitting quietly on a tray next to his packed lunch and thermos of coffee... well, you get the picture...

And then we have English teachers.

All in all, teaching is a rewarding job. We get to meet lots of interesting people and learn about different cultures without ever actually leaving the room we work in. We get to see the ever-so-satisfying light of realisation dawning in a student’s eyes when an explanation of the present perfect goes down particularly well. And we get asked a lot of questions to which we actually know the answers.

But, as James Baldwin implied, every job has a downside. We don’t get Jessica Alba on speed-dial, for example. Or a dashing and heroic uniform. As for body-parts, most of us can’t tell our gluteus maximus from our ulna.

We can live with all this. But there is one thing that is guaranteed to make even the most hardened English teacher look for a quiet corner to go and hide in and cry, and it is the following...

There are a number of commonly made mistakes that every student makes, no matter where they come from or how long they’ve been studying English. A teacher will happily correct these mistakes again and again (and again!), but every time he does so, a little piece inside him dies a quiet and sad death, and goes to teacher heaven.

And here, therefore, is the whole point of this article. In order to make every teacher worldwide a little happier, I have compiled the Top Five Mistakes That Students Make That Make Teachers Want To Rip Out Their Eyeballs And Eat Them.

Here goes nothing...

5. “I’m agree”. ‘Agree’ is a verb, like ‘run’, ‘jump’ or ‘play’. So if I say ‘I run’, ‘I jump’ or ‘I play’, then it stands to reason that I should say ‘I agree’ and not ‘I am agree’. Right? Go on... agree with me. You know you want to...

4. “I don’t can...” ‘Can’ is a modal verb and you CAN’T use it with ‘don’t’ in the negative. No, really.

3. “What will you do tonight?” This sort of translates as ‘You are a pathetic person with no friends or plans so I want you to tell me what you hope to do tonight and quickly decide now, you loser!’ Well, okay... not exactly, but the politer way to ask this question is “What are you doing tonight?” This translates as ‘you are a very important and popular person with thousands of friends and you undoubtedly have millions of plans for tonight. Could you kindly tell me about them?’

2. “It’s depend...” or “It depends of...” There is only one correct way to say this, and it’s ‘It depends on...’ Um... just take my word for it.

1. “I like walking in the nature”. ‘Nature’ is an abstract noun with a general meaning, so we don’t use an article with it. Therefore, ‘I love nature’ is fine, but if you’d like to go for a walk, I’d suggest walking in the countryside.

And there you have it. If you really want to see a teacher fighting against inner cringing, feel free to use any of the above mistakes, or, even better, all of them in one sentence if you can pull it off. But if, on the other hand, you want to earn his undying respect and eternal admiration, then don’t. And give him Jessica Alba’s phone number, if you’ve got it.

So... boy bands then. What, exactly, is the point of the other four guys in a five member boy band? I mean, what do they do, really? Honestly...


By Danny

Link: How to use 'tact'

Danny is a teacher at EC Malta. Click here for more information on English courses in Malta.