Language mistakes that native speakers make…and some that they rarely do!

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You don’t have to speak English perfectly to be fluent… but it helps if you know which mistakes to make.

Emma Stein – (Volunteer Training Coordinator ELP Wellington)

“I want to sound like a Kiwi” is a comment that many of our more advanced learners might make so it’s good to remind them that speaking perfectly is not the same as speaking fluently – even native speakers make mistakes. In fact, in the case of a very high-level learner, this is what might differentiate her/him from a native speaker. Occasionally, an ESOL teacher/tutor will hear a learner say “but I heard my friend/colleague say “…” and now you’re telling me it’s wrong?”  This can make it difficult to know which errors to focus on and which to let slide.

Generally, in spoken English, native speakers make errors for a variety of reasons:

  • they say it the way they hear it – “Could of/would of, etc.” for “could’ve/would’ve, etc.”; “pacifically” for “specifically”
  • they are not really aware of the grammar, they think one rule fits all “between you and I” because they were told not to say “you and me”
  • the distinction is not considered important and does not affect the meaning “fewer” vs “less’
  • they want to sound important – “Please send it to myself.”

However, there are some mistakes that non-native speakers make which are rarely made by native speakers!

A few examples of spoken errors: Can you guess which ones are made by non-native speakers and which by native speakers?

  • Just between you and I…
  • I think it’s real good…
  • Please can you tell me what does it mean?
  • In 2018, less houses were available to rent in Wellington.
  • I helped cook my sister.
  • Let’s to talk about my recent job search.
  • The person to whom I spoke to…
  • Please give me feedback to confirm you have received my email!
  • There’s ten people applying for this job.
  • Could you pick up me after work, please?
  • I should of known better.
  • This city is more better to live in.
  • My brother work for a French company.
  • I suggest you get more light.
  • Could you please send it to myself?

Very often, non-native speaker errors arise from:

Using the wrong word order – “I helped cook my sister”

Getting the stress, tone or intonation wrong – “Please give me…” rather than “I was wondering if you could give me…”; “I suggest you get…” rather than “Have you thought about getting…?”

“Brain grooves” due to repeated drilling at early stages of learning. For example, questions with do or does – “what does this mean” – get lodged in the ear and it’s very hard not to say “Could you tell me what does this mean?”

Some tips to help your high-level learners sound more like a Kiwi:

  1. Learn some Kiwi slang (heaps of, choice, awesome, sweet as, yeah right! yeah, nah.)
  2. No need to use full sentences in conversations (All good? Yup! Fine. You? Good weekend?).
  3. Learn some of the Reo (whanau, kia ora, kai, koha, pronunciation of place names: Taupo, Kaiwharawhara)
  4. Don’t forget the little words at the beginning, in the middle or at the end (so, um, well, yeah, actually, just, I mean, by the way, though, ay)

Inspired to share your knowledge of English with former refugees and migrants to NZ?
Why not consider volunteering as an ESOL Home Tutor with English Language Partners?

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