4 Common Writing Mistakes ESL Students Make

Everyone makes a few mistakes when learning to write English as a second language, and there are four errors that the majority of ESL learners make (even native English speakers are guilty of these).

Learning to spot and correct these mistakes will help your writing look more polished and natural.

 

1) Misuse of Articles

An article is a word that combines with a noun to show what reference is being made by the noun. There are only three articles in the English language: “a,” “an,” and “the.” There are two types of articles: indefinite and definite.

‘A’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles. These are used when referring to anything that is not specific or known to either the reader or the writer. Indefinite articles are also used when referring to a noun for the first time in a sentence.

  • ‘A’ precedes nouns that begin with a consonant sound (e.g. a ball). Another example is that even though the word ‘university’ begins with a vowel, the ‘u’ sounds like a ‘y’, and since /y/ is a consonant sound you would say ‘a university’.
  • ‘An’ precedes nouns that begin with a vowel sound (e.g. an orange). Another example is that even though the word ‘hour’ begins with a consonant ‘h’, it is a vowel sound so it would be referred to as ‘an hour’.

‘The’ is a definite article, and is placed before a noun or adjective that is known to both the reader and the writer. It is also used when referring to something familiar to everyone in the conversation, e.g. when playing basketball, you would ask your friend to ‘pass me the ball’ instead of ‘pass me a ball’, because you all know that there is only one ball being used.

‘The’ can be used before a noun anytime after it has first been introduced with ‘a’ or ‘an’. E.g. Sam bought a hat while on vacation. He then wore the hat on his flight home.

‘The’ can be used in front of a singular or plural noun (e.g. ‘the bird’ and ‘the birds’), and in front of an adjective (‘the beautiful bird’ and ‘the beautiful birds’.)

 

2) Incorrect Capitalization

The first letter of the first word of every sentence should be capitalized, and the use of ‘I’ as a pronoun is always capitalized no matter where it appears in the sentence.

Common nouns such as ‘dog’, ‘car’, or ‘hat’ should not be capitalized unless they are part of a title or are at the start of a sentence.

Proper nouns are capitalized as well. A proper noun is more specific than a noun, and gives the real name of the person, place, or thing. They include:

  • Holidays e.g. Christmas
  • Books e.g. War and Peace
  • Companies e.g. Microsoft
  • Religions e.g. Hinduism
  • Languages e.g. Chinese
  • Institutions e.g. Oxford University
  • Titles e.g. Prime Minister
  • Names e.g. Sarah
  • Geographical areas e.g. Queensland, Australia.

 

3) Poor Punctuation

Punctuation marks include commas (,), periods (.), apostrophes (‘), question marks (?), exclamation marks (!), colons (:), and semi colons (;).

Punctuation marks always come immediately after the last letter of a word and are followed by a space. E.g. We went to a movie, followed by a late dinner; I had the steak and my date had the pasta. It was delicious!

  • The comma (,) is used to separate different grammatical components of a sentence, and is also used to sometimes indicate a pause in a sentence if it was spoken out loud.
  • The period (.) is used to signify the end of a particular sentence.
  • An apostrophe serves three purposes in the English language:
  • To show possession of a noun, e.g. the woman’s hat.
  • As a plural indicator for words ending in ‘s’, e.g. the boys’ night out.
  • In contracted words to show where a letter/s are missing, e.g. do not to don’t.
  • A question mark is used to show that a question has been asked, e.g. Why use a question mark?
  • An exclamation mark is used to signify excitement or or to show an interjection, e.g. Amazing!

 

4) Improper Order of Adjectives 

An adjective is a word that describes a noun, e.g. ‘purple flower’ or ‘nice house’. Adjectives are always placed before the noun, not after.

There are eight different types of adjectives for describing a noun: opinion, size, age, shape, colour, origin, material, and purpose. This is also the order they must be listed in when describing a noun. E.g.

  • ‘The cute (opinion), small (size), young (age), fat (shape), gray (color), mountain (origin), furry (material), therapy (purpose) rabbit is popular with the children at the hospital’.
  • ‘The big, gray horse’ is correct. ‘The gray, big horse’ is incorrect.
  • ‘The cute, young puppy’, as opposed to ‘the young, cute puppy.’

This is one that even native English speakers commonly misuse. In fact, not many even know the proper order of the types of adjectives other than as an instinctual use of the terms. Memorize the correct order as they are supposed to appear, and you will be miles ahead of them.

 

Be on the lookout for these common errors in your ESL writing, and you’ll be a pro at correcting them in no time!

Can Teaching Aids Help Students to Learn English?

To teach any language course, there must be five main components; students, a teacher, teaching materials, teaching methods, and some form of evaluation. Teaching materials include all kinds of resources that can be used to get the information across to the students, from traditional textbooks to a whole range of supplementary aids, including video and audio tapes, visual aids, computer software and games, to name a few.

Teachers will also use a selection of evaluation tools to check and assess learning, and provide feedback to the students. With such a great range of teaching aids available, never before has there been so many options for creative language learning, so there’s no longer any need for teachers to stick to the old fashioned method of only using a textbook.

When a teacher is making a decision about the kind of teaching aids to use in their classroom, they are usually faced with several options, from choosing a suitable published course, adapting an existing course, or making their own aids. While many courses still rely on the tried and tested method of delivering lessons with set textbooks as the basis of their language programme, teachers will usually adapt the content to make it more personal to their particular students by using teaching aids that have been commercially produced, produced by the institution in which they are teaching, or even by the teacher themselves.

A number of benefits have been identified for using teaching aids to supplement textbook learning, the main benefits of which are listed below.

  • Teaching aids make lessons more enjoyable, and encourage learners to participate more

By using a range of teaching aids, such as audio and video tapes, online news broadcasts, flash cards or computer software programs, learners are encouraged to immerse themselves in the language rather than just see the language as a subject to be learned from a book.

  • Teaching aids can be easily adapted to meet the needs of specific students

Sometimes the content of a course textbook will need to be modified as it’s not well suited to the current learners, perhaps because of their age, gender or their religious, social or cultural background. By choosing to use teaching aids to supplement textbook learning, the course can be more easily revised or adapted as the need arises.

In addition, aids can also be adapted to address the specific needs of a particular group of learners, such as helping learners who are experiencing problems with pronunciation.

  • It’s easy to expand the course or add additional material

Sometimes it may be necessary to expand on the course content contained in textbooks. When this happens, supplementary materials can be very useful, especially to provide additional practice to improve grammar, vocabulary or to enable the students to become more familiar with taking certain kinds of tests, such as multiple choice questions.

  • Aids can enable the teacher to link the lesson to the locality

Most textbooks are very generic. However, by using teaching aids teachers can modify the lessons to reflect the locality and its particular concerns and issues, making them of more relevance to the students.

  • Content can be easily re-organised

Rather than follow the exact syllabus in a course book, teaching aids give the teacher the opportunity to reorganise the order in which the course is delivered, and to arrange it in a more suitable sequence for their particular students. Equally, the teacher may choose to substitute some of the learning activities of a particular unit with some of their own, based on the teaching aids they have available to them.

  • Tasks can be modified

Teachers may want to modify some of the exercises and activities contained in traditional textbooks. For example, a listening activity can be created very easily using audio or video tapes, which the student can then download onto their computers or smartphones. These listening activities can be used in different ways to focus on a different aspect each time, or they can be used for personal practice.

  • The teaching aids can be made to be more directly relevant to the needs of the students

Teaching aids which are produced by a specific language institution or by the teacher themselves are more likely to be directly relevant to their students’ needs. Such aids are more likely to reflect local content, issues and concerns, while helping the staff who deliver the lessons to develop a greater understanding of what makes an effective learning aid.

While many text books can be used without the need for adaptation, most learners find it beneficial to have access to a range of learning mediums when learning a foreign language. By using teaching aids, it’s possible to give the students a more realistic experience of learning a language, thus helping them to acquire fluency much more quickly.

 

Get Ready for Your ESL Test with These 7 Study Tips

Studying for an exam or test can be intimidating, particularly if you’re an ESL student. Taking a test in another language is tough, but luckily there are plenty of ways to make sure that you really  know the material for the exam. Teaching yourself how to study and building good study habits are some of the best investments you can make, as we’re learning every single day.

Here are our 7 most helpful study tips.

1. Create a study plan and stick to it

When you’re facing something intimidating, it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and useless. One of the easiest ways to get around this is by breaking everything down into smaller tasks, and the same thing works with studying. Break down everything you need to know into manageable study periods, and you’ll be able to accomplish everything you need to do before the exams.

Use a calendar to create day plans for studying, and make sure you stick to them. Habits are only created through repeated action.

2. Reward good work

When studying, it’s important to take breaks and give yourself a reward. If you know that you have a snack or a video at the end of the work period, you’ll find yourself motivated to work harder so you can finish the job and get the reward sooner.

This simple trick will help turn you into a studying machine. And if you keep your snacks healthy, you’ll be learning and taking care of yourself at the same time.

3. Use a timer

One of the more popular time management methods is called the Pomodoro technique. This method requires you to use a kitchen timer and work hard for 25 minutes. At the end of the work period, you can reset the timer for 5 minutes worth of free time, which acts like a reward. These 30 minute periods also work well with dividing your time between tasks.

4. Avoid distraction

This is the number one thing to avoid when studying. Distractions like cell phones, Facebook, television, and your friends can really hurt your work and studying efforts. It’s important to separate your study time and social life so you can get work done. So turn off all your devices, find a neutral location like a library, and get studying.

5. Answer practice questions

If your exam is question based, then you may be able to get practice versions of your tests. By working your way through mock and past exams, you’ll be able to see what kind of questions they are able to ask and how they want you to answer them. You’ll also be able to see what you need to work on.

6. Study with a group

If you’re struggling to keep yourself accountable, why not try studying in a group? If you’re all working on the same subject, you can discuss ideas, ask questions, and test each other’s skills. However, you do have to make sure that you’re with people committed to actually studying, otherwise you’ll find yourself easily distracted and off topic quickly.

7. Study tools

Make use of some of the best study tools available. For example, when learning English definitions you could create flash cards that have the word on one side and the definition on the other. Shuffle the cards and then work your way through them, pronouncing the words, defining them and then checking your answers. It’s the perfect way to memorise words and phrases.

When recapping subjects, chapters and lessons, create a summary page. A summary page is where you summarise everything that you learned during that period with only the need to know information. This way you’ll have a reduced amount of learning to do as you’ll only need to memorise the important things on the page.

So remember to study hard and make sure you do well on your tests and exams. Follow our study tips above and stick to a plan, and you’ll be doing well in no time!

 

Stress and the Flight-or-Fight Response

The body uses many instinctive mechanisms designed to keep us alive. One of the most impressive is the ability to quickly become supercharged in times of extreme danger. Our ancestors would have regularly dealt with life-threatening situations, like being attacked by a large animal, and would have benefited greatly from this survival mechanism.

When our brain detects danger, it floods the body with a hormone called cortisol. This generally prompts the body to respond in one of three ways: we attack (fight), we run away (flight) or we remain completely still (freeze). These days we don’t come across life-threatening situations all that often, but the brain isn’t good at differentiating between sensations linked to an extreme physical threat and sensations linked to an extreme emotional threat. When we experience stress, shame, fear, anger and other negative emotions, our brain can interpret this as extreme danger. 

Everyone knows that strong emotional reactions can pop up in any situation, including the learning setting. A student might feel intimidated and afraid if a task is too difficult, embarrassed if a mistake is made in front of the class or frustrated if a new concept is hard to understand. They might even become enraged if they put effort into a learning task and still can’t grasp it.

Any of these experiences can trigger a flood of cortisol throughout the body. While this mechanism enables fast, effective action when there’s no time to stop and think, it produces an utterly ineffective response when the exact opposite is needed. In this state, taking the time to stop and think clearly is very hard to do. Research shows that high levels of cortisol can impede our ability to learn.

When a student finds it difficult to read, they’re likely to experience emotional distress. This can produce a stress reaction before a class has even started, further hindering the capacity to learn, and a vicious cycle forms that stops some students from learning to read. They fall further behind their peers and catching up can seem an impossible task.

It’s crucial to structure learning experiences in a way that avoids triggering this unhelpful cortisol reaction. Given the inconsistencies and complexities of the English language, and given struggling readers might have low self-esteem around their reading ability, it’s no simple task to support students toward becoming fluent readers without activating a stressful response.

This is an excerpt from a short book written by the founders of Readable English, Ann Fitts and Chris Stephen, titled “Readable English: Why Learning To Read English Is So Hard And How To Make It Easier”. You can access the entire book from the Readable English website.  

Erratic English Spelling

English is a patchwork language, full of words adopted from people who conquered Britain and people who Britain conquered. It’s heavily influenced by Greek and Latin vocabulary, embraces new words coined all the time and includes a multitude of words absorbed from myriad sources. As the language expanded, new phonemes were added that had to be represented using the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet.

In the English language, 14 letters of the alphabet represent one sound only. The other 12 letters can represent up to seven different sounds each. Take the letter ‘u’: it’s used to represent the sounds /uh/ (as in ‘up’), /yoo/ (as in ‘use’), /oo/ (as in ‘put’), /oo/ (as in ‘fruit’), /ih/ (as in ‘busy’), /w/ (as in ‘quick’) and /eh/ (as in ‘bury’).

Traditional Latin languages such as Italian and Spanish are phonetic: they have a corresponding number of phonemes and letters. A reader can look at a word written in Italian or Spanish and know how to say it. 

English isn’t phonetic. It has almost twice as many phonemes (between 42 and 45) as letters (26), depending on the definition of a phoneme (for example, some people consider the long ‘a’ sound, /ay/, a singular phoneme, while others consider it comprises two existing phonemes, /eh/ and /ih/). In English, there’s little correspondence between how words are spelt and how they’re spoken.

English spelling contains two-way ambiguity. First, many phonemes can be spelt in multiple ways. For example, the long /ee/ sound in ‘me’ can be spelt ‘e’, ‘ey’, ‘ee’, ‘ei’, ‘ea’, ‘i’, ‘ie’ or ‘y’. This kind of ambiguity results in words that are spelt differently but sound exactly the same (homophones). For example, ‘steel’ and ‘steal’, ‘ate’ and ‘eight’, ‘night’ and ‘knight’.

Second, many letters and letter combinations can represent multiple phonemes. For example, the letter ‘a’ represents its standard phoneme /a/ (as in ‘at’) plus at least four other phonemes (as in ‘ate’, ‘wash’, ‘any’ and ‘about’). This ambiguity results in different words that are spelt the same way but pronounced differently (homographs). For example, ‘bow’ represents three words, two rhyming with ‘cow’ and the other with ‘show’.

Homographic ambiguity is common in English and particularly challenging for emerging readers. It means there’s more than one way to decode a word, which can lead to all kinds of errors when reading.

Pairs of letters, or digraphs, such as ‘ou’ and ‘th’ are also used to represent some of the extra phonemes in speech. Again, there are multiple ways to pronounce digraphs, which adds further complexity to written English. Although some spelling patterns help with learning pronunciation, there are many more exceptions.

Different pronunciations of ‘ough’

And that’s not all. English applies segments of sound or speech (syllables) inconsistently as well, reflecting patterns that have evolved over time. Anyone who has studied Shakespeare might guess correctly that the word ‘converged’ was once pronounced with three syllables, and only uses two in Modern English. But how would an emerging reader know that ‘converged’ has two syllables while ‘converted’ has three?

The English language is also full of letters that are silent in some words but spoken in similar contexts, like the letter ‘g’ in ‘sign’ (silent) and ‘signature’ (spoken). It would be impossible for an emerging reader to predict how ‘chasm’, ‘know’, ‘debt’ and ‘thought’ are pronounced without guidance.

Conventional methods of learning English involve students memorizing multiple rules and thousands of exceptions just to be able to read everyday words. For those who struggle with reading for any reason, these inherent complexities cause great difficulties.

This is an excerpt from a short book written by the founders of Readable English, Ann Fitts and Chris Stephen, titled “Readable English: Why Learning To Read English Is So Hard And How To Make It Easier”. You can access the entire book from the Readable English website.  

7 Strategies to Help Teenagers with Reading

7 Strategies to Help Teenagers with Reading

The ability to read well is one of the most critical factors in a teen’s success. Reading is a necessary skill in order to grasp almost any subject in school, and without this skill they are likely to fall severely behind.

Use the following techniques and exercises to help those students who are struggling with their reading comprehension.

IDENTIFY WHY THEY’RE STRUGGLING

In order to help them overcome their reading barriers, it’s important to pinpoint where they are encountering difficulties. First, have your teen read aloud. Notice if they get stuck on certain words, such as words with multiple syllables.

If they can read aloud without a struggle, perhaps the issue lies in comprehension, understanding context, or concentration.

HELP THEM DECODE THE WORDS

Decoding words means breaking them up into shorter, more understandable chunks. If they’re stumbling over multisyllabic words, such as fashionable, teach them to break the word down into individual syllables.

For example, misunderstanding would be pieced into five syllables: /mis/ /un/ /der/ /stand/ /ing/. Easily reading larger words begins with them sounding out and separating the words into smaller parts. Practice with a piece of text that includes a lot of multisyllabic words, or with a list of common multisyllabic words, e.g. personality, denominator, questionable, anniversary, etc.

Here you can find a helpful list of over 290 multisyllabic words for practice at home.

CLUE THEM INTO THE CONTEXT

One of the keys to understanding what a word means is searching for context clues surrounding the word. E.g. ‘There was a big misunderstanding about which homework assignment to do. Some people did the assignment from page 8, while others did the assignment from page 9’.

‘Misunderstanding’ is the unknown word in this sentence. If we look at the context clues surrounding the word, we can see that not everybody did the same assignment. Therefore, we can guess that misunderstanding could relate to confusion.

HAVE THEM TAKE NOTES

Notes are helpful for anyone struggling with comprehension and memory. Suggest that your teen record the main events or points of a story, and have them pause every couple of pages to summarise and review the story by re-telling it or writing it down.

If the text is educational, such as a textbook, taking notes will help them focus and process the information instead of allowing them to skim the material without absorbing it.

Frequent reviewing of what they’re reading, as well as taking notes, will help in comprehension and understanding.

ENCOURAGE CONCENTRATION

Perhaps your teen is having trouble concentrating because what they’re reading while learning to read is just not interesting enough for them. If this is the case, then it helps to use materials that are relevant to their lives or that are exciting for them to learn about. E.g. if they’re into sports, have them hone their reading skills by using sports-related materials.

If the content is about a subject that engages them, they will be much more likely to concentrate on decoding the words and learning what they mean.

INVEST IN A PROFESSIONAL TUTOR OR READING PROGRAM

We say hire a professional or invest in a reading program because having someone or a program with a proven track record of helping people improve their reading skills can save both you and your teen time and frustration. A professional tutor has experience in teaching others, and will know the most useful techniques for transforming your teen into a proficient reader. Look for someone who is part of a tutoring organisation, or a program that comes with endorsements and reviews.

The most important part of teaching your teen to read is to understand which learning strategies they benefit the most from, and tailoring their reading practice around those. Everyone learns in a slightly different way, so get creative and find out how your teen learns best.