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!

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!