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5 Common Speaking Mistakes Made by English-Language Learners

You already know you can communicate in English without perfect grammar. Even so, you’re probably curious about the kinds of mistakes you might be making as you learn.

Take a look at some common speaking errors. The more you know, the easier it will be to correct your mistakes and improve.

1. Prepositions

In general, a preposition is used with a noun to show direction, place, or time. There are a lot of prepositions in English, so you might sometimes use the wrong ones. 

But don’t worry: Learning the basic rules will help you improve quickly!

Examples

  • Direction: He went to the shopping mall.
  • Place: She sat across from me.
  • Time: I like to relax in the summer. 

2. Articles

A, an, the: These words are called articles. Even though they’re small, using them correctly is often confusing.

The

The word the is called a definite article. It’s used with specific nouns (when there’s only one). The can be used with singular and plural nouns.

Examples

  • The sun is hot today. (There’s only one sun, so it’s specific.)
  • The students are listening. (We’re talking about a specific group of students in a class.) 

A or An

The words a and an are called indefinite articles. We use them to talk about nouns that are not specific—when there’s more than one. Use a before a consonant and an before a vowel. These articles basically mean one

Examples

  • My father is a doctor. (He’s one of many doctors; he’s not the only doctor.)
  • I saw an owl last night. (There are many owls in the world; you only saw one.)

3. Countable and Uncountable Nouns

In general, a noun is a person, place, or thing. Some are countable, and some are uncountable. It’s common for learners to make mistakes, especially with uncountable nouns. 

Countable

A countable noun is one that, well, you can count! It can be singular or plural. 

Examples

  • 1 apple ➝ 14 apples 
  • 1 person ➝ 18 people 

Uncountable 

An uncountable noun can’t be divided or counted. To count these nouns, you need to be more specific.

Examples

  • ❌ 2 rices ➝ ✔️ 2 bowls of rice
  • ❌ 1 oil ➝ ✔️ 1 spoonful of oil

4. Subject-Verb Agreement

The subject and the verb of a sentence should always agree in number. A singular subject should use a singular verb, and a plural subject should use a plural verb. This is called subject-verb agreement. Often, English learners forget to pronounce the –s sound at the end of a singular verb. 

Examples

  • She exercises every day. ➝ She is the subject, and it’s singular. Your verb also needs to be singular; the verb is exercises.
  • They exercise every day. ➝  They is a plural subject, so the verb should also be plural. The verb is exercise.

5. Participial Adjectives

Participial adjectives look like verbs, but they’re actually adjectives. They usually end in –ed and –ing, like surprised and surprising. They’re often mixed up and used incorrectly.

Try this: Use –ing to describe a situation. Use –ed to describe your feelings about that situation.

Examples

  • I’m excited because the party is exciting.
  • The class is boring, so they’re bored

Conclusion

Knowing about some common speaking errors will help you hear them in your own speech. When you can hear your mistakes, you’ll be able to correct yourself and improve every time you practice!

Andrea is a Gabby Academy coach and education technolgy writer based in Vancouver, Canada.