Sunday, March 4, 2007

Common errors made by English learners in China

By Dick Tibbetts, University of Macau, China

A teacher discussing common errors by Chinese English students shared some examples: “'Because he felt ill, so he went to the doctor’ instead of ‘Because he felt ill, he went to the doctor’ Because ... so and Although .... but are common errors caused by an overemphasis on translation. ‘How to say...’ instead of another gap filler, eg: ‘How can I put it’, ‘What's the word’, etc.”

How to say? and How to spell? have both become entrenched. Students often know it's not standard but it's hard to change.

Some more:

Heavy overuse of connectives - therefore, moreover, furthermore, nevertheless etc. These are used some 80 times as frequently as native speakers writing äcademic English essays. I'm teaching students to make more use of referential pronouns, synonyms and other devices for cohesion and also to use the topic and content for cohesion rather than throwing connectives in at the beginning of sentences and paragraphs. I should say that they use the connectives (apart from "on the other hand") with a correct meaning, it's just that the overuse of these marked forms makes their work harder to read.

Misuse of referential pronoun "It" in:

“Some travellers catch diseases. It is because they do not take precautions.”

I teach that in these sort of cases, Statement followed by explicit reason/explanation, it's a good rule of thumb that initial "It" refers forward, initial "This" refers back.

False passives with certain verbs:

“It was happened yesterday.” “He was arrived yesterday.”

Again an error caused by over reliance on translation. These are all common errors with Cantonese speakers, by the way. I don't know how relevant they are for Chinese with Putonghua as their first language.

I notice an extension of the verb "play" to cover an area much wider than its common use in English. This also happens with the use of school to cover tertiary education, but I think that US English accepts this more than British so I don't worry too much except when I'm trying to get a more adult approach to education.

Another: "This is base on ...."

I think the passive is hard for Chinese students because they only know the form, not the use so it's hard to recognise and fit it in.

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