Tips for Non-Native speakers

English is a language of idiosyncrasies, a Germanic language with Latin grammar rules forced upon it (thanks to its French influence in the early Medieval era.) Even native speakers themselves can only master so much of what is considered Standard English and the various contradictory rules with its use.

As a tutor in the Writing Center, I see some common errors with non-native speakers. Here are some tips for the errors I see:

Subject/verb agreement: the subject of a sentence can be singular or plural, and the verb must match accordingly (this is referred to grammatically as “number.”) For instance:

The dog [singular noun] plays [singular verb] in the yard.
The dogs [plural noun] play [plural verb] in the yard.

If your native language also has nouns and verbs reflect number, try connecting English examples to ones in your mother language. For example, Spanish:

La mujer baila. Mujer is singular, as is baila.
Las mujeres bailan. Because mujeres is plural, so is the verb, bailan.

The best trick for memorizing this is repetition. Practice makes perfect: it’s a cliché for a reason.

Other verb forms: When the verb of a sentence is more than two words, I often see a lack of necessary inflection (inflection in English is a suffix which indicates various grammatical aspects of a verb, from tense [present, future, etc] to mood [indicative or subjunctive], to the as previously mentioned number [singular or plural.]) When using the passive voice, the verb of the sentence will be the conjugated form of to be + the main verb stem + the inflection of the past participle. For regular verbs, this will end in –ed. For instance:

The ball was kicked by me.

I often find non-native speakers drop the inflection and write “The ball is kick by me.”

Incorrect: The film is see by me.
Correct: The film is seen by me. (The verb ‘see’ does not follow the regular convention of –ed endings.)

Incorrect: The speech will be hear by the McDaniel community.
Correct: The speech will be heard by the McDaniel community.

Incorrect: The food from Glar was eat by unhappy students.
Correct: The food from Glar was eaten by unhappy students.

Spelling errors: Unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for English spelling. Even the ubiquitous “I before E except after C, or when sounding like A as in neighbor and weigh” has more words that don’t follow the rules than those that do. Weird.

Use a dictionary when writing a word in an essay you are unlikely to use often. With words that you use often, but find yourself consistently tripping up, practice is the key to eventual learning and memorization. Write the word correctly down over and over and over again until it sticks in your head. Say it phonetically in your mind whenever you write it, to help memorize the letters.

Being multilingual is admirable. Languages are so complex and fascinating, I always find myself wanting to learn more. There is no shame in making mistakes in a second or third (or fourth, or fifth, etc.) language – or even a mother tongue. Mistakes happen. Hopefully the Writing Center can help!

Summer, peer tutor