Sometimes errors in writing a new language can occur when you are grappling with new subject matter and difficult topics. You concentrate on ideas and clarity-- and because no writer can do everything at once, you fail to concentrate on editing.
The following language guide sets out several problem areas for multilingual/ESL writers. It shows grammatical features (column 1) of specific languages (column 2) that when transferred to English lead to an error (column 3). The guide covers neither all linguistic problem areas nor all languages; that would take volumes. Rather, it lists a selection, with the aim of being useful and practical. Use the guide to raise your awareness about your own and other languages.
| LANGUAGE FEATURES
|| SAMPLE TRANSFER ERROR IN ENGLISH
||Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Farsi, Urdu, Swahili
||Sun is hot.|
I bought book.
Computer has changed our lives.
|No indefinite article with profession
||Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese
||He is student.|
|Definite article with days, months, places, idioms
||She is in the bed.|
He lives in the Peru.
|Definite article used for generalization
||German, Spanish, Greek, French, Portuguese
||The photography is an art.|
The books are more expensive than the disks.
|No article used for generalization
||Bird can fly.
|Definite article with proper noun
||German, Spanish, Greek, French, Portuguese
||The Professor Brackert teaches in Frankfurt.
|No definite article
||Store on corner is closed.
|No indefinite article
||Korean (uses one for a and depends on context)
||He ran into one tree.
|VERBS AND VERBALS
|Be can be omitted
||Russian, Arabic, Haitian Creole, Chinese
||India more than religious than Britain.|
She working now.
He always cheerful.
|No progressive forms
||French, German, Russian, Greek
||They still discuss the problem.|
When I walked in, she slept.
|No tense inflections
||Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese
||He have a good time yesterday.|
When I was little, I always walk to school.
|No inflection for person or number
||Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Thai
||The singer have big band.
|Past perfect form with be
||They were arrived.
|Different tense boundaries from English
||Arabic, Farsi, Chinese, Haitian Creole, French
||I study here fro a year.|
He has left yesterday.
|Different limits for passive
||Japanese, Korean, Russian
||They were stolen their luggage.
||My name based on Chinese characters.|
A miracle was happened.
|No-ing (gerund)/infinitive distinction
||Arabic, Chinese, Farsi, French, Spanish, Greek, Vietnamese, Portuguese
||She avoids to go.|
I enjoy to play tennis.
|Infinitive not used to express purpose
||I go out for having my dinner.
|Overuse of progressive nouns
||I am wanting to leave now.
|WORD ORDER AND SENTENCE STRUCTURE
|Verb precedes subject.
||Hebrew, Russian, Spanish (optional), Tagalog, classical Arabic
||Good grades received every student in the class.
|Verb-subject order in dependent clause.
||French, Haitian Creole
||I knew what would decide the committee.
||Korean, Japanese, Turkish, German (in dependent clause), Bengali, Hindi
||...(when) the teacher the money collected.
|Coordination favored over subordination
||Frequent use of and and so
|Relative clause or restrictive phrase precedes noun it modifies
||Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Russian
||The enrolled in community college student...|
A nine-meter high impressive monument to Lenin...
He game a too difficult for me book.
|Adverb can occur between verb and object or before verb
||French, Haitian Creole, Urdu (before verb)
||I like very much clam chowder.|
They efficiently organized the work.
|That clause rather than infinitive
||Arabic, French, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Hindi, Russian
||I want that you stay.|
I want that they try harder.
|Inversion of subject and verb rare
||She is leaving and so am I.
|Conjunctions occur in pairs
||Chinese, Farsi, Vietnamese
||Although, she is rich but she wears simple clothes.|
Even if I had money, I would also not buy that car.
|Subject can be omitted (especially pronoun)
||Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Japanese
|Commas set off a dependent clause.
||He knows, that we are right.
|No equivalent of there is/there are
||Russian, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai (uses adverb of place and have)
||This article says four reasons to eat bananas.|
In the garden has many trees.
|NOUNS, PRONOUNS, ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS
|Personal pronouns restate subject
||Arabic, Spanish, Gujarati
||My father he lives in California.
|No human/nonhuman distinction for relative pronoun (who/which)
||Arabic, Farsi, French, Russian, Spanish, Thai
||Here is the student which you met her last week.|
The people which arrived...
|Pronoun object added at end of relative clause
||Arabic, Farsi, Hebrew
||The house that I used to live in it is big.
|No distinction between subject and object forms of pronouns
||Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Korean, Gujarti
||I gave the forms to she.
|Nouns and adjectives have same form
||She is very beauty woman.|
They felt very safety on the train.
|No distinction between he/she, his/her
||Farsi, Thai, Bengali, Gujarti
||My sister dropped his purse.
|No plural form after a number
||Farsi, Chinese, Korean
||Four new lamp...
|No plural (or optional) forms of nouns
||Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Korean
||Several good book...
|No relative pronouns
||The book is on the table is mine.
|Adjectives show number
||I have helpfuls friends
|Double negatives are routinely used
||They don't know nothing.
|Pronoun subjects can be omitted.
||My boss complained when she saw the mess.