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Keys for Writers, Second Edition
Ann Raimes
Language Guide to Transfer Errors

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.

No Articles 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.
She lawyer.
Definite article with days, months, places, idioms Arabic 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 Haitian Creole Bird can fly.
Definite article with proper noun German, Spanish, Greek, French, Portuguese The Professor Brackert teaches in Frankfurt.
No definite article Hindi, Turkish Store on corner is closed.
No indefinite article Korean (uses one for a and depends on context) He ran into one tree.
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 Arabic 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.
Voice Thai, Vietnamese 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 Korean I go out for having my dinner.
Overuse of progressive nouns Hindi, Urdu I am wanting to leave now.
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.
Verb last Korean, Japanese, Turkish, German (in dependent clause), Bengali, Hindi ...(when) the teacher the money collected.
Coordination favored over subordination Arabic 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 Chinese 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 Is raining.
Commas set off a dependent clause. Russian, German 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.
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 Chinese, Japanese 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 Korean The book is on the table is mine.
Adjectives show number Spanish I have helpfuls friends
Double negatives are routinely used Spanish They don't know nothing.
Pronoun subjects can be omitted. Thai, Spanish My boss complained when she saw the mess.

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