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People form impressions of us based on the language we use, whether written or spoken. Our language choices tell people where we are from, whether we are educated or not, whether we are professional business people or not, and much more. This is a universal truth with all languages, not only English.

In our last ESL blog, we talked about “Correct English” and how there are some people (Descriptivists) who believe in the educated speaker rule—namely, if an educated native speaker says it, that reflects standard language usage. Others (Prescriptivists) believe that language should be spoken according to a set of rules (generally from Latin or Greek), regardless of how the current language actually functions.

There is yet another set of rules, and that is the way the language actually works. These are rules that native speakers of any language internalize as they acquire their language from childhood. In English, for example, we say, She likes bananas. Most native speakers haven’t analyzed that and they cannot state the rule of the “3rd person s” (likes) in simple, active, declarative sentences. However, they know it and they use it. Non-native speakers haven’t internalized these rules and they need to learn them, either for social reasons or professional business reasons.

We can easily hear an accent in spoken English. Accents usually reflect pronunciation, but they can also reflect non-English word order, or non-English word formations. People are generally more forgiving about these issues in spoken English. However, in written English, especially in academic English or in business English, these issues become more of a problem.

In written form, non-native English is more easily seen. Sometimes we can identify a person’s native language by the types of errors he or she makes:

  • Russians and Slovaks, for example, tend to leave off the article before nouns. (I like show. We go to movies.).
  • Spanish speakers will tend to write or say I have cold instead of I am cold. Or I have 23 years instead of I am 23 years old. This is because in Spanish, the verb tener (to have) is used in these instances rather than the verb to be, as we use it in English.
  • Sometimes an English word is similar to a word in another language, but it really is not the same. For example, the English word embarrassed seems like the Spanish word embarazada, which actually means pregnant. It is no wonder that Spanish speakers will confuse the two, both in meaning and spelling. That coud be fairly embarrassing!
  • Sometimes certain errors are universal. By this I mean that, because English is unique in one or more aspects, non-native speakers of various languages will falter and show their accents in written English.
  • Third person s:  He like cars, instead of He likes cars.
  • Word order and third person s: She fight all the time her brother. Instead of She fights her brother all the time.
  • Plural nouns: They have two dog. Instead of They have two dogs.

The above are only a few examples of accent in written English. There are many more. Usually, the correct forms can be learned in a course or from a book. Often, being aware of the native-speaker rules will help.

So, what can you do? Check yourself on the above structures. Do you make these types of errors? Record yourself talking about a situation or a person. Then write the same story as a paragraph. Do you notice any differences?

Do you notice any of the problems noted above? If you do, just practice writing a few sentences using the native-speaker models above for these. The first step is being aware of how you speak and write. Or call on help from the certified ESL professionals on the team of Edits Made Easy!


This article is archived from the original Edits Made Easy website and is re-posted here to our new blog under a new date.