“i’m going to italy” and other intermediate errors (Updated)

What follows is a public service announcement on behalf of all teachers who have students at intermediate and above…

Below are examples of common mistakes some of my Spanish speaking students continue to make in speaking and writing at intermediate level and above, even though these are things they should have dealt with at a lower level. They…

1) …swap the pronunciation of e and i

PIE elt efl intermediate errors

2) …incorrectly pronounce -ed words

sentence elt efl intermediate errors.jpg

3) …write sentences like “i’m going to italy”, forgetting that capitalisation of some words is not an option

Italy elt efl intermediate errors.jpg

4) …and neither is spacing and the placement of punctuation

punctuation elt efl intermediate errors

5) … get more complex numbers wrong, or they need time to think about it

number 1500 elt efl intermediate errors.jpg

6) …confuse he and she

elt efl intermediate errors.jpg

7) …make basic verb errors

Avatar angry PIE elt efl intermediate errors.jpg

I understand why these happen. If we’re teaching lower levels, you have to prioritise and decide what’s important. We can’t and shouldn’t correct all their errors, it’s just not feasible and it would drive them mad if we did. My intermediates also have a lot of trouble with prepositions and phrasal verbs, which is definitely understandable. There’s no teacher in the world who can teach students to master that anarchic and messy bit of the language. So it’s okay to let them get those wrong for a bit.

However, the ones I listed above are not the kinds of mistakes that we should be letting go of, they are fundamental aspects of the ability to communicate at a higher level. If we don’t teach them now, then another teacher will have to do it later when they really shouldn’t have to. If I’m trying to work with them on the passive voice, or conditionals, or the language of polite disagreement and so on, we don’t have time to deal with these.

Of course the students also have a responsibility here. It may well be that we’ve done your bit and taught them appropriately, and they just haven’t done the work. But these are the kinds of errors that will show up repeatedly after we’ve moved on to another language point, and I think this is one of those occasions where we really need to be a bit strict, talk to them about it and make sure they correct themselves. In other words, a bit less of a ‘collaborator’ and a bit more of a ‘teacher’.

So prioritise by all means, but think carefully about what you are selecting, because they’ll have to learn it at some point and it might be you who’s having to fit it into your already busy schedule. Now I’m going to teach my beginner class, and I promise you, I’ll won’t let these mistakes slide, for your sake.


9 thoughts on ““i’m going to italy” and other intermediate errors (Updated)

  1. Hi James,
    I agree with Mike on 1-6, but for 7 I’d go with Spanish subject-verb agreement (I don’t know any Spanish, actually, but it’s ‘la gente’ in Italian, so singular). I could expect my Croatian-speaking students to make these mistakes as well, except for 2..and I think 3 wouldn’t be very frequent either. I like the visuals, by the way!

  2. This is an intriguing subject, James.
    Czech students make the same array of ‘classic’ mistakes over and over again and I believe it’s not a coincidence that your Spanish students struggle with them too. I don’t think all the mistakes belong to the same category, though – for example, students can master complex numbers through drill, a lot of repetition and practice (it they are vital for their communication) but the question of she vs. he is quite tricky; they say it’s more of a psychological slip. In addition, there’s interlanguage, which is quite a natural thing unless it fossilizes. Well, I often wonder how to distinguish whether the errors my students make are part of their interlanguage or if there’s a danger of fossilization. As I teach homogenous L1 classes, I never ignore seemingly unimportant mistakes (those that don’t seem to hinder communication) because those are the ones that may eventually fossilize. And I think that except for 5 (and maybe 1), none of the other errors would cause a huge misunderstanding so I prefer dealing with them on time before it’s too late.

    1. Thanks for commenting Hana. I don’t doubt there that can be complex reasons behind why these errors occur (and it’s certainly interesting to think about why), but the bottom line is that at some point they have to stop, even if the student is capable of expressing themselves fairly well with them. I think we owe it to them to do something about it before it becomes fossilised.

  3. I can’t believe it you pick on Spanish speakers. I have lived in the Uk for 10 years and before I came here I had the idea that English people speak English really well. I was horrified when I first heard “English speakers saying something like “There is 3 chairs” They say this quite often and some other sentences that gets me thinking this is really the most convenient place to learn to speak English well. I understand we make this kind of mistakes when we speak but at least we try hard to use the language in a an appropriate way. It is more disconcerting knowing that even at executive levels you find people they have to use the correction links when they write an email. I also have to correct their spelling sometimes. Don you think you should worry first about how the so called ” Native speakers use the language?

    1. Francisco, you have misunderstood my intentions. I pointed out that my students are Spanish speakers only to make people aware that these are the kinds of mistakes that they make. These kinds of mistakes can change depending on their first language and in my experience learners all over the world will make some kind of error. Spanish speakers are by no means better or worse than anyone else, it’s just that they are the people I’m teaching at the moment.

      You are right to say that native speakers also make a lot of errors, I only have to look at my Facebook feed to see that. But I don’t see native speakers as a model for my students, I think they need to learn from fluent speakers, especially from people who have successfully learnt the language. I think the ‘native speaker as role model’ mode is one of the most damaging aspects of the ELT industry, and I can wait until it’s gone.

      Thanks for your comment.

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