Some of the common English errors in Hong Kong

Learners of English all over the world struggle with many aspects of the language, some are common, such as particular vocabulary or grammar points, but some are perhaps more specific in each country. Here are some of the quirks and foibles I’ve noticed about Hong Kong learners

1) ‘There have’ for ‘there is/are’

A direct translation from Cantonese, but still surprisingly prevalent even in higher level speakers. Examples include ‘in my class there have 30 students’ and ‘at the party, there had much food and drink’

2) ‘How to spell?’

A really frustrating one, something which some of my more advanced students told me was taught in schools as it’s so widespread. They genuinely had no idea they were making a mistake as no one had ever corrected them before. Particularly used in sentences like ‘How to speak this word?’ and ‘How to spell that word?’, but far more widely spread than just those questions, it seems like I’m correcting to ‘How do you say…?’ almost every day!

3) 2 weeks later for ‘in 2 weeks’

I’ll see you 2 hours later, I have an exam 3 days later, sometimes even ‘my lesson starts after 5 minutes’. All wrong, all annoying.

4) I haven’t for ‘I don’t have’

I don’t understand the ‘why’ for this one so much as there are much fewer mistakes with other verbs, but making the present simple negative of ‘to have’ is a stumbling block in Hong Kong. Sometimes they could just about get away with it (‘I haven’t time to finish my homework now’) so I can see why they haven’t been corrected before, but others (‘I haven’t a brother’) need to be stamped out early on.

5) Using very as a verb modifier

Especially in sentences such as ‘I very like sushi’ and ‘I very enjoy watching TV’

6) Countable and uncountable nouns

A common difficulty for most learners of English whose native language doesn’t have plurals and articles.

7) Gone or been as past participles of go

Admittedly a confusing one until it’s pointed out to them, as most verb tables won’t even list ‘been’ as a p.p., but still wryly amusing as you’re asked ‘have you gone to Thailand?’ – no, I’m still here with you guys!

8) General pronunciation errors

Especially the /ɪd/ past tense ending (most of the time non-existent) and pronouncing ‘taxi’ as /tæx/


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