July 28, 2021

The Official CELPIP Podcast: Episode 5 – Common English Mistakes

In today’s episode, we discuss common English mistakes with Ian and Luke, former ESL teachers, and Brandi, our CELPIP Expert.

Show Notes


CJ [00:00:00] Hello, everyone, and welcome to the official CELPIP podcast, where we aim to help you, our test takers get the scores you need and supporting newcomers building a life in Canada. My name is CJ and along with my co-host, Chris, we talk to a variety of guests from test takers, language teachers and test readers to employment counselors and immigration consultants, just to name a few. We also bring our in-house staff on the show to get their perspective to their the people in the company that work behind the scenes to make the CELPIP test available to you. Chris, my friend, how’s it going? How are you today?

Chris [00:00:41] I’m doing great, CJ

CJ [00:00:43] Excellent. That’s great to hear. What have we got for our listeners today?

Chris [00:00:49] This one is all about common English mistakes. I think test takers will find it quite useful.

CJ [00:00:57] And I guess you would probably know all about common English mistakes. You were a teacher for how many years?

Chris [00:01:05] Well, I started in the early 1990s, so let’s just leave it at that.

CJ [00:01:12] OK, so what were some of the common errors that you saw as a teacher since the 90s?

Chris [00:01:21] Well, they actually haven’t changed that much over the decades. I’d say subject verb agreement is a big one. Mistakes like she go to the store instead of she goes to the store. Verb tense is another one. That’s tricky. Sometimes learners get stuck on using the present tense, leading to errors like, “Yesterday, I go to the store.” instead of using the correct past tense form: “I went to the store.”

CJ [00:01:49] OK, yeah, I see that. And are there other sort of top common ones?

Chris [00:01:56] You know, I think one of the biggest challenges learners have with the English language is all those little word we use: articles and prepositions are the on, in fact by, et cetera. Articles are tricky because other languages either don’t have them or use them in different ways. Consider these two common expressions. The first one is “life is tough”, but so are you. The second one is “live the life you want”. A lot of learners get confused over why we don’t use “the” article in the first case, but we do. And the second they’re not sure why the life is tough would be incorrect. It doesn’t help that other languages like French and Spanish would use an article in both cases. But in English, when you talk about life in general, you don’t use that because to make something specific live which life? It’s the life you want.

CJ [00:03:01] Oh, yeah, that’s true. But I mean, I would say that if someone made that mistake, I’d still understand what they meant.

Chris [00:03:10] Fair enough. It’s grammatically wrong, but it doesn’t interfere with me. That’s actually an important thing to consider when preparing for the CELPIP test. Of course, you want to avoid making grammar mistakes, but you shouldn’t feel like making a couple of small errors like that. One is going to mean getting a low score. We all make mistakes here and there. The mistakes you really need to watch out for are those that do impact comprehension. Here’s an example using prepositions which are challenging because a small mistake with keys can change the meaning out loud. OK, listen to these two sentences that are almost exactly the same sentence. One, I will get back to my boss later sentenced to. I will get back at my boss later. The first one means you are returning a message. The second one means you are planning an act of revenge. Small change in the sentence. Big difference in meaning.

CJ [00:04:17] Yeah, yeah. I would say that is a big difference in meaning. So I can see how that would be important to not get those two mixed up. So thank you for that. Are there any more examples of prepositions we should watch out for?

Chris [00:04:36] Well, actually this is one of the topics we’re going to explore in more depth in this episode. We’re going to hear an excerpt from a very popular CELPIP Live episode called Understanding Common English Mistakes. Aswathi, our social media specialist, hosts this one. She talks to three guests, Brandi, one of our resident CELPIP experts, and frequent guest on CELPIP Live, also two former ESL teachers with years of teaching students from around the world, Luke, and Ian. We’re just going to listen to about 20 minutes of this discussion.

CJ [00:05:13] I love that episode. And it was so good. So for those of you who want to hear the rest of this conversation, which is about one hour in total and it was super entertaining. We’ll put the link to the CELPIP Live episode in the show notes.

Chris [00:05:31] Right. OK, let’s dive in.

Aswathi [00:05:38] And the first thing that I wanted to talk about, it’s a little a little hard, especially if people know more than more than one language. Sometimes it can get confusing. Wrong word order for questions. Brandi, I’m going to ask you to start this one, because firstly, I think people should know what I’m referring to in the first place, so I’ll let you begin. But something that I see, I’ve done it myself. I’ve seen a lot of people asking the way they frame their questions can get a little confusing for people and they don’t know how to answer it. So ready.

Brandi [00:06:14] Go. Absolutely. Yes. I’ll start off with just a simple, practical example. So when we make a statement, we usually start if we’re talking about ourselves, we’re going to use “I”, right? That’s me. I’m the one doing the action. So if I say to you, I can help you practice your English, I’m making a statement I’m starting off with I accept it. And I’m the verb I’m choosing is “can help”. Alright? This is the order that we use when we make statements. When we ask questions, though, all we need to remember to do is just switch around the order of the subject and verb. You’re going to flip and put your subject in the middle. So instead of saying I can help you, I’m going to say, can I help you? So if you can just remember to rotate two little words, you’re changing your statement into a question. And you would do that with a lot of questions that you asked. It’s just a simple word order thing where the subject goes in the sentence, so.

Aswathi [00:07:10] Great, thank you, Luke, did you have anything to share as well?

Luke [00:07:16] No, I think that was excellently put. Again, it’s it’s interesting the more languages that you are familiar with and where you see this more, because my experience in Latin America was Spanish, definitely where the sort of subject pronoun is not always necessary. And so it is all about your intonation that shows that you’re changing from a statement to a question with no real change in conjugation. It is tricky, but thanks for that example, Brandi.

Aswathi [00:07:54] Ian, I want to hear your thoughts on this as well.

Ian [00:07:59] Thanks like Luke said, different languages don’t have this requirement, so that can be very tricky. In Japanese, for example, you can make a full sentence just with the verb and you can leave the subject. So it’s often implied without saying. “You” I can just use the verb and the question..question mark kind of character and and then it’s clear that I’m talking about you without including a subject at all. So that can be very confusing. In English, where we always expect there to be a subject.

Aswathi [00:08:43] OK, I just because I want to understand this a little bit more, can you give me an example of how it might sound in English?

Ian [00:08:53] So if you were to ask the question in English using Japanese grammar, it would just be something like go.

Aswathi [00:09:03] Oh. Huh? So I just quickly went through all the languages I know and I was trying to see if there is a similar thing, but I haven’t found one. If you guys know something that is similar to your language, please comment below. OK, thank you so much. We’re going to go to our next …confusing word, this is wrong preposition. OK, this is something that I have also had trouble have trouble with when I was learning, when I was just beginning to learn English. A lot of it is when do I use on even for this? Like even sometimes when I’m talking about CELPIP Live, do I say see you on the show, see you in the show so I can get a little confusing for a lot of people. And so I just wanted to know if there was an easier way to remember this. Again Brandi, I’m going to talk with you as well.

Brandi [00:09:56] Yeah. And you know what? Prepositions. Those are those little small words that usually give us information about time or place. So on in at two, most of these words are just so short, two or three letters long. And the really frustrating part about learning them is there really aren’t any rules in English that are going to make it easy for us to know when to use each word properly. So really, this boils down to a memory game. So we have to become familiar with which preposition is used in the phrase for that situation. You just have to, I guess, read it, write it, speak it and hear it enough times to really remember. So I know we were talking about this live on air, right. Right now we’re on CELPIP Live, but we might say in next week’s episode, stay tuned. So you’re constantly changing the preposition based on the situation. So there are hundreds of prepositions in English. So I would not advise anybody to go out there and start memorizing lists of hundreds of words. Can you imagine how frustrating, boring and so on that might be? So pick and choose a couple of really common ones and get really familiar with them. First, I think on and in are very commonly used and probably add into that would be my list. I would say take those four, look at how they’re used and just start memorizing those phrases. You have to practice them, whether you’re speaking or writing them out. That’s how you’re going to remember. So we can’t just listen and read. We need to actually productively use that language and don’t get frustrated. Easier said than done. I know, but hang in there. It takes it takes lots of time to learn how to do how to use these words effectively. So keep practicing and it’ll get easier as you go, I hope.

Aswathi [00:11:42] I mean, like in the and I think in Arabic as well, you know, one of the things that we have and I’m pretty sure this might be the case with French, I’m not quite sure we have to memorize genders of things. So the chair is a specific gender. The lamp has a specific gender, shoes, so on and so forth. And, you know, people who are comfortable with the language get them automatically. But when I was learning Arabic, it was so hard. There was no why would a chair be female versus male? It was a little confusing for me, but this is a little bit like that. I mean, this is what the first thing that popped into my head was that example. So, Luke, did you have anything to add as well to this?

Luke [00:12:20] Yeah, prepositions, again, it’s one of those things where it can take the longest it’s and with good reason, because a lot of our language that we learn, we absorb from from listening. But prepositions are not content words. And so we slide over them. We don’t stress them. They’re not going to jump out in a conversation. So because they tend to not be important to the meaning of what you’re trying to say. It can be a lot harder to pick those out and remember them when you are practicing. So again, as Brandi said. Using those kind of high frequency situations and building on those, what are the most common, your, ins, ons, ats, to? And getting really comfortable with those before kind of noticing and asking questions about time is when you see other ones pop up.

Aswathi [00:13:28] Oh, interesting that you raise a good point. Luke, I you know, a lot of these. I picked up most of my English language through reading, so, you know, as much as I tried to, like, learn new words and keep up my vocabulary, I always kept on the prepositions. I didn’t even think of it as much as I would think of, like if I saw a new word and like, oh, what does this mean? So, yeah, that’s a good point. Ian, I’m looking forward to your thoughts as well.

Ian [00:13:56] One tip, I would say, is that children’s books are very good for learning prepositions, so I’m I’m here in my kid’s room right now. So I just grabbed a book, very easy to take a look and go through a bunch of prepositions really quickly, like in a box with a fox in a house and so on. So that could be something that’s pretty easy for anyone to pick up. You might feel a little silly reading a kid’s book at first, but it will take you through a lot of prepositions and it just repeats over and over and over. I’ve read this book a few hundred times every day, so I’m getting pretty good with my prepositions now. That’s what I would recommend.

Aswathi [00:14:43] That is great, and thank you so much for showing a book. That’s a good tip. I also like I was telling Luke, I read a lot of books and I would read anything like when I was young, I was a kid. I read my dad’s book, which was like “The Monk Who Sold His Ferarri”. I didn’t understand a word but I read it because I wanted to read books and you know if there was a children’s book lying around I would read that too. Also a little offended that you called Dr. Seuss silly. Dr. Seuss is not silly. He is a wonderful  I mean, of all the things he’s written at least, I love his books. And that’s a really good thank you so much. OK, so let’s go to our next common. Oh wait, sorry. Before that, we have a question from our comments. What is the difference between statement and sentence? Brandi, do you want to take this?

Brandi [00:15:33] Yeah, it’s actually there’s not much of a difference at all. So when you think of a sentence in English, it’s a group of words that convey meaning. And when you’re making a statement, that’s what you’re doing. You’re putting words together to form a meaning. Statement and question are two different things. But yeah, you can use words like sentence, statement, phrase, idea. They’re pretty much the same thing as long as you’ve got all the content words there so that we know what it is. The idea is that you’re trying to get across.

Aswathi [00:16:03] I hope that answered your question. Thank you for asking this question, by the way, you can ask us any other questions about commonly confused words in the comment section, and I’ll get one of these three celebrities to answer it. OK, our next confusing word is countable versus uncountable words. Um, Luke, I’m going to have you start this. What how do I remember when I’m supposed to use lesser or fewer, so on and so forth?

Luke [00:16:32] I guess there is I mean, there’s a reason that we have these common mistakes and confusing things in English. If we’re we’re sort of strictly focusing on lesser or fewer than we think about and these are again, sorry, these I would say are errors that native speakers make. And sort of as as the language evolves and changes, we care less if you want to use it correctly, which maybe should still be the goal. Then we would say fewer when it’s something that is countable. And less when it’s when it is uncountable. So if we’re talking about. Liquids or things that can can change in in size, measurable things. Sorry, uh.

Brandi [00:17:41] Yeah, I always I always think of things like like wine, I enjoyed a nice glass of red wine last night with my supper, so I had less wine last evening because it was a work day to day because wine is not countable. But if you had, what would be a drink that is countable? Are there any?

Luke [00:17:58] Well, I guess the challenge is that as you get more comfortable and flexible with your language, then you can say I had fewer glasses of wine than I normally would. And so learning those, you can adapt your language to change almost anything from countable to uncountable, right?

Aswathi [00:18:17] Oh, that’s interesting. So if I wanted to talk about bread, um. Like, because I’m in this no carb diet and this is the first thing that popped in my head, how do I say that I’m cutting out like how do I say that I’m eating less carbs? So do I say I’m eating less of bread, fewer bread, fewer loaves of bread? How would that work?

Brandi [00:18:39] Yes, so bread is non count and it’s funny, like Luke says, again, English is my first language, so automatically I know that bread is non count. I can’t say breads. So when I have to do is I need to think of a word that is plural, it is countable and the word loaves works. So now I turn bread into loaves of bread and as soon as you do that, you can use the correct word in front of that. So I had fewer loaves of bread because I’m sadly on a low carb diet Aswathi.

Luke [00:19:10] I suppose at the same time, if you wanted to talk about bread kind of as a general term, then I’m just I’m eating less bread.

Aswathi [00:19:19] OK, that works too. OK, that’s that’s kind of also what I wanted to know. So I’m eating less bread works too. Ian, jump in whenever you like.

Ian [00:19:27] I think it also depends how people normally eat it. So you want to count muffins because people usually sit and eat one or muffin as one piece. But I don’t usually see people pick up an entire loaf of bread and start eating it. So that’s something that’s usually divided up there, might be countable, a way to count at one slice of bread you might eat.

Luke [00:19:58] So it is interesting, if I can jump into again in Spanish often because bread is countable and so you would say I had two breads, but in this situation where what you visualize, what you think about when you talk about that word, that translates as bread. It’s not a loaf of bread. Right, whereas when in a North American diet, when we talk about bread, immediately we jump to a loaf of bread. White bread, as opposed to a dinner roll, which would be more similar to kind of the general concept in.

Ian [00:20:36] Yeah, so that’s where it becomes very cultural as well.

Aswathi [00:20:40] Very interesting,

Brandi [00:20:42] It’s complicated, isn’t it? It seems like it would be simple, but it’s really not when you stop and think about all of the ideas that we’ve just shared and in different language and looking at it from a different cultural lens to it’s interesting to have that perspective.

Aswathi [00:20:54] I think it is because in…Sorry Ian, were you saying something?

Ian [00:21:00] Oh, I was going to say also when you go into a restaurant, the rules can change because the shop might sell things in a compact package. So you can go in and say, I would like a coffee, like one coffee because the shop sells it just in a cup. Hot coffee is a liquid, so if we’re pouring it. You would say “some more coffee” or “less coffee”. I’ve never said less coffee, though, so.

Aswathi [00:21:35] Good point.

Brandi [00:21:37] That’s right, because you would say two cups of coffee, but sometimes you might say two coffees please right? That becomes acceptable. And I think Luke mentioned this earlier, the way we use language, it changes to over time. So if I went into a coffee house and I ordered two coffees, they’d know what I meant. And that’s acceptable to say, even though that concept and sort of turning it into my own countable now, because most of us do that, don’t we? Yeah, great example.

Ian [00:22:01] And I think if it’s a if it’s a menu item, then it becomes countable.

Aswathi [00:22:08] Like the servings. OK, so just to because, you know, we wanted to, like, unconfuse these people so like just to remember if it’s countable, fewer is used or, yeah, fewer is used, and if it’s uncountable, you use less and for things that are commonly uncountable, like rice or water or sunlight, I guess if you can if you have a measure of counting it, like if you have glasses or if you have cups and then you can start using fewer because then it becomes countable.

Chris [00:22:45] And we’re back.

CJ [00:22:47] Wow, that was fascinating. I really do like that episode.

Chris [00:22:51] Yes, it was. I really liked how the conversation went from comedy mistakes to ways of improving your English, especially in terms of how to build your vocabulary through reading.

CJ [00:23:03] Yeah, totally. I love the idea of building vocabulary by reading children’s books.

Chris [00:23:09] Oh yeah, I like that. To some learners, try to read difficult books and get frustrated. They may feel that taking on the challenge of text with higher level vocabulary will help them learn more quickly. But it’s actually the opposite. That is true. Reading at a level that is slightly easier means that you will understand most of the words on any given page. When you come across a word that you don’t understand, it’s that much easier to figure out its meaning based on your overall comprehension of the text. If too many of the words are difficult, it’s not possible to get a sense of the context of the text and you just end up feeling overwhelmed and confused.

CJ [00:23:52] Yeah, that makes sense. And that also sounds like a great excuse to revisit Dr Seuss and all those other great children’s books.

Chris [00:24:02] Yeah, that’s right. OK, well, on that note, maybe we should let our listeners go and do some reading on their own.

CJ [00:24:10] Yeah. Or also check out the rest of that CELPIP Live episode.

Chris [00:24:14] Oh yeah. Or that.

CJ [00:24:16] So, Chris, can you tell our listeners what we have planned for them next week?

Chris [00:24:20] Next week we’re going to talk about time management. I think many test takers can relate to the challenge of trying to balance work, social life, and studying for the test. We have some tips that I think they’re going to find pretty useful.

CJ [00:24:35] That sounds like it’s going to be great. So, dear listeners, be sure to tune in next week. And until then, we wish you all the best with your test preparation.

Chris [00:24:44] Bye!

CJ [00:24:45] Bye!

When I took CELPIP, I found it was like speaking English in real life. You speak every day with your boss and with your friends, and the CELPIP Test represents those every-day, real-life language situations.
- Rafaela B., CELPIP Test Taker
I had taken other English language proficiency before, and CELPIP was more relatable to me. All of the questions were situations I was familiar with from daily life, and were like conversations I had experienced personally.
- Chrisna D., CELPIP Test Taker