11Decreasing Mistakes in English

by Danny K. Howard, EAP Associate Director

At NIC and at colleges and universities, you will have to write a lot of papers. Many students are unable to find mistakes when they write sentences in English. However, there are some quick things that you can do to help this.

Step One: Take a break or your head will ache!

It’s good to “edit” your writing after you finish. “Editing” means to check the writing for mistakes and to make some improvements. However, after you finish writing, you probably feel tired. Most students don’t have a lot of energy to check their papers. So when you finish, relax and do something different. Let your mind feel fresh again. When it is, go back and check your writing for mistakes.

Step Two: Read aloud to catch mistakes!

If you read your paper aloud, you will hear more of your mistakes in English. When you read the paper from the computer screen, you miss a lot of mistakes. And when you read it silently, you miss them, too.

Step Three: Subject and Verbs, check your words!

This is a common mistake for learners. Every sentence must have a subject and a verb. When you write sentences, look at your subjects and then check your verbs. They should match. Take a look at the sentence below:

WRONG: The boys in the room likes to play basketball.

The prepositional phrase “in the room” divides the subject and verb – boys...likes. So it is hard for you to catch the mistake.

Of course, the sentence should read:

CORRECT: The boys in the room like to play basketball.

Step Four: A, An, The!!!

When you use nouns, be careful. Many of them need articles (a, an, the). Teachers who teach Japanese students often say this is one of the most common mistakes. Maybe it is so common because the Japanese language doesn’t use them. Remember, “a” is used for general situations. “The” is used for specific ones. Look at the example below:

I bought a DVD. (The person doesn’t know which DVD you bought.)

Compare this to...

I bought the DVD that we saw yesterday in Tsutaya. (This is the specific DVD that you both know about)

Step Five: Check your s-p-e-l-l-i-n-g!!!

This is definitely the most common mistake for new learners of English. However, it is really easy to check this. Be especially careful of words that have “l” and “r” letters. Many times, these are wrong. If you are not 100% sure of how to spell a word, check your dictionary!

If you do these five quick steps after writing, you will reduce the number of mistakes that you make. Now, try to edit some of your writing!! You will do lots of this at NIC and abroad.