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Common English grammar mistakes by non-native speakers

ReznikReznik Registered User regular
I'm writing a character whose first language is Croatian. I want to make the dialogue reasonably accurate when it comes to the quirks and mistakes that come with being a non-native speaker of English. I know that the types of mistakes are generally dependent on the speaker's native tongue, so if anyone could give me some examples or point me to a source, I'd really appreciate it. I have found a few examples for Russian, but I'm not sure if the languages are similar enough that I can use those examples. Probably nobody reading it will care very much, but I like to be as accurate as possible.

Do... Re.... Mi... Ti... La...
Do... Re... Mi... So... Fa.... Do... Re.... Do...
Forget it...


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    SteevLSteevL What can I do for you? Registered User regular
    I used to chat in IRC with a lot of non-native speakers and came to know a lot of their quirks. Unfortunately, I didn't really make a distinction between nationalities when thinking of their mistakes. One thing I remember was a few of them mixing up "funny" with "fun." Someone would mean to say something like "I went to a club, but it wasn't very fun" but use "funny" instead.

    There was another common quirk a lot of them would do that only happened when the sentence had the word "did" in it, but I can't remember the specifics anymore!

    Hope that helps a little, at least.

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    illigillig Registered User regular
    in my experience, most of the speech quirks come from the fact that new english speakers tend to think in their native language and then translate in their head to english... same works for english speakers learning another language.

    I'm polish - so here's a few examples:

    English speaker: I'm 20 years old
    Polish speaker: I have 20 years (since that's how the phrase is said in polish).

    Fun side story: while learning english it took me forever to figure out why everyone was always calling themselves "old" when saying their age - even kids :D

    another example:

    English speaker: I was born in the US
    Polish speaker: I born (birthed?) myself in Poland

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    BlindZenDriverBlindZenDriver Registered User regular
    As a Dane I don't have a native language that is part of the same language family as Croatian, but maybe you can spot something useful in my writing anyway. Feel free to dig through some of my past postings to have a look :-)

    One mistake I do know that I used to make is to mix up the words 'fine' and 'good'. Meaning if someone asked how I was doing I would reply "I'm good". Not exactly a grammar mistake as such, but one I could imagine be easy to use in your dialog.

    Bones heal, glory is forever.
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    metaghostmetaghost An intriguing odor A delicate touchRegistered User regular
    edited April 2013
    OP, you're going to want to focus primary on the syntax of the Serbo-Croatian language and attempt to consider how that would become transposed into English, while making sure to consider the imagined linguistic development of your character.

    The University of Wisconsin used to have a great online database of linguistic characteristics with audio clips of native speakers demonstrating how they typically affected English acquisition, but either it's not up any more or it's no longer publicly accessible. (Or I just can't remember how to find it.)

    This Wikipedia on the topic of Serbo-Croatian syntax makes it sound pretty wacky to in theory, but likely more sensible in practice. Hopefully for your sake a native speaker (or someone fluent in both languages) can jump in and advise you better.

    metaghost on
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    ReznikReznik Registered User regular
    Thanks for the replies everyone. This'll all help quite a bit.

    I'm unfortunately lacking in Croatian-speaking friends, so I guess I'll have to dig in pretty deep with my research.

    Do... Re.... Mi... Ti... La...
    Do... Re... Mi... So... Fa.... Do... Re.... Do...
    Forget it...
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    ceresceres When the last moon is cast over the last star of morning And the future has past without even a last desperate warningRegistered User, Moderator mod
    These people speak truth: the errors you hear from non-native speakers are largely influenced by their own native language.

    My recommendation? Youtube and similar. Find examples of people that speak those languages natively speaking English instead. There are also probably feeds you can find. The easiest way to get these things down is to listen to people actually speak it.

    And it seems like all is dying, and would leave the world to mourn
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    grendlegrendle Registered User regular
    Confusing articles is a common one in Croatian. "I went to the movies with the Steve. We went for the dinner afterwards".

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    MagicToasterMagicToaster JapanRegistered User regular
    I hear many Japanese people say "im so boring" instead of "im so bored"

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    I'd Fuck Chuck Lidell UpI'd Fuck Chuck Lidell Up Registered User regular
    I know there's a lot of problems with syntax with non native speakers, I went to google to see if that was the case for Croations and stumbled on this:
    1. I don't know how to say that on English,

    This is probably the most common error I have come across, totally understandable if translated from the Croatian 'na englseskom', but in English, we use 'in' not 'on'. I don't know how to say that in English.

    2. I will wait until you don't arrive.

    Croatian expresses until with an additional negative - dok... ne... - whereas English doesn't, so the negative is not necessary and the correct sentence is: I will wait until you arrive.

    3. I didn't thought about it.

    Croatian verbs are confusing to us Brits, with the perfectives and imperfectives, a system we are not used to. English is not easy with its various past tenses, and a common mistake is the example above, with two verbs in the past tense. Unless you are using the pluperfect tense, only one verb should be in the past, and one in the present. So...

    I have (present) thought (past) about it.

    I didn't (past) buy (present) you a present last Christmas.

    Past tenses which include did + verb cannot also be in the past. Only pluperfect ones (had + verb in the past) can be.

    4. I will come in an hour/I will come for an hour.

    This is one of the most confusing examples between the two languages for me, and the cause of so many miscommunications and missed meeting over the years, simply because the literal translations contribute to the confusion.

    Ja cu bit tamo za sat - I will be there in an hour

    Ja cu bit tamo na sat - I will be there for an hour

    5. We hear each other later

    Again, another literal translation from 'cujemo se' but not something that native speakers ever say. In English, we will speak to you later, but never hear you.

    This website seems to also have a ton of examples

    TLDR; turns out I was right. syntax is a giant problem. particularly with on/in and pluralizing non plurals.

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    ReznikReznik Registered User regular
    Awesome! That's perfect. Thanks.

    Do... Re.... Mi... Ti... La...
    Do... Re... Mi... So... Fa.... Do... Re.... Do...
    Forget it...
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    LadyMLadyM Registered User regular
    I knew a guy from Finland, and he usually didn't use contractions, because apparently Finnish doesn't have contractions.

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    ArangArang HUEY LEWISRegistered User regular
    This obviously depends on how proficient you're planning on making your character, but I've been told that the more someone approaches perfect fluency in a language, the more they'll start to unconsciously drift towards using features of the foreign language that their first language doesn't have. For instance, and this was the only example I was given, Norwegians use the present continuous more often than do native English speakers, because that form doesn't exist in Norwegian and therefore it somehow sticks out as being particularly "English-sounding".

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    Centipede DamascusCentipede Damascus Registered User regular
    I have a somewhat off-kilter suggestion that I think might help you. Check out the movie "Everything is Illuminated". Most of the film is set in Ukraine, which is a country where they speak a Serbian language similar to Croatian, and one of the main characters is a native Ukrainian.

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