Common Errors and Confusing Words
Learning a language requires a good deal of learning to learn. I believe that is clearly the case when dealing with common errors and confusing words. There are common mistakes to be expected at FCE level but your specific needs seldom fall into ready made categories. Practising with past papers will only help you if you can reflect a bit on the results and accurately identify your problem areas.
Every student has a linguistic profile. We tend to choose certain words or structures we a comfortable with and we also tend to make certain types of mistakes. It is a good idea to spend some of your study time learning about your mistakes.
How to go about it? Apart from your past papers practice, there are different routes to become aware of weak areas you need to work on. You learn a language using it, sharing with other learners in class and eventually travelling. I'll divide this entry into three analogous steps.
My mistakes: how I use the language
First of all, keep the written assignments you have done together in a folder. Have a look at your teacher's corrections: Are there repeated mistakes? Do those mistakes belong to a specific category such as spelling, grammar or punctuation?
Of course those are just the mistakes in structures and vocabulary you tend to choose. You need to discover more.
This site is written for students (originally for Hong Kong students of English). It is a booklet organised in the same way as a physical workout class – warm up, exercise, and cool down. It will help you identify and correct mistakes online.
Your mistakes: how other learners use the language
We all learn from our classmates questions and doubts. That’s one of the advantages of studying in groups.
Have a look at the BBC learning English site here:
You’ll find an interactive guide to the most frequent grammar questions from students all answered and cleared out by experts. It's very much like listening to your companions’ questions in class. Only this is a worldwide class!
Their mistakes: how native speakers use the language
What about native speakers, don’t they make mistakes too? Of course they do! Here is a site listing a myriad of confusable words. Explanations are rather short; remember they were not written for a student.
Common Errors in English by Paul Brians is quite advanced. You may want to come back to this for CAE or CPE. You should know what to expect from the site. Confusable words include pairs such as: beside/besides; actual/actually; assure/ensure/insure; compare to/compare with;
It is also interesting how the site homepage explains what an error in English is.
All three routes above will help you start your own error analysis. These are steps to repeat frequently in your learning path. Learning to learn involves taking small, personalised, autonomous steps. Let’s avoid the common error of expecting everything from a teacher, a book or a collection of past papers.
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