Common Tricky English Language Mistakes Arab Americans Tend to Make
By: Ala Abed-Rabbo/Arab America Contributing Writer
Learning a new language can be hard. Between the new alphabet, new words, new sayings, and more, it is a feat to be fluent in a second language (and something you should be proud of!). English is a hard second language, especially for some Arabic speakers as some of the letters don’t exist in Arabic.
Mistakes in Pronunciations
As a non-native English speaker, it is somewhat intimidating visiting or living in an English-speaking country for communication. Many Arabs mistaken the P and B, F and V, pronunciation sounds, for instance, it sounds like ‘May I blease (please) blace (place) my phone here?’
In Arabic, there is no letter P, so some Arabs usually pronounce the B sound instead. The “p” sound requires one to blow a puff of air out strongly. The “b” sound does not need the same explosion of air. Another example is instead of saying ‘very,’ Arabs pronounce ‘fery.’
Moreover, Arabic spelling mostly phonetic and when you see a letter, you pronounce the letter. When speaking English, some Arabs tend to try to use the same pronunciation rules unintentionally. Foreign is pronounced for-i-gen, and sign becomes si-gen.
In Arabic, there are fewer consonant clusters, and “sp,” “gr,” “spl,” and “str” all have sounds that are not found or pronounced differently. English words like “stress,” “split,” or “gray” end in mistakes. Stress is pronounced like e-set-ress, and split said like e-spi-lit, and gray becomes gi-ray.
Left or Right Writing Mistakes
“Left or right? Right or left? In Arabic, we have a completely different alphabet and a different writing system as we write from right to left; while in English, it’s from left to right.” Such a difference might cause confusion when writing in English.
English Grammatical Mistakes
There are two grammatical points Arabic speakers tend to struggle with are the verb ‘to be’ and the present perfect aspect. In comparison to English, the verb ‘to be’ is not used as frequently in Arabic. When mentioning an act in the past, it can be used but is not necessary when explaining things in the present, which leads to errors like, ‘I going home now,’ and ‘My mom coming.’
The present perfect triggers confusion for some Arab speakers. It is very typical to hear even very skilled speakers of English using the present perfect for discussing things that happened at a precise time in the past. For instance, ‘I have seen my brother yesterday.’
The Common Mistakes of Singularity, Duality, and Plurality of Nouns
Also, English nouns have two forms: singular and plural. However, Arabic nouns have three forms: singular, dual, and plural. In comparison to English, Arabic grammar has singular, dual, and plural for feminine and the same for masculine nouns. There are three genders in English, masculine, feminine, and neuter.
In English, gender is restricted to personal pronouns, while Arabic has only two genders: masculine and feminine. Also, English nouns are adjusted for the genitive case. Whereas, in Arabic, nouns are varied for three instances, namely, nominative, accusative, and genitive.
In English, people say a teacher (for feminine and masculine) and teachers (dual/plural for feminine and masculine). Therefore, some Arab students speaking English may not use English plural nouns properly. They use numbers to signify dualism or majority. For instance, they may say, “The two child are playing.” Some may not correctly use the noun after numbers because, in Arabic, a singular noun is used after numbers “three –ten’. So, Arab speakers may say, “She has eleven toy.” Alternatively, “There are 21 player in my soccer team.”
Not Using Articles When Needed
The strawberry-flavored ice-cream is more delicious than the broccoli! Most Arabs do not add articles, which is a word or adjective used to modify a noun, which is a person, place, object, or idea. The definite article is the word ‘the,’ and it refers directly to a specific noun or groups of nouns, for instance, the whale in the ocean.
The words, ‘a’ and ‘an’ are indefinite articles. Each of them used to refer to a noun; however, the noun being referred to is not a specific place, person, object, or idea and can be any noun from a group of nouns — for instance, a Toyota from the car dealer.
Such may be confusing to Arab speakers because, in Arabic, there is one article that is the same as ‘the,’ which consists of two letters, ‘al.’ Arab speakers tend to use “the” before nouns, which are not usually led by this definite article, such as names of most infections, days of the week, places, and in many idiomatic expressions. A common mistake they may say, ‘she works in the engineering.’
Mistakes using Countable and Uncountable Nouns / Adjectives and Adverbs
Moreover, examples of uncountable nouns in English, such as ‘information, money, and equipment, and housework’ are countable in Arabic. So Arab learners of English may pluralize and use plural verbs after them. For instance, I did a lot of houseworks today.
Arabic speakers learning English tend to get confused between adjectives and adverbs in both Arabic and English. Adjectives in Arabic agree in gender and number with nouns, which may be the cause for them to make mistakes.
Some Arabs might use adjectives plus nouns to convey adverbs. Such is due to the Arabic use of adverbs, as it can be formed in two ways. For instance, the word “quickly” can be translated into Arabic in two ways: ‘Bisur ‘a’ or ‘bishaklen saree3.’ An error that Arabs may say is, ‘the dancer performed a stunning performance.’
Mistakes in Word Order
Arabs tend to make errors in word order when forming English sentences. The necessary word order in Arabic is when the verb precedes the subject (V-S-O), which is different from the English sentence structure. Arabs may accidentally say, “hoped the teacher to solve the problem”.
The Misuse of Tenses
The English and Arabic languages have apparent differences between them, leading to several mistakes made by Arab learners. In Arabic, there are only two tenses, the perfect (only the past) and the imperfect (the non-past, simple present and simple future). English, on the other hand, has many tenses by conjoining these two tenses with aspects (perfective and progressive). Such errors in writing or speaking may follow: ‘I drink my water now’ or ‘I didn’t see you since last Thanksgiving.’
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