GOING NATIVE: Common Mistakes even Advanced Students Make (part one)

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Do you know the fable of Achilles and the Tortoise?  

Well, a tortoise challenges Achilles to a race. Achilles is much faster and assumes he will beat the slow tortoise, so he gives the tortoise a 100m head start.  


However, when Achilles chases after the tortoise, he finds that after the 100m the tortoise has walked a little bit further. Achilles keeps running and finds that the tortoise has still run further, so he needs to keep running to catch him, and running, and running, and running…..


Sound familiar? Sometimes learning English can seem like a race with no end. Even advanced speakers can find themselves making simple mistakes that separate them from the natives.


Here’s some tips to help you overtake that tortoise:


Country names with and without articles

England. Great Britain. THE United Kingdom??


New York City. America. THE United States?


Why do some place names in English have a definite article (the) in front of them, while most have nothing?


In English, countries’ official name normally has a definite article. For example, ‘France’ is officially called ‘The Republic of France’ or ‘The French Republic’, but everyone knows both refer to France, so France is what we use.


For countries like ‘The United Kingdom or The United States’ we often use the official name. Even when we abbreviate it (the UK, the US) the article stays. Why? Well there isn’t a really good reason, but probably it’s to do with the type of country.


Both the UK and the US are collections of states stuck together. The official name for the UK is ‘The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, it is a collection of four countries (England, Scotland, Wales & Northern Ireland). The US is an abbreviation of ‘The United States of America’ (California, New York, etc), so once again we use ‘the’ to show it is a collection of places that form one country.


This is even true for countries where it isn’t obvious in the name, for example ‘The Netherlands’ the clue is in that final ‘s’; it isn’t ‘Netherland’ but The Netherlands’. Other examples would be ‘The Seychelles’ or ‘The Bahamas’.


But what about ‘The Czech Republic’ or ‘The Gambia’? These countries are singular!


The truth is the reason why doesn’t really matter. What matters is that a native speaker will always say ‘I’m going to the UK on holiday’, not ‘I’m going to UK on holiday’, and so you should too.


Pronunciation of English place names: Tot-en-ham, or Tot’num?



Many English place names are difficult to say, even for other native speakers. Every Londoner remembers the time an American tourist asked them for directions to ‘Lie-sess-tear’ Square, when they meant Leicester (pronounced Lester) Square.


The problem isn’t restricted to obviously difficult names like Leicester or Worcester (pronounced Wuss-ter) though. Even apparently obvious words can hold some surprises. For example, Greenwich is prounounced ‘Gren-itch’, and Holborn is pronounced ‘Hoe-bun’.


This brings us to London. Surely, you are thinking, I can’t have been saying this one wrong?


Well if you’ve been saying  it ‘Lon - don’, I’m afraid I have some bad news....


Try saying ‘Lund’n’ instead, with the stress on the first syllable.


Here’s a list of other place names in ‘Lund’n’ you may have been mispronouncing:


Tottenham - Tot-num


Dulwich - Dull-itch


Clapham - Clap-um


The Thames - The Tems


Marylebone - Mar-lee-bone


Buckingham Palace - Buh-king-um Palace


Join us soon for part two, in which we’ll look at even more common mistakes!



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