THE following are some of the most interesting common errors I discovered or identified playing havoc with the students’ efforts. You will recall traditionally on this page I focus on common errors, most of them caused by what I referred to as “mother-tongue interference”; transliteration of English Language.
You will also recall I have in the past said students are punished, penalised, for adulterating English Language or using versions of English that are typically indigenised. We cannot use language directly translated from vernacular and be proud we are competent in English language communication.
Students will fail examinations – some dismally, if they use a new type of language which sounds like English but really some indigenous verbal concoction of English words and vernacular dialects.
You will remember I have also said in the past, and continue to say so; that we all need to upholster our English and communication skills, teachers, students and out-of school adults. The mass and social media instead of becoming a “school” for those who want to learn the English language, it is frightening to say, has become a conduit of funny versions of the English language. Students go to school to learn proper versions of languages they use; acknowledged rules of grammar, both semantically and syntactically. It must not be the learners’ business to twist their tongues in funny nasal sounds yet flagrantly breaching rules of grammar and sense. Allow me to illustrate and emphasise my point.
“I found a new job.” Well, perhaps not terribly bad. But can you sense the indigenous flavour? Would it not be more English to say, “I secured a new job.”? “I found” is here directly translated from Shona “Ndakawana – I found”.
“Since from that day I have been . . .” Wrong! Instead “Since that day” is correct, isn’t it? The word “since”, as used in this context does have or implies an element of “from” in it. It is therefore clearly repetitive (tautology) to use “since from”. Tautology means saying the same thing more than once in different ways without making one’s meaning clearer or more forceful. Common examples: To return back/repeat again/two twins/ at 9am in the morning/the reason why.
“The next morning I found myself with a big stomach.” This is a pupil describing how he ate something given him in an act of witchcraft whereupon he woke up to find his belly swollen. We certainly all know what he is talking about or writing but none of it is close to English language. Study the statement carefully. Do you see what I am talking about? An example of typical transliteration!
Another pupil writes: “‘They were doing things of not their age,” meaning “vaiita zvinhu zvisiri zvezera ravo”. Perfect Shona! Of course, nonsensical English!
Look at this one: “Without time he was seen again, stealing.” The student wants to write, “In no time he was seen again . . .”
Then, “At home there are duties of herding cattle.” You see? What are duties “of herding cattle?” Listen to what you are saying carefully all the time. This is another interesting example of a no-sense sentence, isn’t it? The same with, “He had a project of selling cattle”. Does this make sense at all? If it does, eich, you need serious upholstery of your communication skills in English. Can you convert the following sentences into proper English?
“I was supposed to write examinations of Zimsec.”
“It was the final examination for ‘O’ level”.
“At that time I knew nothing.”
“I could not pay all the money with its interest at once.”
“… to eat her supper which was of sadza and boiled pumpkin leaves.”
“Since last year until now …”
“Stealing without permission.”
“I heard it with my own ears.”
“I saw her with my own eyes.”
“She forgot to put sugar in the tea.”
“I want to throw out some water, I’m coming back shortly. My bladder is hot.”
“The little boys sleep with the little girls. Don’t worry about an extra bedroom.” This is frightening language, isn’t it? What you are saying and meaning are miles apart.
“I gave him a blow (a fist) and he rolled down the steps.”
“The bus fell and rolled down the valley.”
Teachers, please study these sentences, statements, expressions and supply the English versions of the same. Ummm, it is not about you. It is about your pupils. What is important is to identify the vernacular flavour and senselessness in English and teach your pupils English-English. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you encounter interesting difficulties.
Remember common errors are made by almost all of us. They mar communication. Enjoy learning better communication even if you are not at school to write examinations. Good teachers are learners. It was Goethe who said, “Ye great teachers: listen to what you say!” And Kahlil Gibran said, “The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.” Enough for one day and one Friday. Enjoy.