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What Americans Think When They Hear Common English Mistakes

This guest post was originally written for our Russian sister blog, Альма-матер. The writer is an American student, Matthew Kupfer (who's also currently a VOA intern!). He talks about some common mistakes made by Russian speakers when they're learning English - and explains what Americans hear when they hear those mistakes:



I’ve spent a few months studying in St. Petersburg, Russia and volunteering in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where I met many Russian-speaking students of the English language. Although I can’t claim to be an expert or linguist of Russian or English, I have noticed a large number of common mistakes made by people from countries of the former USSR speaking English, many of which will put a smile on the face of any American.

I strongly understand the problems and difficulties of learning a foreign language because I have studied the Russian language for three years. So, I have created a short list of four common mistakes for those who want to improve their English.

Incorrect: I feel myself bad.
Correct: I feel bad.


This is probably the most common mistake made by Russian-speakers, who literally translate the phrase “Я чувствую себя плохо” (I feel myself bad) into English. However, using the word “myself” in this context suggests you are physically touching your own body and determining from this how you feel. Of course, English-speakers understand what you mean, but this mistake still sounds funny.

To correctly use this phrase, Russian-speakers should try to remember that the English way of saying how one feels resembles an ungrammatical version of the Russian phrase: “Я чувствую плохо” (literally, “I feel bad”).

Incorrect: -How did the picture turn out? –Normal!
Correct: -How did the picture turn out? –Good!


Imagine yourself in this situation: you ask your American friend to photograph you, and, when he asks how the photograph turned out, you—like a good Russian-speaker—answer “normal!” But American English-speakers and Russian-speakers use the word “normal” differently: for Russian-speakers, “normal” means “without a problem,” “satisfactory,” and even “good.” However, in English such an answer suggests mediocrity. When we—Americans—hear that the photograph turned out “normal,” we think that it should be better. Therefore, in these situations, it’s better to say “good” than “normal.”

Incorrect: The woman fell in love in the man.
Correct: The woman fell in love with the man.


This is probably the strangest mistake made by Russians, and it may even seem inappropriate to English-speakers.

In the phrase “The woman fell in love in the man,” the preposition “in” suggests a geographic location where the act of falling in love takes place. For example, we can also say “The woman fell in love in the park.”

However, the correct phrase would be “The woman fell in love with the man. In this case, the word with shows the object of the woman’s love.

To correctly express this idea, remember that in English we say that someone falls in love “with someone,” not “in” or “into someone” (as is said in Russian).

Incorrect: How do you call it?
Correct: What do you call it?


This mistake is commonly made by Russians literally translating the phrase “Как это назвать?” (How do you call it/How is it called) from their language to English. However, this mistake is very common among speakers of other languages too, and Americans who hear this phrase can immediately recognize that the person standing before them is a foreigner.

An American with a sense of humor might answer: “Open your mouth, move your tongue, and simultaneously pronounce the word.” The reason for this is that in English, the word “how” suggests the physical process of carrying out the action, whereas “what” suggests that the name of the object (in this case “it”).

Luckily, correcting this mistake is not hard—just learn to say “What is it called?” in the place of “How is it called?”

Thanks to Matthew for taking the time to share his advice - and to translate it from Russian to English so we could share it with you.

Submit your own stories about learning English or coming to the U.S. using the form below, or email jstahl@voanews.com.


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Tips for first-year international students in the US

FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.
FILE- In this March 14, 2019, file photo, people walk on the Stanford University campus beneath Hoover Tower in Stanford, Calif.

Book your flights right away, get a U.S. phone plan, make sure you have linens for your dorm and attend orientation – that’s some of the advice international students have for first-year college students coming from abroad.

U.S. News & World Report compiled helpful tips for students studying in the United States for the first time. (July 2024)

Survey: Social integration, career prep are important to international students

FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.
FILE - FILE - In this March 14, 2019, file photo students walk on the Stanford University campus in Santa Clara, Calif.

A recent survey of international students in the United States found that before starting school, they were concerned about personal safety, making friends and feeling homesick.

Inside Higher Ed reports that international students want specialized orientations, peer connections, career preparation and job placement to help make their college experiences successful. (July 2024)

US advisory council ends Nigeria visit, signs student exchange deal

Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.
Deniece Laurent-Mantey is the executive director of U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement.

Members of a U.S. presidential advisory council have approved a student exchange deal between an American college and a Nigerian university as part of the council's effort to strengthen collaboration on education, health, entrepreneurship and development between Africa and Africans living abroad.

The council also visited a health facility supported by the United States Agency for International Development in the capital.

Nigerian authorities and visitors chatted with members of the U.S President's Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement as they toured a healthcare facility in Karu, a suburb of Abuja, on the last day of the council's three-day visit to Abuja and Lagos.

The facility is one of many supported by the United States Agency for International Development, or USAID, to improve the management of childhood illnesses, family planning, immunization and delivery.

The tour was part of the council's effort to promote African diaspora-led investments in technology entrepreneurship, education and healthcare delivery.

"They're doing a phenomenal job there, it really gave us a sense of what the healthcare system is in Nigeria," said Deniece Laurent-Mantey, executive director of the advisory council. "This is our first trip as a council to the continent and we chose Nigeria for a reason — the diaspora in Nigeria is very active, very influential, and they're really a source of strength when it comes to our U.S.-Africa policy. And so for us coming to Nigeria was very intentional."

The council was created by President Joe Biden in September to improve collaboration between Africa and its diaspora in terms of economic and social development.

Akila Udoji, manager of the Primary Healthcare Centre of Karu, said officials in Nigeria were pleased that the council members were able to visit.

"We're happy that they have seen what the money they have given to us to work with has been used to do, because they have been able to assist us in capacity-building, trainings, equipment supply and the makeover of the facility," Udoji said.

Earlier, the council signed a deal for a student exchange program between Spelman College in the southern U.S. city of Atlanta and Nigeria's University of Lagos.

Laurent-Mantey said education exchanges are one of the council's top priorities.

"In Lagos, we had the president of Spelman College — she's also a member of our council — she signed an agreement with the University of Lagos to further education exchange programs in STEM and creative industries between those two universities," Laurent-Mantey said. "And I think for us it's very important, because Spelman College is a historically Black university, and so here we are promoting the importance of collaboration between African Americans and Africans."

In March, the advisory council adopted its first set of recommendations for the U.S. president, including the student exchange initiative, advocating for more U.S. government support for Africa, climate-focused initiatives, and improving U.S. visa access for Africans.

The council met with Nigerian health and foreign affairs officials during the visit before leaving the country on Wednesday.

American Academy of the Arts College announces closure

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FILE - Signs and writing denouncing the closure of the University of the Arts are seen at Dorrance Hamilton Hall on June 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. More recently, the American Academy of the Arts College in Chicago announced it would close.

The American Academy of Art College in Chicago announced it would be closing after 101 years of preparing students for careers in art and illustration.

WTTW news reported that like other art colleges, the academy saw enrollment drop after the pandemic, and officials made the decision to close the college last month. (July 2024)

update

5 killed, dozens injured in clashes over Bangladesh jobs quota system

Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.
Protesters of Bangladesh's quota system for government jobs clash with students who back the ruling Awami League party in Dhaka on July 16, 2024.

At least 5 people were killed and dozens injured in two separate incidents in Bangladesh as violence continued Tuesday on university campuses in the nation's capital and elsewhere over a government jobs quota system, local media reports said quoting officials.

At least three of the dead were students and one was a pedestrian, the media reports said. Another man who died in Dhaka remained unidentified.

The deaths were reported Tuesday after overnight violence at a public university near Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka. The violence involved members of a pro-government student body and other students, when police fired tear gas and charged the protesters with batons during the clashes, which spread at Jahangir Nagar University in Savar, outside Dhaka, according to students and authorities.

Protesters have been demanding an end to a quota reserved for family members of veterans who fought in Bangladesh's war of independence in 1971, which allows them to take up 30% of governmental jobs.

They argue that quota appointments are discriminatory and should be merit-based. Some said the current system benefits groups supporting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Some Cabinet ministers criticized the protesters, saying they played on students' emotions.

The Bengali-language Prothom Alo daily newspaper reported that one person died in Dhaka and three others, including a pedestrian, were killed after they suffered injuries during violence in Chattogram, a southeastern district, on Tuesday.

Prothom Alo and other media reports also said that a 22-year-old protester died in the northern district of Rangpur.

Details of the casualties could not be confirmed immediately.

Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.
Students clash over the quota system for government jobs in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on July 16, 2024.

While job opportunities have expanded in Bangladesh's private sector, many find government jobs stable and lucrative. Each year, some 3,000 such jobs open up to nearly 400,000 graduates.

Hasina said Tuesday that war veterans — commonly known as "freedom fighters" — should receive the highest respect for their sacrifice in 1971 regardless of their current political ideologies.

"Abandoning the dream of their own life, leaving behind their families, parents and everything, they joined the war with whatever they had," she said during an event at her office in Dhaka.

Protesters gathered in front of the university's official residence of the vice chancellor early Tuesday when violence broke out. Demonstrators accused the Bangladesh Chhatra League, a student wing of Hasina's ruling Awami League party, of attacking their "peaceful protests." According to local media reports, police and the ruling party-backed student wing attacked the protesters.

But Abdullahil Kafi, a senior police official, told the country's leading English-language newspaper Daily Star that they fired tear gas and "blank rounds" as protesters attacked the police. He said up to 15 police officers were injured.

More than 50 people were treated at Enam Medical College Hospital near Jahangir Nagar University as the violence continued for hours, said Ali Bin Solaiman, a medical officer of the hospital. He said at least 30 of them suffered pellet wounds.

On Monday, violence also spread at Dhaka University, the country's leading public university, as clashes gripped the campus in the capital. More than 100 students were injured in the clashes, police said.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked railways and some highways across the country, and in Dhaka, they halted traffic in many areas as they vowed to continue demonstrating until the demands were met.

Local media said police forces were spread across the capital to safeguard the peace.

Swapon, a protester and student at Dhaka University who gave only his first name, said they want the "rational reformation of the quota scheme." He said that after studying for six years, if he can't find a job, "it will cause me and my family to suffer."

Protesters say they are apolitical, but leaders of the ruling parties accused the opposition of using the demonstrations for political gains.

A ruling party-backed student activist, who refused to give his name, told The Associated Press that the protesters with the help of "goons" of the opposition's Bangladesh Nationalist Party and Jamaat-e-Islami party vandalized their rooms at the student dormitories near the Curzon Hall of Dhaka University.

The family-of-the-veterans quota system was halted following a court order after mass student protests in 2018. But last month, Bangladesh's High Court nulled the decision to reinstate the system once more, angering scores of students and triggering protests.

Last week, the Supreme Court suspended the High Court's order for four weeks and the chief justice asked protesting students to return to their classes, saying the court would issue a decision in four weeks.

However, the protests have continued daily, halting traffic in Dhaka.

The quota system also reserves government jobs for women, disabled people and ethnic minority groups, but students have protested against only the veterans system.

Hasina maintained power in an election in January that was again boycotted by the country's main opposition party and its allies due to Hasina's refusal to step down and hand over power to a caretaker government to oversee the election.

Her party favors keeping the quota for the families of the 1971 war heroes after her Awami League party, under the leadership of her father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, led the independence war with the help of India. Rahman was assassinated along with most of his family members in a military coup in 1975.

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