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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


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Taliban push for normalizing male-only higher education

FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.
FILE - Taliban members are seen at Kabul University in Kabul, Afghanistan, June 14, 2023.

In coming weeks, tens of thousands of students in Afghanistan are set to sit for university entrance examinations.

Notably absent from the list of candidates will be females.

The upcoming exams are expected to determine the admission of about 70,000 students to public academic and professional institutions this year.

Last week, when officials from the Taliban's Ministry of Higher Education unveiled the specifics of the upcoming exams, they conspicuously omitted any mention of the exclusion of female students from university admissions.

Despite facing widespread domestic and international criticism for their prohibition of women from educational and professional opportunities, the Taliban have persisted in enforcing discriminatory gender policies.

“The exclusion of women from higher education significantly limits the country's economic potential, as half the population is unable to contribute effectively to the workforce,” David Roof, a professor of educational studies at Ball State University, wrote to VOA.

In December 2022, the Taliban suspended nearly 100,000 female students enrolled in both public and private universities across Afghanistan.

With the nation already grappling with some of the most dire female literacy rates globally, Afghanistan has failed to produce any female professionals over the past two years.

According to aid agencies, the absence of female medical professionals, compounded by other restrictions, has contributed to the deaths of thousands of young mothers in Afghanistan.

The United Nations reports that over 2.5 million Afghan school-age girls are deprived of education.

“The interruption in education can result in a generational setback, where entire cohorts of women remain uneducated and unqualified for professional roles,” Roof said.

'Hermit kingdom'

The elusive supreme leader of the Taliban, Hibatullah Akhundzada, purportedly responsible for the ban on women's education and employment, has never publicly clarified his directive.

Initially, when secondary schools were shuttered for girls in March 2022, Taliban officials said the action was "temporary," insisting that the Islamist leadership did not fundamentally oppose women's education.

However, more than two years later, Taliban officials have provided no rationale for the continued absence of girls from classrooms.

“They have normalized gender-apartheid,” said an Afghan women’s rights activist who did not want to be named in this article, fearing the Taliban’s persecution.

“This is a new norm in Afghanistan, however insane and destructive it may look in the rest of the world,” she added.

In January 2022, the U.S. Department of State appointed Rina Amiri as the special envoy for Afghan women, aiming to garner international backing for Afghan women's rights.

Amiri has actively engaged with Muslim leaders, emphasizing the importance of women's rights in Islam, in hopes of influencing Taliban leaders.

Despite these efforts, there has been no indication from Taliban leaders of any intention to abandon their discriminatory policies against women. “There is no indication this will subside,” Amiri told a Congressional hearing in January.

Senior U.S. officials have also warned the Taliban that there will be no normalization in their relations with the international community unless they allow women to return to work and education.

Thus far, the Taliban’s response has been that they value depriving women of basic human rights more than having normal relations with the rest of the world.

Hong Kong can help link students in US, China 

FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.
FILE - A visitor sets up his camera in the Victoria Peak area to photograph Hong Kong's skyline, Sept. 1, 2019.

Pandemics, climate change and other global challenges require nations and scientists to work together, and student exchanges are a great way to foster that cooperation.

Writing in The South China Morning Post, Brian Y.S. Wong explains that Hong Kong has a crucial role to play in connecting students in the United States and China. (May 2024)

Learn about religious accommodations in US colleges  

FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.
FILE - St. Thomas More Catholic Chapel on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., March 16, 2022.

From prayer services to housing options and vegetarian meal selections, colleges in the United States offer ways to accommodate students of various faiths.

In U.S. News & World Report,Anayat Durrani explains how you can learn about religious accommodations at colleges and universities. (April 2024)

US community colleges create unique bachelor’s degrees

US community colleges create unique bachelor’s degrees
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In the United States, community colleges traditionally give two-year associate’s degrees and certificates. That is changing as more of these colleges develop bachelor’s degree programs. The higher degree from these schools is making college more accessible and affordable nationally and internationally. Robin Guess reports. Camera: Roy Kim.

Purdue U student from Nicaragua loves soccer and her studies

FILE - The Purdue University Marching Band plays with facemasks in place before the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, May 30, 2021.
FILE - The Purdue University Marching Band plays with facemasks in place before the start of the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, May 30, 2021.

A student from Nicaragua blends academics and athletics to excel at Purdue University in the U.S. state of Indiana.

Andrea Martinez talks about her passion for soccer and her studies here. (April 2024)

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