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Fossilization & trying to correct old grammar mistakes
March 4, 2011

ESL - English as a second language. Have you been studying ESL for many years? Do you feel stuck or frustrated that you can't improve faster? This is called "fossilization" which means you have bad habits in English that are very hard to change because you've been making the same mistakes for a very long time. I'm going to tell you about a few things that you might be 'stuck' in, and I will also explain a few ways you can break your bad habits.

Fossilization & trying to correct old grammar mistakes Do you always make the same grammar mistakes again and again?

If yes, you are not alone... Unfortunately, most students studying English from countries in Asia, such as China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and Thailand are not taught by native English speakers. The education system is also based on repetition - students have to memorize language. This means that students don't learn how to communicate in different situations naturally. Sometimes, teachers don't even speak English or give instructions in English, so listening and speaking skills are weaker than reading and writing skills.

  • One example of a bad habit is making mistakes in present simple with the 3rd person singular (he - she - it): Students often say or write "He go .." instead of "He goes ...".

  • Another example is using 'be' and 'have' verbs incorrectly: People who speak French, Spanish or Portuguese often make these mistakes because of the grammar rules in their languages. Students often say or write "She has 13 years old." instead of "She is 13 years old."

A few ways you can try to break your bad grammar habits are:

  1. Record yourself speaking
  2. Check your writing
  3. Notice grammar when reading

1. Record yourself speaking

  • Use your phone or mp3 player and record yourself talking for about 1 minute.
  • Listen to yourself 1 time - can you hear any small mistakes?
  • Get a paper and pencil and listen again, this time write down your ideas.
  • Try to write down every word you say - you may need to stop the recording, go back and play it again.
  • When your transcript (notes about what you said in the recording) is finished, take a highlighter or coloured pen and underline the grammar you're trying to fix or correct.
  • This process will make it easier to notice or see your mistakes.
  • Talk about the same topic or question again and try to use your grammar corrections.

2. Check your writing - free grammar practice web sites

  • Write a paragraph or short essay and give yourself a time limit (maybe 15 - 30 minutes).
  • Take a highlighter or coloured pen and underline the grammar you're trying to improve, such as present simple, past simple, countable nouns etc...
  • When you see a mistake, try to correct it.
  • If you're not sure, ask a friend, a teacher or tutor.
  • Get a new paper and pencil and re-write your paragraph or short essay with the corrections.

3. Notice grammar when reading

  • Read a lot - try short novels, graded readers ( Oxford Bookworms )( Cambridge University Press ) or even newspapers depending on your level.
  • Highlight or use a coloured pen to underline the verbs or actions in some of the sentences.
  • Check that you understand the meaning, and try to guess why the writer is using that grammar, such as 'going to', 'present perfect' or 'past perfect'.
  • Get a notebook and write down the examples you've highlighted or underlined.
  • Underneath the examples in your notebook, try to make your own sentences by copying the grammar, but using your own ideas.

Good luck - contact me if you have any questions!

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