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About Typical Errors in English


This article is in a continuous process of being rewritten...


If I have to give this story a starting point, then I suppose I have to go back to one of my first lessons in primary school. 


Unfortunately I only have my late mother's recollections on this as I don't really remember the incident concerned.


From what she told me, I spoke up when a teacher wrote the word 'police' on the board and spelt it wrong. However, what she had done was spell it in a new - and I have to say, what was a then trendy - system called ITA. It was something called the Initial Teaching Alphabet, and was meant to be some kind of simplified reading and writing system that would help children to read more easily. In many schools it was obligatory, and my reaction back then saved me from a system which has affected many of my generation to this day in which they still make spelling mistakes.

But another problem with that period was that, for some reason, English teachers were instructed not to teach grammar theory, going by the philosophy that it was better for the child to learn the language by experiencing it. So for several years many of us grew up speaking and writing a language using grammar structures that we had acquired through experience but without having a clue what it was. If you go to my book in the first unit, I quote:

‘Could you explain what the second conditional is?’

‘If I knew that, I would tell you.’


Even today, there are many Brits who still don't know what is a noun and an adjective.

It was much, much later in my life before I started to understand the theory behind the language, and so much later in life when I went to university to finally study the thing and the grammar, even though I was already writing the stuff for holiday brochures, press releases, and radio scripts. Of course, I was doing all the studying from the perspective of a native speaker, and although many of the coursebooks were written in an informal style, they still carried academic explanations of what all these grammar terms meant.

So when I moved to Poland and began my teaching career, I had to, somehow, try to explain some grammar points in easier, simpler English.


It was perhaps Raymond Murphy and his books English Grammar in Use and Essential Grammar in Use that showed academic language professors that there was a simpler, alternative way of explaining how the language worked.


It was in 2010 I did something different for the start of my English lessons in Poland. For several years I had been teaching English and noticed that the same basic errors were often being made by students. So I noted these and began using them as ‘warmers’ for the start of my lessons. The whole concept of Typical Errors in English grew from that point.


I've already mentioned that I often found grammar books a little serious and formal in their presentation, so I decided that a sense of humour was needed, maybe even a little comedy. Someone had already taken that approach in Poland, when Sherill Howard Pociecha, an American, came out with her book The English Advisor or, How to communicate in the Real World which, although highly prescriptive in places - and even dedicates a few pages to taboo language - was largely written in informal prose and not without a little bit of humour. So I decided to write in the same less-than-formal style and even add some of my own cartoons on the way.


Then, of course, the time came to try and convince a publisher to take the book on. As I am a native speaker based in Krakow, I thought about some of the local publishers there. It was, perhaps to my surprise, Tertium, a non-profit publisher that produced many academic books for the Jagiellonian University and others who decided to take on a piece of work that took a very non-academic approach. Even more surprising was the amount of editorial control I had over the book. Even so, several pairs of eyes went through the thing to get it to standard, and I was even quite hard on myself to get the cartoons right with many redrawn or withdrawn for various reasons. I also came up with the cover design.

To this day, I am still surprised even now that we (that is, myself and Tertium, the book publishers) have come up with a publication that is almost three hundred pages. Looking back on it now, there are still things that perhaps, in my mind, could be done better, and it (unintentionally) is a little prescriptive in places. But as we're dealing with the form of the language that matters - that is, Standard English -  then perhaps it was necessary to state some 'rules' (there is no rulebook in English - only what we understand is generally accepted Standard English) as often written examinations make this rather important. But when we eventually get into a second edition of the book, I will try and make is more descriptive.

Now the current edition of the book is divided into nine units. It is units 2-8 that deal with the errors; the first is a general foreword explaining not only the thinking behind the book but also a micro-analysis on the English language itself. I describe it as ‘…a hungry monster in reverse… feeding on, absorbing, and then excreting all these new words and expressions in order to fatten itself up…’ and ‘…an impossible beast to catch, to put into a cage, to be locked up and then to be told how it should behave’. Life is not that easy in English, but I like to think that at least we have come up with a book that not only tries to explain in terms that would be understood by most intermediate language students, but also tries to have a laugh too.  There are plenty of examples of correct usage, cartoons, a handful of jokes, and even exercises to check your understanding of the language.

Because it is often impossible not to use grammar terms when attempting to explain how and why certain structure work, unit 9 is an easy-to-use glossary of language terms (which is currently being greatly expanded upon greatly in the Not4GrammarBores section on this website). We have kept to the same rules – choosing a reading and comprehension style that most intermediate students should be able to understand, and also in a nice, informal, straightforward way for any native speakers who may be curious.

So here it is.

Now the Typical Errors of English website is sure to grow and evolve, and may even include new material for any future second edition of the book. But do let us know what you think; any worthwhile suggestions and comments are always welcome.

The book – again, write to let us know your thoughts. If we've not been that perfect with the first book, well for sure, the next edition will be brilliant. I hope.

Roger Hartopp

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