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Common Mistakes #1 ~ “THE” is “the” problem October 22, 2008

Posted by Fantastic Four in Common Mistakes, Language, Language Study.
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14 comments

The equivalent of the article the does not exist in many languages. Turkish being one, your average Turkish person is faced with the big problem of either over-using or completely neglecting the when speaking or writing in English. The “the” problem is nothing compared to the hassle of dealing with a variety of articles in German, but that’s my problem and I will deal with it in due time, perhaps in another post.

Proofreading becomes a painful affair, when one has to correct the same mistake in different sentences, over and over again. It’s feels exactly like it did when I was getting a tattoo on my back. I asked the tattoo artist, is it going to hurt much? He shrugged, no, not really. Then he flashed a trust-me-I-know-what-I-am-doing kind of smile and asked, have you ever been scratched by a cat? Now it was my turn to shrug, of course. Ok then, he dragged me to the chair where I had to sit backwards and hug the back of the chair, nothing to worry about. I quickly found out, however, that while he was right about the cat scratch analogy, he forgot to add that it would feel as if the cat is scratching the same spot over and over again for hours. Deleting and/or inserting thousands of the‘s and a‘s as I proofread, I go back in time and find myself sitting on that chair, hugging the back of it real tight. I want to just close my eyes and scream, scream until it is all over.

I remember, the night of completing a relatively large proofreading project, I had a nightmare. It was raining a’s and the’s and my umbrella was made of paper. A’s were snowflakes, not in the traditional star-like snow flake shape but a variety of capital and small a’s, in script or print form. They were pretty and they didn’t hurt me as they landed softly on the ground, like feathers. The‘s on the other hand were very scary, made of thick cut glass in gigantic bold type fonts. I was dodging them successfully but as they crashed onto the pavement to my left and right, I was not able to escape the little sharp shards breaking off the tails of e’s or the tops of the T’s. Blood trickling down my arms and legs, I woke up with a scream. Following the nightmare I took a break from proofreading for a while.

I personally find that, especially when I am tired, the first thing that goes is the correct use of the. Most of the time I say something and notice the mistake as soon as the words leave my mouth, even before they reach the ears of my intended audience, but a moment too late.

To put flesh on the bones of the the problem, here are a few very simple examples of common mistakes I have been talking about:

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Obama went to the school in Hawai from 1971 to 79.

Shouldn’t we be doing something about green house effect.

I made the mistake. (meaning, I made a mistake)

I made mistake. (meaning, I made a mistake)

She is most sexy woman in the world. (the phrase ‘in the world’ is almost always correct. Yippie!)

Turkish Social Democrat Party has won 30 seats in Parliament. (trick question: two mistakes here – can you spot them both?)

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I don’t mind at all if it is a tourist with a little dictionary in one hand and a phrasebook (perhaps a hand-held electronic translator gadget) in the other making such mistakes. I find it rather cute and charming when I see someone who is trying to communicate with another in that another’s language in that another’s country.

Learning a new language is tough, regardless of which language it is. Unless of course you are fortunate enough to be the toddler of a very international family.

I find the best way to learn a language, is to live and breathe it; immerse oneself in it for as long as possible, i.e. visit and stay in the country of that very language.

If residential learning is not an option, then make sure to listen to a lot of songs while reading the lyrics – Russian pop songs are just as bad as Turkish pop songs. Watch movies with subtitles; make new friends (perhaps on-line even) who are fluent in the target language. Read books simultaneously in both languages. I have books in English and Russian: War and Peace, The Brothers Karamazov, even a copy of Harry Potter: The Philosopher’s Stone.

Theory of language can easily be put into practice by simply using some of the methods I wrote above; we are only limited by our own imagination.

For over 20 years now, the has not been a big problem of mine. My problem is with my vocabulary. It is an enormous issue, as I usually hide behind the words I am familiar with or have used for a longĀ  time, instead of letting myself rush off and adventure into the new ones I read in books or come across in other media. Some say I shouldn’t really worry about it.

I hope I won’t have another nightmare involving the assault of THE‘s, or worse, BIG WORDS tonight.

The End…

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