The academic year is underway again and that means I get lots of emails from students and potential students. Some of the emails are so good that they make me wonder why the person needs to study at all. Others, sadly, show the flaws of the Soviet education system and google translate in all their misguided glory.
Here are some of the common ones.
1) Capitalised second person forms.
I mentioned this in a previous post, but absolutely have to restate it, since not only is it still one of the most common mistakes I see, students will actually defend it and argue with me that it’s correct because their teacher at school told them to do it that way or that it’s “more polite.”
All I can say to the first point is that teachers in Soviet schools in the pre-internet era probably didn’t have that much contact with native speakers.
On the second point, it looking more polite, nope. It just looks like the person didn’t bother to study the rules of English. To a native speaker, it looks like tHe randOM and incorrect capitalisation in this sentence. Also, if you want to be more polite, then surely the logic is that you should take that further and capitalise third person forms as well (I’m sending His documents // I’m writing to HER to ask.) But that doesn’t seem to happen in Latvian.
Basically, the only pronoun in English that should be capitalised in the middle of a sentence is “I.”
2) Using transitive verbs as intransitive ones.
Rigas Satiksme are not my favourite people at the moment. Twice when using their machines to buy travel cards, they haven’t given me my change. The second time, recently, I complained only to get a reply, with my name misspelt, saying that their records showed that there was nothing wrong with their machines. Yeah right. Besides robbing people of their money and poor customer service, Rigas Satiksme don’t do English grammar that well either.
Spot the mistake?
If not, here’s a clue. It’s similar to these common mistakes.
3) Look forward to.
On the subject, people sometimes ask me what the difference is between “I look forward to” and “I am looking forward to.” The answer is that, in terms of meaning, they’re the same. The only difference is in register. Basically, “look forward to” is more formal.
4) Making uncountable nouns countable.
Advice, knowledge and information are all uncountable nouns. That means they are not used with articles, numbers or in plural. Two pieces of advice is a classic example of how direct tranlations don’t work . A direct (and incorrect translation) in Latvian would be “divi gabali padomi” which just sounds weird, even to a non-native speaker of Latvian like me. It conjures up images of someone standing at the deli counter in Stockmann. In English, though, saying pieces of advice is perfectly fine.
5) Conditional forms
“In case” and “if” are both conditional forms, but they aren’t used together in English. This mistake seems to come from a direct translation of “Gadījumā, ja…” but, as I said in the previous point, direct translations don’t always work.
The rules on using commas in English and Latvian are different. Latvian puts commas before the equivalent of if/who/where/that/when. In English the rules are more complicated. English has both defining relative clauses (no comma) and non-defining relative clauses (comma needed.) Also, as a general rule, English doesn’t use a comma before the words “if” or “that.”
Hope that’s useful for someone. (If not, email me!)