Common mistakes Latvians make in emails

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.

Symbol delete vote.svg Thank You!

Symbol delete vote.svg I am sending Your documents.

Symbol delete vote.svg I am writing to You to…

Symbol confirmed.svg Thank you. // I am sending your documents. // I am writing to you to…

Symbol question.svg 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.

DSC04330

Spot the mistake?

If not, here’s a clue. It’s similar to these common mistakes.

Symbol delete vote.svg I want to inform about the meeting.

Symbol delete vote.svg He told that he will be late.

Symbol delete vote.svg I would appreciate if you could

Symbol confirmed.svg I want to inform you about the meeting.

Symbol confirmed.svg He told us that he will be late.

Symbol confirmed.svg I would appreciate it if you could

Symbol confirmed.svg Rigas Satiksme reminds you that their dodgy machines often steal money….

Symbol question.svg Inform, tell, appreciate and remind are all examples of transitive verbs. That means that you need to say who or what you do the action to. So you need to follow them with nouns or pronouns.

3) Look forward to.

Symbol delete vote.svg I look forward to meet you.

Symbol delete vote.svg I am looking forward to receive the information.

Symbol confirmed.svg I look forward to meeting you.

Symbol confirmed.svg I am looking forward to receiving the information.

Symbol question.svg “Look forward to” is a phrasal verb. That means that the “to” is a preposition and prepositions in English are followed with gerunds (-ing forms) or nouns.

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.

Symbol delete vote.svg I need an information about…

Symbol delete vote.svg They gave me two advices…

Symbol delete vote.svg I have some knowledges of the situation.

Symbol voting keep.svg I need information about…

Symbol voting keep.svg They gave me two pieces of advice…

Symbol voting keep.svg I have some knowledge of…

Symbol question.svg 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

Symbol delete vote.svg In case if you have any questions…

Symbol voting keep.svg If you have any questions…

Symbol voting keep.svg In the event that you have any

“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.

6) Commas

Symbol delete vote.svg I want to advise you, that I will be late.

Symbol delete vote.svg I need to know, if you have received…

Symbol voting keep.svg I want to advise you that I will be late

Symbol voting keep.svg I need to know if you have received

Symbol question.svg 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.”

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Hope that’s useful for someone. (If not, email me!)

Incidentally, this follows on from two similar posts (link 1 and link 2.)

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3 thoughts on “Common mistakes Latvians make in emails

      • the most common one I can think of is about indefinite articles. An Italian would rather say “this is one apple” instead of “this is an apple”. probably Italians also tend to abuse of the present perfect tense “yesterday I have told you that…”

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