Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Are these 6 Common English Challenges Holding You Back?

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Mon, Sep 09, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

English challengesAre you making the exact same English mistakes again and again?

Do you get frustrated when you hear yourself making a mistake but you are not quite sure about how to say it correctly?

It's time stop making those mistakes and start making real progress with your English.

Today let's take a look at 6 common English challenges that are probably holding you back from making real progress.

Take a look at today's lesson!




1) When do I use "take care of" versus "care about"?


to take care ofThis is a mistake that I hear all of the time so I mention it a lot on this blog!

Do not confuse these two phrases! Most students mix them up- don't do that!

  • To take care of= To make sure that someone or something is safe, to look out for them. This is an action. Example: "I took care of my mother when she was sick."


  • To care about= This is not an action, it is a feeling. When you "care about" something or someone, you have feelings of affection or concern for the person or thing. Example: "I really care about my family." or "I care deeply about the environment."



2) How do I exit and enter a typical conversation with native speakers?


describe the imageSo let's imagine that you are at the office, at your new job in the United States.

You are one of the only international professionals in the office and your colleagues are all Americans.

One Monday morning you see three of them chatting in a circle and talking about their weekends.

You want to get to know them so you awkwardly try to enter the conversation, but you aren't sure what to say. You are afraid that you will say something silly and be laughed at.


What can you say to enter the conversation? Here are some ideas:

  • "Hey guys, how was your weekend?"
  • "Good morning, how's it going?"
  • "So what did you do over the weekend?"


Next you want to exit the conversation. How can you do that? Try these phrases:

  • "Well, I have to run. It was great chatting with you."
  • "Gotta go, talk to you later."
  • "I have to get back to work, see you later."

Check out this article for more phrases to say hi and goodbye in English



3) What is the difference between "I ate" and "I have eaten"?

simple past and present perfect in English, I ate sushiEven though you have been studying English for years, I am willing to bet that you are still confused about these two grammar points (present perfect and simple past). 

  • I ate sushi (simple past): This action is finished, it happened at a specific time in the past and that time is over. Example: "I ate sushi last Tuesday."


  • I have eaten sushi (present perfect): When we say "I have eaten sushi" we are talking about an experience that we have had at some point in our lives, but the exact time that we did it is irrelevant. When you talk about the experiences or accomplishments that you have had in your life, use this form.



4) How do I use "either" and "neither"?


 either neither ESLThe key with these words is to remember not to use two negative words in your sentence.

Don't use "not" and "neither" in the same sentence.


Here are some examples:

  • A: "I don't like to exercise"
  • B: "Me neither. I hate to exercise" (Person B is agreeing with person A)


Here's another example:

  • A: "I don't like to exercise"
  • B: "I don't like to exercise either" (Person B is agreeing with person A but person B cannot use "neither" because she already used "don't" which is negative)



5) How do I use "in", "on," and "at" to talk about time?



In: Use "in" when you talk about a period of time such as a year, a decade, a season, a month or a century

  • "I was born in 1981"
  • "I take a vacation in August every year"
  • "I was a teenager in the '90s"


At: use "at" when you talk about an exact time

  • "Let's meet for coffee at noon."
  • "The meeting is at 4pm."
  • "Please come to my office at 9am."


On: Use "on" when you want to talk about days of the week or holidays

  • "We went to the movies on Wednesday."
  • "We had a nice lunch on Christmas Day."
  • "Where are you going on Thanksgiving Day?"



6) Is "people" singular or plural?

PEOPLE VERSUS PERSONSListen up Spanish and Italian speakers! This is a constant point of confusion for you.

In English, "people" is considered plural and if we want to use the singular form we can say "person."






  • "Those people are good singers."
  • "That person is waiting for you."


Note for advanced students:

We also use "persons" but it is not used frequently and only in official situations such as when you want to state the capacity of a restaurant:

  • "The capacity of this restaurant is 50 persons."
  • "This taxi can hold 4 persons."



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Photo credit: Lakbay7107, eric kilby, SJU admissions, Jason Lander, Janos Balasz

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