5 English Words You're Using Wrong and How to Use Them Correctly
“I hate English.”
A client said this to me during our first English coaching session together.
“...But I need to speak English for work. I travel a lot and I need to present to my colleagues and clients in English.”
I could understand his frustration. How could he not hate English when it was blocking opportunities for growth in his career? People often come to me with a similar problem, whether they need English to get a diploma, pass an interview or get their residency visa, they find themselves stuck behind a language barrier, confused and powerless.
But why is this barrier there in the first place? And how do some people overcome this tremendous obstacle and move forward in their lives?
If you’ve been following me for a while, then you know that I often write about the importance of finding different methods to practice English, because the old, traditional ways are not effective for everyone. Sometimes, understanding how you learn and using the best techniques for your particular learning style can solve the problem.
But maybe you’ve tried different methods, you’ve invested in English courses, you’ve downloaded endless guides and watched English learning videos and still nothing you’ve done is helping you speak English freely and comfortably. You feel like you’re wasting your time, energy and money because everywhere you turn, you find a huge wall standing in your way.
Today, I want to take this chance to tell you: there is no wall. It’s an illusion you’ve created.
Some time ago, I worked with a client; an engineer who’d been living in the States for a few years. He needed to get more confident in English to communicate with his managers and colleagues. He was also preparing for the IELTS exam. I took notes during our sessions and in the last 15 minutes we’d talk about all the problems I noticed in his speaking. Whenever I gave him suggestions on how he could fix them, his answer was:
“Oh I’ll always make this mistake. I’ll never remember this.”
Before he could reach any of the goals he’d set for himself, he needed to overcome this destructive habit. He was essentially continuously telling himself: “Progress is impossible for me.”
How could he ever reach a place if he didn’t believe it existed?
So he decided to be proactive and worked on changing this habit. The effect was profound. By directing his attention to possibilities instead of limitations, his confidence levels went up and he became more motivated. Because he stopped focusing only on the barriers, he could finally see that there are ways around them.
Sometimes, our inner critic comes out and we say these things out loud, but most of the time these thoughts stay in our heads. They come in many different forms, such as:
“I can’t do this.”
“I’ll never improve.”
“I’m so slow.”
“I hate English.”
“This is too difficult. I don't know how people do it.”
These are all different manifestations of the same thing: “My progress is impossible.”
Now, what if I told you that there is a simple technique that could help you break through this limitation? Yes, it would take some time and consistency, but after a while I assure you that you’ll see dramatic results. In fact, the world’s best athletes use this technique to break records and win Olympic medals. Would you believe that you could also succeed and overcome your challenges with English?
Research actually confirms this powerful technique. Check out this short video to learn more. (The video is translated into many languages if you find it difficult to follow).
I also highly recommend reading this article to learn more about his technique and how to implement it.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s look at 5 English words that even some advanced speakers use wrong and how to use them correctly. As you read these points, pay particular attention to your reaction and the way you talk to yourself if you realize that you might be making these mistakes. Replace any negative talk with thoughts like:
“I’m proud of myself for even trying.”
“I’m going to practice until I get better.”
“This may take some time and effort.“
“I can always improve, so I’ll keep trying.“
Let’s get started!
1. Using EXPLAIN
I often catch clients making this mistake:
“Explain me this.”
The correct structures to use with explain are:
- "Explain + something + to someone"
- "Explain + to someone + something "
Explain + someone + something"
So the correct way to say it would be:
- "Explain this to me."
Explain me this."
While the second structure (verb + somebody + something) can be used with certain verbs like ‘tell, give and help’, it cannot be used with explain. You’ll get to know these verbs with practice and experience.
For example, we can say, “Please help me...”, “please tell me...” or “please give me...” but we can never say, “Please explain me...”
Here are some examples of explain in use:
“Could you please explain this to me?”
“I had to explain to her how I got that answer.”
“They’ll need to explain the features to our clients.”
2. Using LISTEN
What’s missing from this sentence?
“I don’t listen jazz.”
If your answer was to, you’re absolutely right. We always use to between listen and an object. So we’d need to say,
“I don’t listen to jazz.”
“You need to listen to her answer.”
I think part of the confusion here is that the words hear and listen are used differently. Here is an article that explains the differences between hear and listen in more detail.
3. Using ENJOY
Last week, I asked a client about a trip he’d recently taken with his family. He answered:
“It was nice! We really enjoyed.”
The problem with the sentence above is that we usually need an object after enjoy. So we’d need to say,
“It was nice! We really enjoyed it.”
“It was nice! We really enjoyed ourselves.”
There are two kinds of verbs in English. Some that can stand alone without an object, and we call those intransitive verbs (such as eat, sleep and arrive).
But other verbs, like enjoy, normally need an object to complete their meaning, and these are called transitive verbs.
“We really enjoyed the trip.”
“They enjoyed listening to her story.”
“I enjoyed the time I spent with you.”
To learn more about transitive and intransitive verbs, check out this useful article.
4. Using DISCUSS
We don’t use a preposition after the verb discuss. So, we never say,
“We discussed about buying a new house.”
We would need to say,
“We discussed buying a new house.”
As you might have noticed, we use a gerund (-ing) or a noun after discuss. For example,
“We’re discussing moving to a different office.”
“We discussed the differences between Canada and The U.S.”
But keep in mind that when we use the noun discussion, we need to use about. For example,
“We had a discussion about the differences between Canada and the U.S.”
5. Using HOME
We don’t need to use a preposition or an article when we use home with certain verbs. So we can’t say,
“I’m going to home.”
- "I'm going
As you know, we normally use this structure with the verb go:
“Let’s go to the beach.”
But the word home is special. We don’t need a preposition or an article when we use it with some verbs (such as go, come, fly, drive, get and stay). For example,
“She flew home last night.”
“Are you going home soon?”
“They came home late last night.“
Here, there and downtown also follow this structure. So we can say,
“I’m driving there tomorrow.”
“Can you stay here tonight?“
“They want to go downtown.”
If you make any of these common mistakes, I recommend making sentences with the correct structure regularly until they come to you naturally. Recording yourself is also an effective technique and I talk about this in more detail in this article.
But most importantly, I hope you take a few minutes right now to write down some new self-talk messages to practice using whenever you catch yourself repeating a negative one. If this was useful, please share it with a friend and remember: you can do so much more than you think.
Are you interested in working with me? Find out more here.