In this and next month’s column I’ll give a brief overview of some mistakes that I’ve heard Thai speakers of English make countless times. My initial idea was to put them into different categories, but I gave that up since many mistakes involve a combination of grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation errors. Please note that most – if not all - mistakes involve everyday language that could easily be corrected using adequate drills and language practice.
Where are you come from?
The majority of Thais never seem to get this basic question right and consistently mix up the possible questions ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘Where do you come from?’ The above is probably one of the most frequently used incorrect combinations of both, although there are other variations such as ‘Where you come from?’ and ‘Where you from?
Possible answers to this question are of course ‘I’m from …’ and ‘I come from …’ and not ‘I from …’
I’m study at university
When speaking about their lives and daily routines, many speakers seem unable to use the present simple correctly. It could be a case of not knowing the grammar rules, but more often than not it seems to be a pronunciation mistake. ‘I’m’ should only be used when using the present continuous (e.g. I’m doing my homework) or when using the verb ‘be’ as predicative verb (e.g. I’m hungry).
I going to see movie
Present continuous or ‘going to’ for the future is also a problem for many. Again, some speakers seem ignorant as to how to form it and when to use it, whereas others just forget to pronounce the helping verb. When having a conversation, listening to the question might help. If someone asks you ‘What are you going to do tomorrow?’, then the obvious answer is ‘I’m going to…”. Be consistent: if the question is in the past tense, the answer should be as well.
Another mistake is the omission of the indefinite article ‘a’. In English, nearly every singular countable noun requires an article. For more detailed rules, please consult any decent grammar book (e.g. Murphy, Swan etc.).
My father work in an offit
Again, it’s poor pronunciation that leads to mistakes. Most people know that the third person present simple takes an –s, but it is hardly ever pronounced. Actually, a large number of Thai do anything possible in order not to have to pronounce final consonants. They’re especially creative with the final –s and -ch sounds, leading to ridiculous substitutions such as ‘t’ for ‘s’ in offit (office).
Have many lestaulant
Some minimal pairs, in particular the r/l combo, form insurmountable obstacles for some, leading to involuntary mimicry of poor Japanese speakers. Although many can pronounce both sounds individually, using them while speaking proves difficult. Some will even pronounce ‘lorry’ as ‘rolly’!
On top of that, many make the translation mistake of substituting the Thai verb ‘mii’ (have) with the English verb ‘have’, even when it’s inappropriate. In this case, ‘have’ should of course be substituted by there is/there are, as in most cases when something is described. Notice again the lack of pronounced final –s in restaurants.
You want/like American share?
Going Dutch is an idiom which is not at all being used in Thailand. Instead, people refer to the agreement whereby everyone pays for their own meal as ‘American share’. I suppose it usually involves sharing the bill and someone might have picked it up in America, but that doesn’t justify the use of this Thai English idiom. Another problem is not using the helping verb ‘do’ when asking a question, as in ‘Do you like…?”
I go to shopping
The hell you do! You don’t go TO shopping, you go shopping. Similarly, if you are Thai you seem to go TO swimming, TO running, TO skiing, TO wherever. This is probably one of the most common mistakes made in Thailand. Although this gets drilled into students at every level, they seem genetically impaired to use this phrase correctly.
You go only you?
There are a few problems with this small sentence. First, there is a problem with the verb form. Present simple is normally used when talking about a repeated action, which is probably not the case here. Second, it’s completely unclear if this question is referring to the past or the future. If it’s the future, it should be ‘Are you going’ or ‘Will you go’; if it’s the past, it should be ‘Did you go’.
Finally, there’s the ‘only you’ part. This phrase is often used when people really mean alone, by yourself or on your own. ‘Only you’ should probably only be used in Thailand when singing the greatest hit of The Platters.
Call to me nah
There are two mistakes in this polite (?) command. First of all, the verb call doesn’t take a preposition when it means to phone. It should be ‘Call me’. The Thai particle ‘nah’ doesn’t make any sense in English. I assume it’s used as a way to say please or as an interjection which doesn’t have a lot of meaning at all. Anyway, when speaking to foreigners, a more correct way of saying the above would be ‘Please call me’, ‘Call me tonight, will you?’ or ‘Could you call me (please)?’
So you don’t like cheese? Yes!
Something that drives me up the wall when speaking English to Thais is their complete inability to respond correctly to negative questions. As a result, I hardly ever use them anymore. It goes like this during a conversation (T = Thai staff, F = farang teacher):
T: Student Somchai call to inform that he go to hospital today.
F: Alright, so he’s not coming to class tonight?
F: Oh, he’s coming to class after going to the hospital?
F: So he won’t be here then?
F: You mean no, he will not be here, don’t you?
T: I suppose so.
F: Just to make sure, is he coming tonight?
F: Okay, I see, he won’t be here.
F: What do you mean, will he be here?
F: Okay, whatever, I’m out of here. If anything changes, call to me nah, I mean give me a call.
As you can see, these kinds of conversations border on the absurd. Remember that when responding to negative questions, the answer should be logical. When this is difficult for learners, they should respond using short answers such as ‘Yes, he will’ or ‘No, he won’t’. Make sure never to use phrases like ‘Yes, he won’t’ or ‘No, he will’. Another way of steering clear from danger is answering ‘That’s right’ when confirming a negative statement.