Common Mistakes (2):
Vocabulary and Style

This page lists some of the mistakes of style I most often find in students' essays and other written work. To find out the right way to do it, take a look at my web page on essay-writing style. You can find a lot more typical Japanese English mistakes on Google (Common Problems in English Usage has a useful list), and - perhaps more importantly - you can use the "exact phrase" search option on Google Advanced Search to see whether the expressions you are using really exist in English. For details of how to do this, check the "Advanced Search" section on this page.

1. 'Wasei Eigo'
Students often use English words or expressions which are in popular use in Japan, but which are not actually correct English. There are too many to list in full, but here are some typical examples:

Wasei Eigo                                Correct English :

*almost (i.e., 'taitei no')                most
*common sense (i.e., 'joushiki')   
#image (quality, etc.) up                improve one's image (improve the quality, etc.)             

*These words/expressions exist in English, but with a different meaning from the one they usually have in Japanese.

#These words/expressions do not exist in English.

Most of the 'English' expressions which are used in Japan are not really English; they could be called 'Japlish'. Check in a dictionary before using these expressions.

Expressions to avoid

There are also many expressions which students misuse or translate badly from Japanese. Here are a few examples:

2.  Other errors of style

Abbreviations (like 'isn't', I'll', etc.).
These are for use in conversation, like hanashiteru (instead of hanashiteiru) in Japanese. They should be avoided in formal writing. (Note: some students seem to like forms which don't exist at all, like 'I'ven't' and 'I'mn't'!)

'Chatting' with the reader. Some students write their essays as if they were having a chat. They write things like this: 'I'm very interested in English humour; I think Mr. Bean is great! Have you seen him? Oh, you're English, so you must have done. Is British humour different from American humour? I suppose it must be...' This fills the page with words pretty quickly, and it would be OK for a letter, but it's not much good as an essay!

Long sentences and difficult vocabulary. Some students seem to think I will be impressed by very long, complicated sentences with lots of difficult words in them. Other students just forget to use punctuation! There is nothing good about writing difficult English - especially since very few students have enough control of the language to be able to use it correctly. Clear and simple English is the best.

Personal comments. These include things like, 'I have always wanted to know more about this subject, so I am glad to have this chance of writing about it. This essay will help me to improve my understanding and get a clearer idea of the subject'. Sometimes a personal comment is appropriate (for example, if you are writing about British food it would not be out of place to say whether or not you have ever actually eaten any and, if so, what it tasted like), but try in general for a more objective tone.

Asking questions and then answering them. Some students like to write their essays as a series of questions and answers. For example: 'Was Henry VIII a Protestant? The answer is no. Why did he go against the Catholic Church? Because he wanted to get a divorce.' It would be much better to write: 'Henry VIII was not a Protestant, but he went against the Catholic Church because he wanted to get a divorce.'

These are just a few of the mistakes I frequently find in students' papers. Please study the other pages on writing skills for more help and advice.

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