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Speaking Slips to Watch Out For

When a child is learning English as a second language, they may make mistakes due to translating from Cantonese to English, mixing features of the two languages, or from lack of exposure to spoken English. Try spotting some of these common mistakes in your child’s speaking to help them improve:

Subject-Verb Agreement

A child may forget subject-verb agreement when talking excitedly. He have a cat! 

As Cantonese only has one form of each verb, students forget to switch between ‘has’ and ‘have’ or to add an ‘s’ at the end of a verb. Alex run very quickly!

Forming Questions

One of the more common mistakes with Cantonese speakers is with question formation. A question like ‘你有冇兄弟姊妹?’ can be incorrectly translated word for word into ‘You have brother or sister?’ instead of Do you have any brothers or sisters?’ or ‘Do you have a brother or sister?’

Countable vs Uncountable

I have so many homework!

The quantifiers ‘many’, ‘much’, ‘a few’ and ‘a little’ confuse many students who either haven’t learnt how to use them yet or have forgotten how to. The student may use ‘many’ in place of ‘much’ for uncountable nouns. Countable and uncountable nouns is a topic in our Advanced Grammar and Reading L3 course and is taught in schools around primary 2-3.

I have so many homework!

Pronouns: He or She?

In Cantonese, ‘佢’ can be used interchangeably for ‘he’ or ‘she’, so students tend to combine English pronouns in the same way and use ‘he’ for ‘she’, ‘his’ for ‘her’ and ‘him’ for ‘her’.

(Pointing at a girl) He took my pencil!

Wrong Choice of Word

Some words may seem very similar but have a different meaning in English such as ‘look’, ‘see’ and ‘watch’. ‘Don’t see my work’ is a common example where a child has confused ‘see’ with ‘look’.

Adding ‘’ (ah) at the End

Where are you going ah?

Final particles are a key feature of Chinese, and the most common one students incorrectly use when speaking in English is ‘呀’ at the end of sentences and questions. Unlike Cantonese, there is no final particle at the end in English.


When a student is speaking, they often forget to change their verb forms when referring to the past. Yesterday, my family and I go to Disneyland.

On the other hand, students can be aware of the need for past tense but don’t remember their tenses, so they add ‘-ed’ to the end of irregular verbs or use the wrong word.

I brang my sticker chart to school and stucked the stickers down.


Correcting the Slips

Instead of correcting your child mid-sentence and knocking their confidence, allow them to finish speaking to improve their fluency. After they have finished speaking, identify the mistakes through one of the following ways:

  • Repeat their incorrect sentence as a question with a funny expression or tone to highlight that something went wrong there. Sarah is naughty. He is copying my work?
  • Indicate simple mistakes like forgetting their subject-verb agreement by drawing an ‘s’ in the air when they forget to use the right form of the verb.
  • Repeat their sentence up to where they made a mistake and pause there, allowing them to self-correct.

It is important to help your child recognise their speaking mistakes without correcting them immediately, as this will help your child become more self-aware when speaking and learn to correct their English on their own. To improve your child’s speaking and to increase their English exposure in a nurturing environment, join our Public Speaking classes and festive speaking workshops.