CONFUSING WORDS FOR YOUR EFL LEARNERS

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Even for the more advanced English learners, you’ll notice that there are some words in English which are just plain confusing to our learners. This may be because of similarities in spelling or pronunciation, interference from their first language or simply because they have picked up a bad habit on their learning journey. Whatever the reason, if you are aware that these words may cause confusion, you can keep an ear out for them and help your learners by explaining the reason behind their errors.

So here are a few of the most common confusing words for your learners:

Its vs it’s

Apostrophes can signify possession or the omission of letters. In the case of it, the apostrophe would be problematic because it would be unclear as to what it is referring. So in this case the apostrophe refers to the contraction of two words while the possessive does not use the apostrophe. Note that the possessive can refer to it is or it has.

The dog is chasing its tail.

It’s really hot today.

It’s been a long day.

Their vs there vs they’re

These are probably confusing in terms of spelling since they are all pronounced very similarly – identically in some accents. Their is the possessive form of they; there refers to a place; they’re is the contraction of they are.

The girls took their books back to the library.

I’ve never been there.

They’re usually late for class.

Borrow vs lend

While these words may seem very different, the problem is in the usage. Often students will get confused about which word refers to which action. To borrow is the act of taking something from someone for a certain amount of time; to lend is the act of giving something to someone for a certain amount of time. It is easier to teach these words as part of the set structures we usually use.

Can I borrow your pen?

Yesterday I lent her my jacket because she was cold.

Accept vs except

Again these two words are pronounced very similarly and because they have completely different meanings, it is important that your students are aware of the difference. To accept is to take something; except means to exclude something.

Students need an IELTS score of 7 to be accepted onto the course.

The restaurant accepts all major credit cards, except Diner’s Club.

Good vs well

Though this is the same word, the problem comes in with usage. Students often use the adjective form (good) when the adverb (well) is needed.

He is a very good swimmer.

He did very well on his test.

These are just a few of the many words English learners can find confusing. By being aware of our students’ problems, we can help them understand them and so overcome them.

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