By: Asih Zunaidah, S.S., M.Li.
Let’s do a quick check, do the following utterances sound okay to you?
- “My personality is really different from my brother’s”
- “I’m sorry I can’t join you in the game. I must make my homework”
- “I think this shirt is similar with the one you bought yesterday”
- “I must say sorry because I just did a mistake”
If you think there is nothing wrong with the utterances, there is a good chance that you are one of Indonesian English-learners.
What is wrong with the utterances? Let’s talk about the first utterance: “My personality is really different with my brother’s”. Now take a good look at the combination of “different” and “with”. For Indonesian English-learners, this combination might sound just right, because the word ‘different’ (which means berbeda) can go along well with the word ‘with’ (which means dengan) – the natural combination in Indonesian would be ‘berbeda dengan’. However, this would be an entirely different case in English. “Different with” is not natural for native-English speakers. Instead, the appropriate combination should be “different from”, which might sound a bit uncommon for Indonesians (‘different from’ literally means ‘berbeda dari’). This natural combination is commonly known as ‘collocation’ in English – two or more words that usually go together and sound “right” for native English speakers who use them all the time.
There are several common word-combination mistakes made by English learners, which might sound natural as they sound similar to their mother-tongue, but sound un-english to native English speakers. The following 10 expressions/ combinations show what to say and what not to say in English:
- Say ‘do homework’, don’t say ‘make homework’.
Example: “My sister is doing her homework” NOT “my sister is making her homework” (Indonesian speakers often say “bikin PR”, which literally means ‘make homework’.
- Say ‘make mistake’, don’t say ‘do mistake’.
Example: “students often make mistakes in grammar” NOT “students often do mistake in grammar” (Indonesian speakers often say “melakukan kesalahan”, which literally means ‘do mistake’.
- Say ‘similar to’, don’t say ‘similar with’.
Example: “This dress is similar to the one I bought last week” NOT “This dress is similar with the one I bought last week (Indonesian speakers often say “mirip dengan”, which literally means ‘similar with’.
- Say ‘get off (a vehicle)’, don’t say ‘come down (a vehicle)’.
Example: “I’ll call you once I get off the train” NOT “I’ll call you once I come down the train” (Indonesian speakers often say “turun dari kereta”, which literally means ‘come down the train’.
- Say ‘ask a question’, don’t say ‘make a question’.
Example: “My little brother starts to ask so many questions” NOT “My little brother starts to make so many questions” (Indonesian speakers often say “bertanya/ membuat pertanyaan” – which literally means ‘make question’ – NOT “bertanya pertanyaan” as in the correct combination “ask question”, that might sound unnatural in Indonesian.
So, what can you do to learn and memorize the combinations? First, read a lot of English texts. Reading is a good way to recognize and learn the combination in contexts. Jot down anything you can possibly find if you have to. Second, watch English-speaking movies as often as possible. Getting used to English expressions in one’s favorite movie is a great help for those who want to make the memory stay longer in the brain. Lastly, use and repeat as much as you can. Learning a language should be made habitual – never will memorizing make you a good English speaker unless you use it on a daily basis.
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