Let’s imagine that we live in a perfect world. In this perfect world queuing doesn’t exist, printers always work, everyday is casual friday, and we can directly translate our Portuguese into any language.
Sadly, the reality is that direct translation from Portuguese to other languages only works some of the time -- especially into other Latin languages. But since English has more of a Germanic influence, this means it is not as close in translation to Portuguese as languages like Spanish.
It is still possible to translate directly, like in this sentence: Eu amo meu cachorro (I love my dog). Unfortunately it’s not always possible to use this strategy with English.
When learners make mistakes because they are translating from their first language, it is called mother tongue interference. It’s something that everyone does when learning a new language, and it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Every week, I teach English to many Brazilians who make the same kind of mother tongue interference mistakes, and I believe that these errors can be easily corrected. In this article, I have put together seven examples of typical English errors made by Brazilian, along with explanations on how to rectify them.
1. Double negatives
- Incorrect: I couldn’t do nothing about it.
- Correct: I couldn’t do anything about it.
Welcome to the wonderful world of double negatives in English. Basically, we hate them! Let me teach you what to do when you have to use two negatives in a sentence. The rule is: if you have a negative word around the start of the phrase (couldn’t/could not), the second word cannot be a ‘no’ word (such as: nothing). Instead, it becomes an 'any' word (such as: anything). Let’s see some more examples:
- Incorrect: He asked me for some money, but I didn’t have none.
- Correct: He asked me for some money, but I didn’t have any.
- Incorrect: I didn’t see nobody that I knew at the party last night.
- Correct: I didn’t see anybody that I knew at the party last night.
- Incorrect: I haven’t been nowhere since my last holiday.
- Correct: I haven’t been anywhere since my last holiday.
Tip: Write some similar double negative sentences with any, anything, anybody, or anywhere to practice.
2. It’s Party Time
- Incorrect: We made a party for her birthday.
- Correct: We had a party for her birthday.
Given how much Brazilians love to party, it’s amazing how many times we make this mistake in our expressions of partying. I hear this so many times from students, and sometimes it’s hard for them to accept that it’s just a different verb-noun collocation. It might feel unnatural to ‘have’ a party at first, but after using it a few times you’ll forget all about how painful it was to change that verb. Make sure when you’re talking about parties in your classes you think have, not make.
- Incorrect: I went to the shopping to buy a new jacket.
- Correct: I went to the shopping mall to buy a new jacket. / I went to the shopping centre to buy a new jacket.
Shopping is only the gerund or present participle form of the verb in English. In Brazilian Portuguese, you call that big place with lots of shops inside ‘um shopping’. However, in English, we call it a shopping mall (US) or a shopping centre (UK).
Tip: Next time you are speaking in English about fazendo as compras and you are thinking about a shopping..., don’t forget to add an extra word after shopping to make it clear that you are using a noun.
4. How many more?
- Incorrect: I only have more two days of my holiday remaining.
- Correct: I only have two more days of my holiday remaining.
In English the number goes before the word more, and not after it like in Portuguese.
Tip: Think about how many days, months or years you have remaining until something important happens in your life and make a sentence. For example, we only have 15 more days until our wedding.
- Incorrect: Brazilians go to the beach a lot for relax.
- Correct: Brazilians go to the beach a lot to relax.
It’s very true that Brazilians go to the beach a lot and in this sentences, the speaker tells you the reason: “for relax”. The problem is that when you give a reason for doing something in English, you have to use the preposition to and not for. Brazilians often make this mistake because they are taught para (for), which is true in a lot of cases, but not for giving reasons.
Tip: Practice this by making a table of common things that people do, (e.g. people take showers), and then write a reason for that (e.g. to stay clean), as seen in the table below.
People take showers
to stay clean.
People go to the gym
to keep fit and healthy.
- Incorrect: I said for him that he shouldn’t buy a new car.
- Correct: I said to him that he shouldn’t buy a new car.
Again, we have another problem with for and to, but this time it’s because a transfer of something is taking place, and in this case, we are transferring words. Other examples of transferring verbs include give, explain, and bring. When these verbs are used in Portuguese you use para before the object, but in English, we use to. As you can see in the examples below:
- Traga o controle remoto para mim. (Bring the remote control to me. / Bring me the remote control).
- Explique para ele o que está acontecendo. (Explain to him what is happening).
- Eu dei um anel para ela. (I gave a ring to her. / I gave her a ring).
Tip: To memorise this concept, practice repeating the following sentence: “Give it to me, say it to me, bring it to me, explain it to me”.
7. Ongoing actions from the past
- Incorrect: I am learning English since I was at school.
- Correct: I have been learning English since I was at school.
In this sentence, the speaker started learning English in the past and is still learning English right now. In Portuguese, you can just use the present continuous to express this, but in English, we need to use the present perfect tense to express this uncompleted action from the past. Let’s look at some more examples below:
- “You have been writing that email for 10 minutes. Just send it!”
- “I have been watching Game of Thrones every evening since last week. I’m so addicted!”
Tip: Think about some things that you haven’t finished in your life and write them down in the present perfect tense.
An important note to end on
Making mistakes is a crucial part of language learning, and everyone makes them. The trick is that you learn from them. It can feel embarrassing to make mistakes sometimes, but nobody is going to judge you for your errors. If you feel like you don’t know the correct way to say something in English, don’t hesitate, just translate from Portuguese.
In a real-life situations when you’re speaking English, some people may correct you, but others may not, and this is why it’s important for you to get professional feedback from a teacher who can tell you about the errors you are making and so as to help you to improve on your errors.
I hope that you have learned from some of these mistakes and you can speak confidently, with no fear, in your next class.