Classroom language: 10 things you might be saying wrong

If you’re a non-native speaker of English and you’ve recently embarked on a teaching career, chances are that you might be making one or two classroom language mistakes you’re not even remotely aware of. After all, as an advanced student, you were probably never corrected in class if you said something like “open your books on page 20″ because, well, you never had to say it in the first place.

Here’s a list of 10 common grammar and vocabulary mistakes that novice teachers sometimes make. If you have any other suggestions, write them under “comments” and, who knows, there might be a sequel to this post one day. Remember: We’re focusing on examples of classroom language here.

1. Open your books on page 20.
Use to instead: Open your books to page 20. At is also possible in British English.

2. OK! Time’s over!
At the end of a game or timed activity, say Time’s up.

3. Do you want me to explain you the rule again?
You explain something to someone: Do you want me to explain the rule to you again? Or simply: Do you want me to explain the rule again? Remember: Explain me / him / her etc. is wrong.

4. Pay attention in the example.
You should say Pay attention to the example. You can also say Pay attention in class (=pay attention when you’re in class). 

5. Ask question four to Raul, please.
Most verbs followed by two objects can take either to (She gave me a present = She gave a present to me) or for (She bought me flowers = She bought flowers for me). Ask is different. With ask, don’t use to or for: Ask Raul question four, please.

6. Today we’re going to discuss about politics.
You discuss something, not about something: Today we’re going to discuss politics.

7. These are slangs.
Slang is uncountable. Say These are examples of slang. Remember: a slang is wrong. Say a slang word / term. By the way, evidence is uncountable too: Please find the evidence / a piece of evidence in the text.

8. I gave you a homework last class, didn’t I?
Homework is uncountable. Say I gave you some homework. You can also say a piece of homework / two homework assignments. By the way, you can also assign homework. 

9. Are you with your students’ book?
This one’s probably due to Portuguese interference (“Vocês estão com o livro?”). It’s far more natural to ask Do you have your student’s book? By the way, different publishers call their coursebooks student’s book, student book or students’ book

10. Does anyone have any doubts?
If you want to know whether students understood the new rules, for example, it’s more natural to ask Does anyone have any questions? In English, doubt usually implies a lack of belief or certainty rather than a lack of understanding: I have my doubts that the plan will work. More details here.

Special thanks to Natália Guerreiro, Higor Cavalcante, Jimmy Astley, Danilo Pereira, Cecilia Nobre and Adriel Ramos for the input.

Thanks for reading.

44 thoughts on “Classroom language: 10 things you might be saying wrong”

  1. This is a very interesting list. What about “pay attention, people”. I just learned very recently that this “people” is not right. And I do hear it a lot when observing lessons.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Hi, Adriana. Thanks for stopping by.
      I never use “people” when addressing students. I think I usually say “guys” or, more often than not, nothing at all. 🙂

      1. Chris Bohlander says:

        Adriana, I’ve been noticing this use of “people” recently and it always sounds strange and vaguely annoying. Where do you think it comes from? My assumption is Portuguese interference but of course my Portuguese is so full of English interference that I have difficulty knowing for sure.

        1. Luiz Otávio says:

          My guess is: “Pessoal” = “People”

          1. Edmilson M Chagas says:

            Chris, Luiz,
            to some people, “people” equals “gente”

  2. Hey Luiz,

    This is brilliant! I really hope many teachers out there will check this post out.

    You know what’s funny? I know about mistake 10 and all, but I think I still go ahead and make it anyway! LOL – I need to pay more attention TO it! 🙂


    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Thanks, Higor. “Doubt” is v e r y tricky for speakers of Portuguese and Spanish, isn’t it?

    2. Chris Bohlander says:

      Higor, I hear this one so often that I sometimes begin to have my doubts about whether it is wrong. I always give the same example as Luiz is suggesting.

  3. Leonardo Araújo says:

    Another interesting post, Luiz. Keep up the good work and I’m positive you’ll be able to reach out to more and more if us out there. Here’s my contribution:
    «Sorry, I didn’t listen to what you said, instead of «I didn’t hear what you said». The former means you weren’t paying attention, which doesn’t really sound good, does it?

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Leonardo, thank you!
      That’s a good example.

  4. Leonardo Araújo says:

    Another good post, Luiz.
    I’ve heard teachers say «I didn’t listen to what you said» instead of « I didn’t hear what you said». The former sounds like they weren’t paying attention, which doesn’t befit a teacher, does it?

    1. Chris Bohlander says:

      I hear this one as well as a result of my careful listening. 😉 I have tried to analyze this problem with my students from time to time. They say that “ouvir” and “escutar” are the same in Portuguese. They do seem to understand my explanation when a say this, “Listen! What do you hear?”

  5. Djalma Borges Martins says:

    Kudo Luiz!

    Here’s another one both teachers and students love:
    “Have you done the WRITING I asked you last class?” => Writing what? Piece of writing, writing assignment, essay, formal email are some better options.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Thank you, Djalma!

  6. Luiz, this post is superb! I always say “Go to page…”, or “Open your books, (pause) page XX”. But, as a “rookie” it dawn on me that the tips number 6 and 9 are those typical mistakes that I’ve never realized I was making.
    Thanks a bunch!

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Thanks, Gustavo! Go to page X sounds just fine to me!

  7. Thanx a lot! it was really useful.
    Teachers in Latvia tend to use “home task” instead of “homework” 🙂

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      You’re welcome, Liene!

  8. Thank you so much!, this has been so useful.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      You’re welcome, Jorge!

  9. Thanks for a great post. I will try to make sure my non-native teachers take a look at this list as soon as possible.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Dave, thank you! Regards from sunny Brazil.

  10. Thanks for this practical article. I think I have made some of these mistakes at least once. Being a Colombian teacher, native Spanish speaker, it can happen.

    I like your blog, by the way. Do you ever accept guest authors? I would like to start spreading the word about my new blog.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Hi, Alex.
      E-mail me privately, please. luizotaviobarros at gmail d o t c o m

  11. Hi, Luiz! I’m guilty of #1. I say to my students turn your books on page 1. So I should say, “turn your books to page 1.” Thanks for this post. Now I know what things I shouldn’t be saying.

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      Chandler, with turn, I’d personally say “turn to page X”

  12. Raul Ornelas says:

    Great stuff. Thanks

  13. What about mispronunciation? Common mistakes among Brazilian teachers would include:
    ADjective (wrong: adJECtive)
    Continuous = kəntɪnjuəs (wrong: kəntɪnjuous)
    She is = ʃi ɪz (worng: ʃi iz)

    1. I’ve just remembered one more! Actually, the TOP mispronuncation peeve!
      “proNOUNciation” instead of “proNUNciation”!

      1. Luiz Otávio says:

        Yes, these are good ones!

  14. Please note that there is no such thing as British English!
    The language people speak in Britain is English. The language in the USA is American English – deliberately different!

    If you’d like to read a funny true story, look into the history of the USA and find out which language they ALMOST took as their mother tongue.
    Clue – John Cleese.

  15. Thank you!
    which one is correct?
    “Do you have any problem?” or ” Do you have any problems? “

    1. Luiz Otávio says:

      What’s the context, Nazi?

  16. Can I add a new one?
    Teacher: “All right , as we are six in class today, we’ll sing a song “(

    Meaning , six years old???

    1. Adriana Thomé says:

      Isn’t it correct to say that? Oh my!

  17. Thanks for helping me with my language mistakes.
    Can I say : “Did you do your homework”?

  18. Such an illuminating text! Could you come up with similar articles in the future? I mean, based on the same concept: things that teachers are saying wrong.

  19. Adriana Thomé says:

    Isn’t it correct to say “I’ll correct your tests later”?


  20. Alex Lorejan says:

    Now that I have started to know more about your and Higor’s work, it seems to me that I was wasting my time looking for guidance somewhere else! You guys rock!

  21. dear friend,
    Your website is very interesting. Avalanche of thanks for beneficial subjects.

  22. Here’s one more: Tell about your family.

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