Improve Your English: Avoid These Common Mistakes

As an English teacher and teacher trainer in Pakistan, I’ll admit that many times I have a lot of trouble understanding my students. Indian-Pakistani English has developed into its own unique dialect over the years, and although the Desi population may understand each other perfectly, speakers of standard dialects may be left completely befuddled. Improve your English and make sure you’re understood by avoiding these common mistakes.

Word: hotel 
Culprit: pronunciation, meaning

The first I was asked if I wanted to go out to a HO-tl (pronounced with hard retroflex t) on a Friday night, I had to ask the speaker to clarify. She wanted to go out to eat at a nice restaurant, while I was wondering why we’d go out just to sleep in a hotel. In standard English, a hotel is a place where you stay or sleep. Many nice restaurants in the subcontinent happen to be in 5-star hotels, so it’s understandable how the term ‘hotel’ came to mean ‘nice restaurant.’

In standard English, the word ‘hotel’ is pronounced with stress on the second syllable, ‘ho – TEL’ and with a soft [t] not a hard one. The [t] should be pronounced right behind your teeth, in a similar position to the Urdu-Hindi softer sound.


There is also no verb ‘to hotel,’ which means we can not ‘go hoteling’ tonight. If that were a verb in English, it would have to mean something like going out to sleep in different hotels. What you want to say is, “Let’s go out to eat tonight.”

Word: backside 
Culprit: meaning

The word has only one meaning to native speakers. It’s what you sit on. It does not refer to the back of a building. A backside must belong to a person or an animal, so saying, “Let’s go see the backside” is actually very inappropriate!

Word: buffet 
Culprit: pronunciation

“Would you like to go the HO-tel and have the BOO-fay?” is something you may hear on the weekends in Delhi or Lahore. We’ve already discussed how HO-tel is a place for sleeping, but what about the infamous BOO-fay dinner? You need to keep in mind that French words that have come into English are not pronounced like English words. ‘Buffet’ is pronounced with a short ‘u’ sound like in the words bus, fuss, must and bun. There is no long ‘oo’ sound in the word, and the stress is correctly placed on the second syllable. Improve your English and learn how to invite your friends our for a buffet dinner correctly!

Phrase: What is your good name? 
Culprit: history

My favorite response to this one, “Well can I ask you your BAD name?” I know people are trying to be polite, but native speakers of English do not say, “What is your good name sir?” It makes you sound dated and old-fashioned. It was widely used as writing element in past centuries. You may want to go back to the times of aristocracy, but this phrase is not set to make a come-back soon. The correct way to ask someone’s name would be to just say, “What’s your name?” or “Could you tell me your name please?”

If this article has helped you, please leave a comment. I have a big long list of other words and phrases commonly misused by English speakers in the subcontinent, so if there’s an audience for these articles I’ll write more!

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  • So interesting! I think I have ever been asked 'What is your good name?" :D

    Okay, backside only has one meaning. I will remember it.

    Thank you for sharing, Kurtan.

  • very nice & informative.. 

  • Hey Kurtan Immahan,

    Thanks a lot for this informative blog. I liked it and it left a big smile on my face when I read about "backside" :P Yes, we indians often use the word BACKSIDE to mention the backyard of the house or any building :D 

    Looking forward to reading the reamining list of such commonly wrong pronounced or used words. :D

    I reckon u have been to India or Pakistan :)

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