common mistakes english speakers make in spanish

5 Top Mistakes English Speakers Make in Spanish

In many ways English is very similar to Spanish, it shares the same alphabet as well as a significant amounts of vocabulary, expressions and grammar. But this similarity can also cause students to make basic errors. In this article, we will learn about the 5 top mistakes English speakers make in Spanish, and as always, we give you some hacks on how to avoid them.

Mistake # 5

False Friends

False friends or bilingual homophones are words that look or sound very similar to the words in your native language but they differ in meaning. We need to be careful with these because sometimes the confusion may be innocent and even funny; but some other times, they can make you go through a very unpleasant situation.

Perhaps, the most common false friends between English and Spanish are embarrassed and embarazada. They sound almost the same, their spelling is pretty similar, but their meanings could not be more different.  Embarrassed means avergonzado / apenado in Spanish, while embarazada means pregnant.

Can you imagine how confused people would be if a man says “yo estoy embarazado” instead of “yo estoy avergonzado”?

Now look at the following examples:

English Word Spanish Equivalent Spanish Word English Equivalent
Actual   Real Actual Current
Assist Atender / Ayudar Asistir Attend
American Estadounidense Americano Anyone from The Americas
Carpet Alfombra Carpeta Folder
Exit Salida Éxito Success
Molest Abuso (sexual) Molestar To bother/to annoy
Realize Darse cuenta Realizar To come true

 

These are just some of the most common false friends. The bad news is that there are many of them. The good news is that we can avoid them. How?

DO NOT TRANSLATE

Most of the language mistakes we make, happen while trying to translate everything into our mother tongues. This is fairly natural, as we feel we need something to hold on to as we discover new words and rules. But honestly, it is much better if you just learn this new language based on the fact that you are immersing yourself in a new culture. Notice that we said a new culture, not just a new language. When you are learning vocabulary, try not to focus on learning a list of equivalents, instead try to absorb as much as you can from the way natives in your target language see the world, that is to say, the way those new words represent reality for them.

Mistake # 4

Gender and the use of the definite article.

We know the idea of genders for things is strange to many languages, especially because the so-called genders are not assigned on a biological basis but on a rather arbitrary distribution of what is supposed to be the feminine or the masculine. The situation in Spanish becomes a little bit more confusing taking into account that the definite article (which in English does not vary) needs to agree with the gender and number of the noun.

The result? That most of the time English natives have no idea of why is it la silla (the chair) feminine and not el silla or simply just silla.

Generally speaking, we use – o for masculine and – a for the feminine. And yes, it seems very easy so far, when does it get confusing? Of course, the – o / −a rule has exceptions. There are some words that end with –a that are masculine and vice versa.

Look at the following examples:

Maculine with –a Feminine with –o
el aroma (the smell) la disco (the disco)

 

el agua (the water) la mano (the hand)
el clima  (the weather) la radio  (the radio)
el día (the day) la foto    (the photo)
el idioma (the Language) la moto  (the motorcycle/the scooter)

 

As you can see, there is no logical rule to learn these words. The best hack we can give you is that every time you are going to add a new word to your Spanish vocabulary, you should learn it together with the gender and the article corresponding to that gender. You can make cards for your study and there are plenty of games you can play to try to remember them.

Be creative, and most importantly, have fun!

Mistake # 3

Ser vs. Estar

Mixing up ser and estar is probably one of the most common mistakes English natives make in Spanish. This is understandable if we take into account that in Spanish we use two different words to convey only one thing in English (to be).

Analyze the following examples:

1- Yo soy cubano      yo estoy cubano 

2- Yo soy triste         yo estoy triste 

In the first example yo soy cubano is correct, while yo estoy cubano is wrong. In the second example, yo estoy triste is the right way to say it, we do not say yo soy triste. 

So, when to use each? Overall, we use ser for things that are permanent such as your nationality and occupation; and we use estar for temporary things such as to refer to different moods or feelings. So, now you can understand why we say yo soy cubano and yo estoy triste.

Mistake # 2

Ser vs. Tener

And yes, the verbs are difficult in any language, so it is not strange if there is more than one mistake associated with the use or the misuse of certain verbs. When it comes to the verb ser and tener, English speakers tend to get very confused. Why?

Read the following sentences and their equivalents:

1- I am hungry                 Tengo hambre (have hungry)

2- I am 30 years old       Tengo 30 años. (have 30 years old)

The equivalents of the verb to be as we said before are ser/ estar, so normally most English speakers assume that we say yo estoy hambre. However, for Spanish speakers, some concepts like hunger or age are not things you “are” but things you “possess”, so we use the verb tener (to have) instead.

The hack here is not really a hack. It is more like a piece of advice. Practice and keep practicing some more. And oh, yes, read as much as you can!

Mistake # 1  

Spelling

Anyone could say spelling is easier in Spanish than in English. This is true, as in Spanish written form we spell the same way we speak; however, this is not always so easy. There are letters like b/ v; c/s/z or g/j that can become very confusing. Especially since the pronunciation varies and in some countries (i.e. Latin American countries) these sounds have no difference with one another.

So what to do? Break down the rules. Learn them step by step. For instance, in the case of the use of c/s you can learn that most of the time the ending –ción is spelled with a -c.

You can also learn that –z is only used in the beginning or at the end of words, and that when a word ending in –z is pluralized, the –z turns into a –c (i.e. feliz (happy) – to felices).

When it comes to capitals, you can learn by heart that the days of the week, the months, the seasons of the year, etc. are always spelled with a lower case. And yes, it is the opposite of English. But that is the fun part of it.

Remember that learning languages means learning a whole culture, the process is long, difficult and with tons of ups and downs; so in such a complicated process, failure is not really a setback, it is actually the first attempt in long-term success.