Making mistakes is a natural part of learning Spanish for a native English speaker, but chances are you don’t want to make some of the easily avoidable mistakes that might make you sound less intelligent than you are. Here are 10 common mistakes that English speakers commonly make when they are learning Spanish. They aren’t necessarily the most common errors, but they are ones that should studiously be avoided if you hope to get beyond a beginner’s level.
Confusion of cognates:
Words that have the same or similar form in both languages are known as cognates. Since Spanish and English share a large vocabulary derived from Latin, there are many words that are alike in both languages have similar meanings. But there are plenty of exceptions, for example, word “embarazada” usually means “pregnant” rather than “embarrassed”.
Spanish pronunciation isn’t all that difficult to learn, and you should make an effort to imitate native speakers whenever possible. The most common mistakes of beginners include making the “ l ” of “fútbol” sound like the “ll” in “football,” making the “ b ” and “ v ” sound different from each other (the sounds are identical in Spanish), and failing to trill the “ r ”.
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Using pronouns unnecessarily:
With very few exceptions, English sentences require a subject. But in Spanish, that frequently isn’t true. Where it would be understood by the context, the subject of a sentence can and usually should be omitted.
Unlike English, Spanish nouns have a gender. Some objects are masculine, and others are feminine. English nouns don’t have a gender, so it’s often confusing when trying to figure out the gender of a noun. However, the principle of gender in Spanish is important, for it will tell you whether to use a feminine or masculine article as a modifier — whether “la” (feminine) or “el” (masculine).
Adjective Noun Word Order:
The confusion when using the correct order of the adjectives is also something to be noticed. In English, we usually place the adjective before the noun. Many people just learning Spanish assume the same holds true for that language. In fact, the right syntax order is the reverse: You use the noun before the adjective. For example, in English you can say “I’d like to drink a hot chocolate”, but in Spanish you can’t drink a “caliente chocolate”, but “chocolate caliente”.
Changing the word order can sometimes subtly change the meaning of a sentence, and your use of the language can be enriched as you learn different word orders. Also, some English constructions, such as placing a preposition at the end of the sentences, definitively should not be imitated in Spanish.
Mistakes of using articles:
Foreigners learning English often have a hard time knowing when to use or not use “a,” “an” and “the,” and it’s the same for English speakers trying to learn Spanish. Using them incorrectly usually won’t keep you from being understood, but it will mark you as someone who’s awkward with the language.
Using prepositions improperly:
Many English-speaking students sometimes confuse the use of prepositions, for example “por” and “para”. In English, we can say “I’m here to see John”; but “estoy aquí por ver a John” is an incorrect translation for this sentence. The correct use should be “estoy aquí para ver a John”.
Both languages have their share of idioms, phrases whose meanings cannot readily be determined from the meanings of the individual words. Some spanish idioms translate exactly, for example, “bajo control” means “under control”, but many don’t. For example, “en el acto” is an idiom meaning “on the spot.” Translate them word for word and you’ll end up with “en el sitio” and “in the act,” both of which are incorrect.
“Tu” Versus “Usted”:
Spanish differs from English also in its approach to the second-person pronoun. In English, “you” is the universal form, whether the person you are addressing is younger or older than you, whether you are addressing one person or an entire group. This is not true in Spanish. As a matter of respect, you must address an older Spanish speaker as “usted,” while you may address a younger individual as “tu.”
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Confusion between “support” and “soportar”:
For English speakers, someone supports somebody else when the former wants the latter to succeed or to win, either an election or a football match. But in Spanish, someone soporta somebody else when s/he likes the other person and enjoys his/her company. With the first sense, we say in Spanish “apoyar” instead of “soportar”. For example:
Don’t you worry, I do support your decision.
No te preocupes, yo sí que apoyo tu decisión.