7 common mistakes when learning Spanish

Keep on making mistakes in Spanish?

Making mistakes is inevitable when you are learning Spanish. It is part of the process of learning a new language.

There is no need to be frustrated, but if you want to speak Spanish properly it’s important you are aware of the mistakes you constantly make.

There are major and minor mistakes.

Major mistakes are those that affect your communication with others. Spanish speakers won’t understand the sentence or the context.

On the other hand, minor mistakes are those that native speakers notice but they don’t affect your communication with them. Spanish speakers would understand what you are saying even if it is not correct.

If you want to learn Spanish properly pay attention to the following mistakes people make when learning Spanish.

1. Assuming that Spanish words that look like English words mean the same thing

Around 30% to 40% of all vocabulary in English have related words in Spanish.

Those similar words are known as cognates. There are perfect cognates, near-perfect cognates and false cognates.

The last ones, false cognates are the tricky ones. They are also known as “false friends” because they fool you. You think you know what they mean but the actual meaning is something completely different.

One of these mistakes is saying “estoy embarazada” (I’m pregnant in English) when you want to say “I am embarrassed”.

Be vigilant with those false friends. Native Spanish speakers would understand what you want to say but you don’t want to learn broken Spanish but good Spanish, right?

2. Assuming that the sound of the vowels and consonants in Spanish is the same as their sound in English

Many students struggle with the Spanish pronunciation. They have trouble communicating with native speakers because they think they are pronouncing words correctly but people don’t understand them.

Why is that?

Because they are pronouncing the words in English, not in Spanish.

To be honest, Spanish pronunciation is pretty easy and straightforward.

You should following simple rules:

  • Learn the sound of the vowels, and stick to it….Always! In Spanish, there are five vowels (a, e, i, o, u). We always pronounce them, their sound never changes.
  • Learn the sound of the consonants and stick to it. Similarly to the vowels, the consonants in Spanish have their unique sound. However, there are a few exceptions. Make sure you learn the exceptions and stick to the rules.
  • Roll your tongue and practice the “rrrr” sound as much as you can.

3. Using pronouns unnecessarily

In English, for instance, all sentences require a pronoun. But in Spanish, that isn’t necessary.

Why?

Because it’s implicit in the verb.

In Spanish, we conjugate the verbs according to each pronoun. So, when talking Spanish we normally omit the pronoun.

If you use the pronoun in all sentences it wouldn’t be grammatically incorrect, but it sounds a bit weird. It’s redundant.

Let’s look at an example with the verb “querer” (to want):

Yo quiero (I want)
Tu quieres (You want) – You in a singular form
Él/Ella quiere (She/He wants)
Nosotros queremos (We want)
Ustedes quieren (You want) – You in a plural form
Vosotros/as queréis (You want) – Vosotros/as is only used in Spain
Ellos/Ellas quieren (They want)

In Spanish we would say:

  • ¿Quieres un café? (Do you want a coffee?)
  • Queremos ir a la playa mañana. (We want to go tomorrow to the beach)
  • Quiero comprar un regalo para mi hermana. (I want to buy a present for my sister)

See? We don’t use the pronoun because each verb already explains who it is referring to.

Spanish students frequently overuse the pronoun “yo” (I).

So, next time you are having a conversation in Spanish try to be aware whether you are using the pronouns more than you should.

4. Using the wrong gender for articles and adjectives

Contrary to English, in Spanish, the articles and adjectives can be either feminine or masculine.
There are basic rules to define when a word is feminine or masculine. But, since there are also some exceptions, students get frequently confused and mix up the genders.

The only way to get all the articles and adjectives right is by memorizing them.

Practice, and more practice!

5. Mixing up the verb “To be” (Ser or Estar)

One of the most difficult topics for Spanish language learners is the use of the verb “To be”, which in Spanish is divided into two verbs:

“Ser” and “Estar”.

“To be” (ser) or “To be” (estar).

We know it can be tricky since the distinction between those two doesn’t exist in other languages.

What’s the difference between “Ser” and “Estar”?

Putting it in a simple way:

“Ser” is used when describing permanent things, while
“Estar” when describing temporary things.

Make sure you learn the rules for each verb. You don’t want to say “soy aburrido/a” (I’m boring) when you actually mean “estoy aburrido/a” (I’m bored)

  • Soy aburrido. (I am boring.) – I am a boring person in general.
  • Estoy aburrido. (I am bored.) – Right now I feel bored.

6. Using The verb “To be” instead of the verb “To have”

There are some cases where we use the verb “To have” (Tener) instead of the verb “To be” in Spanish.

For many students, it doesn’t make sense, but the best advice we can give you is:

Don’t translate everything literally. Understand the rules each language has and start using them.

It doesn’t need to make sense at first. When you start speaking the language you will see it will make sense.

In English the verb “to be” is used for example when talking about age:

“I am 25 years old.”

But in Spanish, the verb “tener” (to have) is used when talking about age.

To say that you are 25 years old, you would say:

“Tengo 25 años”

This translates literally to “I have 25 years,” hence the common mistake by both English and Spanish speakers in their respective second language.

There are quite a few other Spanish phrases that use the verb “to have” (tener) while their English counterparts use “to be”.

For instance:

  • Tener calor (to be hot)
  • Tener cuidado (to be careful)
  • Tener frío (to be cold)
  • Tener hambre (to be hungry)
  • Tener sed (to be thirsty)
  • Tener miedo de/a (to be afraid of)
  • Tener prisa (to be in a hurry)
  • Tener razón (to be right)
  • Tener sueño (to be sleepy)
  • Tener suerte (to be lucky)

7. Using the adjectives in the wrong order

In English, adjectives come before the noun.

For example:

Kind person
Blue shirt
Long road
Tall man
Rainy day

Whereas in Spanish, adjectives often come after the noun:

Kind person, “Persona amable”
Blue shirt, “Camisa azul”
Long road, “Carretera larga”
Tall man, “Hombre alto”
Rainy day, “Día lluvioso”

The more you read and the more you watch movies; the more you will improve your Spanish. Be attentive to how native Spanish speakers talk, you will improve a lot just by listening.

If you want to learn Spanish as fast as possible, we advise you to do an immersion course in a Spanish speaking country. Our school, Learn More Than Spanish offers intensive courses for all levels.

If you can’t travel soon to Colombia but you are interested in learning Spanish, you can take online Spanish classes with us. You will have highly qualified teachers focus on the skills you want to learn and improve.

Hope to see you soon!

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