If you're like most people who are learning a new language, you don't want to sound like an idiot. Making mistakes is a normal and important part of learning any language (even the one you grew up with), but most likely you don't want to make some of the easily avoidable mistakes that can make you sound less intelligent than you are.
Here are 10 common mistakes that English speakers make when they are learning Spanish. They aren't necessarily the most common errors, but they are ones that should be carefully avoided if you hope to get beyond a beginner's level.
- 1. Assuming that Spanish words that look like English words mean the same thing: Words that have the same or similar form in both languages are known as cognates. Because Spanish and English share a large vocabulary, more often than not words that are alike in both languages have similar meanings. But there are plenty of exceptions, and it's a good idea to learn the common false cognates (also known as false friends) and partial cognates. For example, embarazada means "pregnant" rather than "embarrassed," and a violador usually is a rapist, not someone who merely committed a traffic infraction.
- 2. Not learning when to use articles (un, una, el, la, los, las): 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.
- 3. Ignoring proper pronunciation: 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 b and v sound different from each other (the sounds are identical in Spanish), and failing to trill the r.
- 4. Using pronouns unnecessarily: In 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 (which in English often would be a pronoun) can and usually should be omitted. It wouldn't be grammatically incorrect to include the pronoun, but it can sound clunky or give it unnecessary attention.
- 5. Not using prepositions properly: Prepositions can be notoriously challenging. It can be helpful to think about the purpose of the prepositions as you learn them, rather than their translations. This will help you avoid mistakes such as pienso acerca de ti for "I'm thinking about you" instead of pienso en ti.
- 6. Always following English sentence order: Most of them time you can follow English sentence order (except for usually putting adjectives after the nouns they modify) and be understood. But, as you learn, pay attention to the many times where the subject is placed after the verb. 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.
- 7. Translating idioms word for word: Both languages have their share of idioms, phrases whose meanings cannot readily be determined from the meanings of the individual words. Some idioms translate exactly (for example, bajo control means "under control"), but many don't. For example, en el acto means "on the spot." Translated word for word and you'll end up with "in the act"and en el sitio both of which are incorrect.
- 8. Not learning the subjunctive: In English, rarely use the subjunctive. But the subjunctive can't be avoided in Spanish if you wish to do more than state simple facts and ask simple questions.
- 9. Assuming that the textbook (or this article) is always correct: Even the most educated people don't always talk according to the rules. Although speaking Spanish according to the rules will almost always be understood, it can lack the texture and sincerity of Spanish as it really is spoken. Once you feel comfortable using the language, feel free to imitate the Spanish you hear in real life.
- 10. Being afraid to make mistakes: Mistakes are inevitable with learning, and the worst mistake you could make would be to be scared of using what you know. Remember that no matter how many mistakes you make, wherever you go in the Spanish-speaking world your sincere attempts to learn the language will almost always be appreciated.
If you are in a hurry or wish to learn Spanish as fast as possible then the secret to success is to do an immersion in a Spanish speaking country while taking a Residential Intensive Spanish course. In Cervantes EI (Located in Malaga, Spain) we offer Intensive and Super Intensive courses for all levels that start every Monday. Additionally, we can offer you accommodation with one of our Host Families, with our Course + Accommodation package that constitutes the ideal formula to learn Spanish at maximum speed and quality. In this way, even with short stays such as 2 weeks, you will achieve large improvements that will surprise yourself and also your family and friends.
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