We all mistakes. We definitely all make mistakes when learning a foreign language. (Heck, we even make mistakes in our own language! Mario loves to point out when this happens to me in English.) These mistakes aren’t anything to be ashamed of; indeed, they are natural and fun ways to learn—if you have the right attitude! When I first got to Spain, I made a ton of mistakes. I swear, every other word that came out of my mouth was wrong! I’ve come a long way since I wrote on my Facebook wall that I was incapable of speaking Spanish properly.
Guiris make a lot of mistakes in Spanish. (I’m including myself among them!) This list is far from comprehensive; it’s just what first came to my mind. What sort of things do guiris like myself do wrong?
1. … conjugate verbs incorrectly.
This is the simplest mistake (if a mistake can be called simple) to make in Spanish. Spanish has six different conjugations and approximately a kazillion tenses. Some verbs like, andar and conducir still trip me up in the preterite if I’m speaking fast and not thinking!
2. … confuse the feminine and the masculine.
Words in Spanish can (and do) change meaning based on gender! There’s a difference between:
- El capital (money) and la capital (the capital city)
- El cura (the priest) and la cura (the cure)
- El corte (the cut, blade) and la corte (court of law)
- El papa (the pope) and la papa (potato, in some parts of Spain and Latin America)
- El tema (the theme) and la tema (obsession)
- El final (end) and la final (championship game in a tournament)
3. … use possessive adjectives too frequently.
Children don’t say “I washed my hands in Spanish,” they say, “I washed myself the hands.” Don’t talk about “mi bolso,” talk about “el bolso.” Don’t say “Puse mis pantalones,” say “Me puse los pantalones.” It’s not “¡Abre tus ojos!”; it’s “¡Abre los ojos!”
4. … mix up por and para.
Ah, the headaches this used to give me! Por and para were the bane of my existence in college. I thought I would never get it!
5. … translate prepositions too literally.
In Spanish, you dream with something (sueño con …), not about it. You think in something (pienso en …), not about it. Prepositions do not always translate literally! But this can lead to some funny sentences.
6. … are fooled by false friends (false cognates).
I talked about some of my favorites in this post. But remember, realizar does not mean “to realize” in the sense of “to become fully aware of something.”
7. … think all words ending in –a are feminine.
They aren’t. Check out el día, el mapa, el idioma, el problema, el sofá, el tanga (hahaha). Likewise, not all words ending in –o are masculine: la modelo, la mano, la bici, la foto, la radio.
8. … use pronouns when they’re not needed.
I’ll just use one example: “Busco para/por un trabajo.” No, just no.
9. … don’t pronounce vowels well.
I’ve learned that Spaniards make fun of our accents by making an –o sound into an –ou sound. Thus, “Yo soy americano” becomes “You soy americanou.” Spanish vowels are short and very distinct.
10. … confuse ser and estar.
I know: this is a pretty basic one. But it’s a bit more complicated than it seems! For instance, you wouldn’t say, “¿Dónde está la fiesta?”; you’d say, “¿Dónde es la fiesta?” You use ser to tell where an event is taking a place—“El concierto es en el colegio.”