5 Mistakes I Still Make in Spanish

After 5 years in this country, you might begin to think that I am fluent, 100% bilingual, and I would thank you for that assumption, but you would be wrong. Sadly. Sadly, I still make mistakes in Spanish, and these mistakes do drive me crazy, because most of the time (not all the time), I know exactly when I’ve made a mistake. Some Spanish native speakers love to correct me, immediately, as though they were doing me a great favor by enlightening me as to how to speak correctly. And I sort of understand that; I get that they are trying to be helpful in a way they know how to be, but usually I realize immediately that I’ve screwed up. That’s why I like writing. Mario’s cousin told me once that she never knew which of was writing to her on Whatsapp (Mario is a luddite and has no esmarfon, so we share mine), because my written Spanish is so good. #humblebrag

Yet there exist those things that still trip me up to this day. What are they?

El agua

Don’t get me started on this one. I get it. I do. Agua (water for the few of you who don’t speak any Spanish) is feminine, but you say “el agua” to avoid the double sound you’d get by say “la agua.”  I have no problem with this. I can say “Pásame el agua” with the best of them. But sometimes, only sometimes, I am speaking so fast that I will say “El agua está bueno, ehhh, buena”! I always correct myself, lest someone get the horrific idea that I do not know water’s gender. Duh, water is a girl. She’s so refreshing and delicious, how could she not be, really?

Cuándo vs. Qué Hora

I know the difference. But in English, when asking about a future event, we might say, “When is it?” to ask what time the event takes place. I do this often, saying “¿Cuándo es?” when what I really mean is “¿Qué hora es?” Most of the time, if I ask the first way, I won’t get an hour. I’ll only get a day or a date. It’s a small, nitpicky thing that I repeatedly do, but again, only when speaking.

Plaza vs. Plazo

I write this down often, but I still get it confused in my head. Why does this one always trip me up? I’ve no idea, but it seems to hold some power over me. Plaza means square, like in Salamanca’s famous Plaza Mayor. No, Madrid’s does not compare. Do not even go there with me!

Salamanca Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor in 2010

But plaza also means “job post, vacancy,” so you might use it to talk about a jop opening you’ve seen. In Spain, this word is used a lot to talk openings to be a funcionario, or a civil servant. It can also mean “position,” as in the “Los soldados están colocados en sus plazas correspondientes.” (The solders are in their spots.)

Plazo means a period/window of time or a deadline or installments of a payment. I know that these two words have entirely different meanings, albeit multiple ones, but I still mix them up often. And this happens whether writing or speaking. Luckily, when I’m writing, I can just hope on Word Reference when I am unsure.

Hace mucho que no …

This is another one where I should know the difference by now, but it’s been mixed up so much in my head that I end up doing circles in my head. I should just avoid using this turn of phrase altogether, but alas, Spaniards love to use this one. “Hace mucho que no te veo.” It’s been a while since I’ve seen you. Easy peasy, right? Wrong. I also seem to try to put the present perfect in there for some reason. I just need to drill this one in my head, because it’s getting ridiculous.

No puedo oírte

Don’t say this one when you can’t hear someone. Literally, it does mean, “I can’t hear you,” but Spanish speakers will say “No te oígo,” I do not hear you. Saying “No puedo oírte” sounds to them like you are incapable of hearing somehow, like you do not have the hearing capacity. I know this, but in the heat of the moment I will often utter “No puedo oír/escuchar/ver” when I mean to say “No oígo/escucho/veo”!

Next time I’ll write about the Spanish skills that I’ve actually pretty much mastered, like that silly subjunctive tense. (Yes, it is possible.)

What mistakes do you make when speaking Spanish?

Related: 10 Language Mistakes Guiris Make and Grammar “Mistakes” Spaniards Make

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9 thoughts on “5 Mistakes I Still Make in Spanish

  1. I lived in Spain for four years and the femenine/masculine still trips me up sometimes. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even care… a table is not a boy or a girl, it’s a table! And don’t even get me started on where there’s a slang and formal word for something and they are in different genders!

    My biggest repeat mistake, though, has to be ti and tú, basically because I learnt Catalan as well and ti doesn’t exist so you always use tú. I know the grammar, but just can’t help but make that mistake when speaking.

  2. Yes! As a Spanish nerd / Spanish teacher I LOVE this post. It’s been 5 years since I studied for a semester in Ecuador, so my mistakes are many and often. I have definitely gotten the same comment from native speakers, though, that my writing is better than my speaking. Word Reference to the rescue!

  3. I have a totally unrelated question. I’m a huge tennis fan and follow the Spanish tennis players. What is the big deal with having a female coach the Davis Cup team. I know you might not follow tennis but just in case you do– Is it cultural?

  4. First off, thankkk youuu for finally clearing up the agua mystery. I always used to wonder silently why people would say that it was “fría” and then write it as masculine. I thought that it was some kind of conspiracy to make my life as confusing as possible. Secondly, I COMPLETELY agree about Salamanca’s plaza- that’s where I fell in love with Spain. And lastly the “hace mucho que no” is apparently one of the most confusing things ever. I understand it but always want to leave out the “no” part for some reason?!

  5. I’ll never forget the error I made during my first week living in Madrid. I stopped an employee at Corte Ingles and, holding postcards in my hand asked :’Donde puedo comprar aseos?’. I meant to ask where can I buy sellos. Ooops! The employee got a good laugh :)

  6. oh boy, I cannot wait for the next post about the subjunctive!! it’s scared me since attempting to learn it years ago….and thanks for enlightening me on el agua. I think I must have learned that but reading it here, it seemed new.

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