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If you’re a native English speaker learning Spanish, you’re probably saying to yourself...

If you’re a native English speaker learning Spanish, you’re probably saying to yourself right now “There are plenty more than ten common mistakes…” And while I know from personal experience that that’s true, here are the ten most common. Master these and you’ll be halfway to conversing with taxi drivers in Bogota or that cute museum tour guide in Seville.

<pre>1. Pronouns Galore – In English, a sentence doesn’t make sense if it doesn’t include the pronoun. Something like “petted the dog” is incomplete. In Spanish, on the other hand, the verb form clues listeners in on the pronoun, so actually saying the pronoun just isn’t needed. In fact, using pronouns often sounds old-fashioned or too formal to native listeners. English speakers learning Spanish, forget those yo’s, tú’s and el’s unless you are really trying to emphasize the pronoun! 2. Gender Confusion (Noun Style) – Not that kind of gender confusion. English nouns don’t have a gender, so it’s often confusing when trying to figure out whether an inanimate object is “el” (masculine) or “la” (feminine.) The rule of thumb is that words than end in “a” are feminine while the rest are masculine, but if you rely on that rule then you’ll still be wrong more often than not. For example, words that end in “ma” (with the exception of mamá) are usually masculine despite ending in the letter a. 3. More Gender Confusion (Adjective Style) – Gender in Spanish is so confusing it deserves two entries! Another common mistake when it comes to gender is forgetting that an adjective must agree with the subject it is modifying. For example, la camisa blanco (“the white shirt”) would be incorrect because the adjective (blanco) should agree in gender with the subject (la camisa.) The proper way to describe the table would be to say la camisa blanca. 4. English Adjectives – In English, we say “cold water” or “friendly dog” but in Spanish, those adjectives come after the noun, not before. The correct way to say cold water would be agua fría (literally in English, “water cold.”) It can be tough for native English speakers to remember this “backward” construction. 5. False Friends – There are plenty of cognates between English and Spanish, but some of those cognates are “false friends.” They appear to mean the same thing in both languages, but they actually don’t. For example. Librero in Spanish means bookcase while it’s tempting for English speakers to think that it means library. One of the most embarrassing mistakes you can make is to incorrectly use the word embarazada. English speakers who think that word means “embarrassing” will be embarrassed to realize that it actually means pregnant! 6. Confusing Ser and Estar – What could be so confusing about two verbs that both mean “to be”? Oh yeah, a lot. In general, ser refers to permanent states of being (physical appearance, personality, job, permanent characteristics of an object) while estar refers to more transient states of being (location, how someone feels right now.) But don’t stop learning there, because there are plenty of instances where you will have to choose whether to use ser or estar. Dario on YouTube can get you started: 7. Being Polite – There are plenty of pitfalls when it comes to being polite in Spanish. For example, it can be difficult to determine whether to use the tú form of a verb (informal) or the usted form (formal.) The general rule of thumb is to use usted with people who are older than you or have power over you, but its easy for native English speakers to choose just one verb form and then use it with everyone. This can lead to being too informal and irritating elders or being too formal and earning strange looks from peers. 8. Speaking the Wrong Regional Dialect – To be fair, this is not the fault of the Spanish learner. Generally, they learn the dialect of their teacher. But someone who learned perfect Castillian Spanish in her college classes is going to have a very hard time understanding and making herself understood on the class study abroad trip to Mexico. Spanish is different from country to country and region to region and no matter who prepared you think you are when you arrive, you’ll find differences in pronouns, pronunciation, slang and other aspects of Spanish that you’ll just have to learn on the fly! 9. Pronunciation Errors – Though words in Spanish begin with an “h” the “h” is never pronounced. For example, hombre (man) is pronounced “ohm-bre.” Confusingly, the “j” is pronounced like the “h” in English (as in San Jose.) Meanwhile, the “z” in words like corazón is pronounced like an “s.” Fortunately, it isn’t all difficult! Unlike in English, vowels in Spanish are always pronounced the same way, so once you have memorized the five vowel sounds, you should be good to go! 10. Shying Away from Double Negatives – Double and even triple negatives are common in Spanish, though English speakers tend to shy away from double negatives due to long conditioning. For example, while “I don’t have nothing” is a horrible error in English, the literal Spanish translation, “No tengo nada” is correct. </pre>

What were the most persistent mistakes you made when trying to learn Spanish?

4 years ago

29 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/rspreng

Por versus para, use and non-use of articles, gustar, use of prepositions with verbs. Mostly, listening skills are much more difficult than reading, writing, or speaking. Use of the subjunctive is a whole other issue.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward
Lrtward
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Ser/estar, por/para, pronouns.

Oh, and for some reason ese/esa vs. este/esta.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Yellowfrizbee

Oh my god, same.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/IsaacSoper

How did you drum ese/esa vs este/esta in eventually? Im battling with it atm.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Intrepid
Intrepid
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For some reason it worked for me to think that este/esta has a T in it because it means "This", which starts with a T (never mind that "that" also starts with a T, who knows why that worked for my brain)

Alternately you might like to think the more letters the word has, the closer to you the objects is. i.e. 'that' would usually indicate something further away, while 'this' is usually something close by.

Hope that makes sense...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Yellowfrizbee

Thanks, man. For some reason, this is strangely working for my brain as well. Guess we are just weird!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/nashrambler
nashrambler
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This and these have Ts. That and those - doooos not. Doooos rhymes with female rabbits, and those. Worked for me, after awhile this, like everything else, becomes natural and you don't need the memory aid.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annaannaannaan

the ESEier one is further away (sod's law!).

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Johnny__R

The proper way to describe the table would be to say la camisa blanca.

*shirt

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/AnnaPoot
AnnaPoot
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direct and indirect objects and I still can't get used to repeating the second pronoun within one sentence when referring to the same thing - can't think of a current example but something along the lines of "le" and "a el" when "le" refers to the "a el". (clear as mud?)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward
Lrtward
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Le hablo al chico, perhaps?

All pronouns give me trouble but object pronouns are particularly dicey for some reason. I only recently worked out the lyrics in a song I've been listening to:

Dicen que tienes veneno en la piel
y es que estás hecha de plástico fino.
Dicen que tienes un tacto divino
y quien te toca se queda con él.

It's that final "él" that's giving me fits. I'm pretty sure the stanza means "They say you have poison in your skin, and that you're made of fine plastic. They say you have a divine touch, and whoever touches you sticks with/to you." I think the él refers to el tacto divino, and whoever touches you stays with it (your touch) but why they say él instead of ello, I'm not sure. Anthropomorphism, maybe? But yeah, I feel you.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/dtremenak
dtremenak
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I had trouble with that too, but it's actually pretty easy to explain.

In modern Spanish,

Él means he, OR it with a known masculine antecedent (like ese, este, or acquel)

Ella means she, OR it with a known feminine antecedent (like esa, esta, or acquella)

Ello is used ONLY for unkown-gender or neuter-gender antecedents (like eso, esto, and aquello)

Which one you choose has nothing to do with animate or inanimate objects (unlike English, where all inanimate objects are neuter...in Spanish almost nothing is neuter). Rather, the pronoun selection follows the GRAMMATICAL gender of the antecedent. English-speakers learning Spanish tend to overuse ello by a huge margin...it's a relatively rare word in native speech.

In your case, "él" does refer to "el tacto divino" - it means "it," referring to the masculine-gender inanimate antecedent, "divine touch."

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Lrtward
Lrtward
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THANK YOU! The accent on él was really throwing me. I didn't realize that él could mean "it" with a known antecedent. This is so helpful.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/aemcgonigle

I'll third por vs. para. And knowing which verbs are reflexive and how that changes their meaning.

Also, under #3, don't you mean to describe the "shirt" (rather than table)? :-)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/EriktheSwede

It's been going really well, there were some MINOR issues, but I have a huge experience with Spanish outside of DL cause I have 6 yrs of Spanish grammar jammed in my head, with school,trips,and other things.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Adina_atl

The biggest mistake is being so hung up on making mistakes that you never open your mouth.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrancisKon

I don't quite get it. how would él/ella/usted be dropped if they use the same conjugation? Or does it refer to some random 3rd person when you drop it and usted never drops?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/PopTartTastic

Usted generally stays with the sentence. If one were to say "bebe leche" it wouldn't be assumed that "usted" is the pronoun, but rather "él/ella"

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Etosaurus

I think also that context is a lot more elucidating than we give it credit for. In a given conversation if you're talking about someone, once you refer to them at the beginning it's easy for you to drop the subject because your listener assumes you're talking about the same person. Like...

Mi mamá está aquí. No bebe leche, pero le gusta té mucho. Quiere la pasta.

Since you specified that the current topic is your mom at the beginning, it's not necessary to put "ella" in front of the verbs because we know you're still talking about her. Does that make sense?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/heqamaat
heqamaat
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Honestly right now I think the biggest mistakes come from preposition use since they're words that just don't translate consistently into English and there's so many situations that you can't explain you just have to do it properly.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/megan1505
megan1505
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Le vs. lo, when to use articles, por vs. para...the list goes on. However, these things have gotten better with practice :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sakuyaluigi
sakuyaluigi
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Alright, I was told this by a native Spanish speaker. An easy way to figure why adjectives go behind the nouns. Say someone is on their deathbed. They are telling their family who is going to get the estate. They look you straight in the eye and say, "I want my estate to go...to my....fat....//dead" They died before they could finish! Everyone is fat in that family. To whom does the estate go to??! In Spanish, they would say, "Quiero que mi finca para ir.... a mi.....gato....//dead" They want the estate to go their cat. Everybody is throwing a fit. El gato gordo??!! The fat cat??!! That was how it was explained to me. xD It's a funny way to look at it. It's so you know what you're talking about first, then you describe it, is all. xD

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/LewisElliott

Thanks!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/OnesimusUnbound

The word order when pronouns are used still confuses me.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/barbp123

This was very helpful. Thanks!!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Elgatobandido
Elgatobandido
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I'm still trying to learn Spanish. I have problems with object pronouns, the subjunctive, personal a, ser/estar (but I'm getting better on that one), par and para (but I'm getting a little better on that too), que vs. cual and reflexive verbs. There are probably more I'm forgetting but those are the big ones.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/gfiedor

Ser/estar is the bane of my existence when speaking Spanish

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/sky.walker1234

Muchas gracias!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ohitsdanisa
ohitsdanisa
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Well, for some reasons sometimes I get confused with "caminar" and "correr"....I use them interchangeably ..but I'm working on that :)

4 years ago