Spanish is an easy language, right? Just ask your classmates from your high school Spanish 1 class — or ask an English-speaking tourist who has been on several package holidays to the Costa del Sol. They will tell you, “¡Sí!” Although it is true that gaining basic knowledge of the language is not as difficult as say, learning Russian, but to get beyond a basic ‘survival’ level takes more than just a few secondary school classes and vacation time in country. On that journey to fluency, as an American, you’re definitely going to come across some rough spots. In today’s post we’re going to discuss what some of those may be and how to avoid making their corresponding errors. Here you are 12 common errors americans make in Spanish.
Pronunciation in Spanish
The first item we’re going to talk about is none other than pronunciation. Naturally, speaking any foreign language is difficult due to the fact that the phonemes used are not exactly the same; also, there are inevitably sounds that do not exist in the foreign speaker’s native language, which brings us to our first mistake:
1. Rolling the ‘R’
Perhaps the most difficult sound to make and control for English speakers, in Spanish the ‘R’s are pronounced by rolling the tongue. To do so properly isn’t achieved overnight, but make the effort! Only through practice will this become more natural. Keep in mind, however, the difference between the single ‘R’ and double ‘R’, the latter being pronounced stronger than the former: pero and perro, for example are two different words.
2. Mind your ‘T’s
Another difficult sound for English speakers is the ‘T’ in Spanish. Be aware that this sound is pronounced a bit less forceful in English; the /t/ sound in Spanish is more similar to how Americans would pronounce the ‘T’ in ‘it’ than the ‘T’ in ‘television’.
3. Catching your Zzzz’s
Keep in mind that there is no /z/ sound in Spanish — a phoneme which may become intrusive in a native English speaker’s accent. This may particularly happen when saying words such as exam and existir: the ‘X’ is to be pronounced as /k/+/s/ (although many a madrileño will simply make an /s/ sound).
Confusing verbs and words
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, the verbs in Spanish are very complicated to conjugate. Beyond that, however, there are several verbs which tend to cause a bit of confusion for English speakers.
In Spanish there are (at least) three verbs related to the concept of ‘support’ in English: soportar, apoyar, and mantener. The verb soportar is a ‘false friend’ and actually means ‘to put up with’ or ‘tolerate’, thus the meaning is not what it appears to be. On the other hand, apoyar does mean ‘support’, but if you are referring to financially supporting someone (i.e. paying for their food, clothing, and shelter) the correct verb in Spanish is mantener.
Another cause of confusion, remember that mover(se) refers to movement (i.e. your body, an object, and so on) but if you want to say ‘move’ meaning to change residence you must use the ver mudar(se).
A very common error, keep in mind that in order to say ‘realize’ the proper expression is darse cuenta; realizar means ‘to carry out’ or ‘to do’, more akin to the concept in English of ‘realizing a dream or a vision’.
In Spanish there are two different verbs that mean ‘remember’: acordarse and recordar. Despite the meaning being the same, the grammar is slightly different — the former is reflexive and the latter is not. [Recordar also means ‘remind’]
8. The Preposition Por vs Para
A great cause of confusion in any language is when to use the prepositions. In Spanish, perhaps the one that gives Americans the most trouble is por.
Unfortunately, learning the difference between por and para is matter of studying a list of grammar rules, so you’ll just have to do it the hard way.
9. The Preposition Por vs Durante
In Spain, when referring to periods of time that something lasted, the correct preposition to use is durante, not por like as in other Spanish-speaking countries.
10. In the morning…
Because the preposition ‘in’ is used in English for such expressions, Americans tend to say en la mañana/tarde/noche/madrugada instead of por, which is correct option.
Even if it’s just because the of the song, the word ‘respect’ is easy to spell and use in English. In Spanish, however, when talking about the concept of respecting someone, the word respeto is used. When saying ‘regarding’ the expression is con respecto a — R-E-S-P-E-C-T-O.
Although it looks the same, suceso does not mean ‘success’. The Spanish word is éxito; ‘to be successful’ = tener éxito.
Practice Makes Perfect
Remember that learning Spanish is not as easy as people may think, but the more effort you put in, the better the outcome will be. Hopefully this list will give you a heads up and help correct some potential mistakes even before they occur. However, keep in mind that practice makes perfect!