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10 Common Challenges Spanish Speakers Have When Learning English

While English is – supposedly – an easy language to learn (maybe), every native speaker of another language has his or her issues. Today we’re looking at the common mistakes that native Spanish speakers make when trying to learn English.

English learners, take a look – you might discover a mistake you didn’t even know you were making. ESOL teachers, bring this list with you to class. And everybody else, read over these mistakes and be a little understanding when your English-learning friend doesn’t get it quite right on the first try.

1. False Friends (i.e. cognates) —Librero (bookcase) and libreria (bookstore) are often confused with the English library (which in Spanish is, confusingly, biblioteca.) Aprobar (to pass, as in an exam) is often confused with approve, and familiar (having to do with one’s family) is often confused with the English familiar (something known.) There are plenty of funny Spanish learning equivalents, too: Embarazada does not mean embarrassed. But if you say you’re embarazada then you might actually become embarrassed, because you just said you’re pregnant!) So cut a learner some slack the next time they tell you they work as a “scientifico.” The word cientifico means “scientific” and “scientist” in Spanish.

2. Omission of the Subject – In Spanish, the verb tenses change with the subject, so actually saying “I” or “he” or “it” isn’t necessary. So learners sometimes forget that the subject is always necessary in English, leading to sentences like “is always a good idea to eat spinach.” The “it,” because it doesn’t refer to anything in particular, can be easy for a learner to forget.

3. Gender Confusion – Not that kind of gender confusion. While it’s more common for English speaking learners of Spanish to confuse of forget the genders of Spanish nouns, native Spanish speakers often get confused when it comes to words like him, her, because the Spanish pronoun “su” represents both the masculine and the feminine.

4. Order of Adjectives and Nouns – In Spanish, an adjective often comes after the noun, while in English that sentence construction would look like something “He had a dog brown.” So don’t be surprised when native Spanish speakers add the adjective as an afterthought.

5. Literal Translations – A common example occurs when learners use “I am agree” instead of “I agree” because they have too literally translated the sentence “estoy de acuerdo” from Spanish.

6. This/These – Native Spanish speakers often pronounce these two words the same so, in writing, tend to stick with “this,” leaving poor “these” for advanced learners.

7. Make/Do – In Spanish, the verb hacer means both “to make” and “to do.” This leads to sentences like “I make homework” as a native Spanish speaker learns their new language.

8. Pronunciation – Sure there are accent differences, but there are also a few very common pronunciation mistakes Spanish learners of English can make. Some tend to want to add an “e” to the beginning of words that start with s, making for words like “espaces” or “eschools.” Others forget or over-pronounce the “ed” on the ends of words, or have trouble mastering the “th” sound on words like “teeth.” (For fun, try pronouncing “teeth” without the “th” sound. You may not want to do this out loud.)

9. Shortened Contractions – Shortened contractions present another common pronunciation challenge. Native Spanish speakers will often forget to finish a contraction, resulting in “don” for “don’t” or “won” for “won’t.” What might at first sound like an accent difference will become more pronounced (no pun intended!) over time, so native Spanish speakers and their teachers should be on the lookout for this one!

10. Spelling – In Spanish, words are spelled exactly how they sound. They don’t have any of this “silent letter” nonsense found in English, nor do they have words that sound exactly the same but can be spelled three different ways. (We’re looking at you “buy/bye/by”). This can lead to native Spanish speakers trying to simplify English spelling in creative ways!