10 more common errors Spanish speakers make in English

Following on from our previous article, here are another 10 common errors Spanish speakers make in English.

Common errors Spanish speakers make in English:

1. Switching he/she and his/her

mistakeOne of the most common errors Spanish speakers make in English is to mix up he and she. This can really confuse the listener, especially if someone is telling a story involving a man and a woman! The same is true with his and her. In English, which doesn’t have masculine/feminine grammatical gender, the pronoun agrees with the possessor. Here’s a little story for your students to work through to help them get the hang of it.

The teacher had Jenny’s book and Tom’s book. By mistake, she gave Jenny Tom’s book and Tom Jenny’s book. When Jenny realised she had his book and Tom realised he had her book, they swapped them. Now Jenny has her book and Tom has his.

2. Avoiding phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are notoriously difficult for learners of English, but the ability to understand and use them is key to any degree of fluency in the language. However, Spanish speakers tend to avoid them when there is a synonym or near synonym that derives from Latin: e.g. tolerate for put up with or investigate for look into. This can often make their speech sound stilted or over formal.

3. Know/get to know/know how to/meet etc.

The various uses of the two Spanish verbs saber and conocer are quite distinct, but Spanish speakers tend to translate both of them simply as ‘know’. Sometimes, this is indeed the best translation:

No la conozco muy bien. > I don’t know her very well.

Sé que hacer. > I know what to do.

However, often a different translation is required:

Conocí a Juan en una fiesta. > I met Juan at a party.

Me gustaría conocer el norte de Espana. > I’d like to get to know the north of Spain.

¿Sabes conducir? > Do you know how to drive?

4. Avoiding modal verbs

Modal verbs, with their wide range of meaning and nuance, can be tricky for Spanish-speaking learners of English, especially certain uses of would and might. Learners often avoid them, preferring alternative expressions which, although correct, can often sound unnatural to native ears; for example, possibly will/won’t instead of might/might not:

‘I will possibly go to the party.’ Better: ‘I might go to the party.’

Another example is would for past habit. Spanish speakers often avoid this altogether, relying solely on used to instead. It’s much more common and natural in English to start talking about the past with used to and then switch to would.

‘My family used to go to camping every summer. I used to feel really excited as we set off. We used to sing songs in the car as we drove to the campsite…’. Better: ‘My family used to go camping every summer. I would feel really excited as we set off. We would sing songs…’

5. Overuse of ‘will’ for future expressions

There are many ways to talk about the future in English, and the choice of which structure to use usually depends not on how far ahead the event is taking place but on what the speaker is doing when they speak: i.e. making a prediction, talking about a plans or a decision, reading a timetable etc. However, Spanish speakers tend to use will indiscriminately. It’s very unnatural to use it to talk about things that have been decided and arranged. The present continuous (or going to) should be used instead, e.g.

John and Sally are getting married next August.

6. Using the wrong preposition

Given that Spanish en can be translated by in, at and on Spanish speakers often use the wrong preposition:

El libro está en la mesa. The book is on the table.

Fui a Italia en julio. I went to Italy in July.

Quedemos en tu casa. Let’s meet at your place.

It’s important to learn prepositions with the words they go with as part of a phrase (on the table/in July/at my/your/his/her place) in order to avoid this kind of mistake.

Although it’s unlikely in most cases that using the wrong preposition will confuse the listener, there are case when changing the preposition changes the meaning. For example:

The teacher shouted to the boy (to get his attention).

The teacher shouted at the boy (because he was angry with him).

7. Repeating the main verb


Here’s a typical classroom exchange with a low level Spanish learner of English.

Teacher: Do you like tennis?
Student: Yes, I like. Do you like?

It’s a common error to repeat the main verb, whereas native English avoids this by using the auxiliary verb ‘do’. Here’s an example of a natural exchange:

A: Do you like tennis?
B: I don’t, but my brother does. Do you?
A: I do, yes. I love it.

8. Overpronunciation of ‘h’

Spanish speakers often pronounce the English h sound as a Spanish j, especially the beginning of a word. The English sound is much softer than the Spanish. A good way to practice is with the following ‘tongue twister’:

Horrible Henry Hunt, who has a hundred happy horses, has a huge house in Hampshire.

9. Adding an unnecessary ‘e’

Another of the most common errors Spanish speakers make in English pronunciation is a tendency to insert an ‘e’ sound before words beginning with ‘s’ plus a consonant, so that strange becomes e-strange and Spain becomes e-Spain. Here’s another silly ‘tongue twister’ to practice the correct pronunciation:

Steve Spears gets stressed studying in school but he stops stressing out when he starts doing sports.

10. Adjective position

In general, Spanish adjectives go after the noun they qualify (un coche rojo). The opposite is true in English, where adjectives always precede the noun (a red car). This can lead to mistakes, especially by low-level learners. Sometimes the position of the adjective in Spanish changes the meaning, and a different word is necessary in English:

Un gran hombre – a great man

Un hombre grande – a big man

More info: ELT Argentina – ELT Chile – ELT Spain & Portugal – ELT Uruguay & Paraguay

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