There’s no path to fluency in a second language that does not involve making lots and lots of mistakes, but as a teacher it’s worth knowing why your students might be making some of the same ones over and over. Here are 10 common errors Spanish learners of English tend to make.
- Possessive adjectives
Given that Spanish su, as in su libro can mean both ‘his book’ and ‘her book’, depending on the context, and that all Spanish nouns have either feminine or masculine gender, it’s little wonder that Spanish speakers often mix up his and her. Combined with a tendency to mix up he and she as well, this can lead to some very confusing anecdotes being told, in which you’re not sure if it’s men, women or both being talked about. It’s worth drilling the difference again and again.
- Dropping the subject
Is wrong to leave the subject out like this in English. Spanish verb endings often render the subject redundant so they are usually dropped, except for emphasis or to avoid ambiguity, but English grammar requires that the subject be stated.
Where English-speaking learners of Spanish have trouble with the ser/estar distinction, Spanish learners of English often muddle up make and do. The best way to encourage your students to learn them correctly is as collocations – ‘make an effort’, ‘do one’s best’ etc. Have them dedicate a page in their notebooks to these two important verbs, divided into two columns where they can note new collocations as they encounter them.
- False friends
Common errors with false friends can trip learners up in either direction. Some of the more comically dangerous ones are:
- embarazada – not embarrassed but pregnant
- molestar – not molest but bother
- bombero – not bomber but firefighter
- preservativo – not preservative but condom
You can find more here.
In Spanish la gente is singular. Sentences such as ‘the people here is very friendly’ sound jarring to English ears, but it’s a common mistake. Make sure your students get it right early on as it’s one of those common errors that can fossilise.
- Third person ‘s’
Spanish is a highly inflected language. By contrast, English has hardly any inflections. You would think then that Spanish learners could cope with the few that there are, but the third person ‘s’ of the present simple (he plays, he doesn’t play) often gives them trouble. This is probably because it actually carries no meaning, but also perhaps because in Spanish it’s the second person that is inflected with ‘s’ – haces (you do), vienes (you come). However, odd as it sounds to native ears, it’s best not to worry too much about it. With gentle correction and repeated exposure most learners get the hang of it eventually.
- This/these and that/those
Whereas all Spanish adjectives can be singular and plural, the only two in English that can are the demonstrative adjectives this and that; for this reason Spanish speakers often forget to use the plural. It doesn’t help that ‘this’ and ‘these’ sound similar, so it’s worth drilling the difference and doing some simple practice exercises even at higher levels.
- “I have 21 years…”
“… to do what?” you might ask. This is one of the numerous cases where Spanish uses tener (to have) plus a noun where English uses to be plus an adjective. Other examples are:
- tener sed – to be thirsty
- tener hambre – to be hungry
- tener miedo – to be scared
- tener sueño – to be sleepy
As with make and do, have your students keep a dedicated page in their notebook for these collocations. It helps to learn and remember them if they are grouped together for review. You can find more here.
If you lose something in English, it means you can’t find it, so it sounds very strange when Spanish speakers say they ‘lost the bus’ or ‘lost the train’ – perhaps they’ll find them down
the back of the sofa! Again, teach the correct collocations miss the bus/train/flight to avoid such common errors from the outset.
- I am agree
Where Spanish uses the equivalent of ‘to be of accord with someone’, English uses the straightforward verbs to agree and to disagree. If one of your students keeps telling you ‘I am agree’, hammer it out of them by explaining, as a joke, that ‘a gree’ is a smelly green monster that feeds on bad grammar and gets bigger with every mistake.