What to avoid when learning Spanish – The 10 most common student mistakes

This blog was written by Camino Barcelona.

 

Do you think you know the most common mistakes that students make when learning Spanish? And, more importantly, are you making them yourself?

 

Learning another language is tricky and you are bound to make mistakes however, there are a few that everyone seems to stumble over at least once. With the expertise of our native Spanish teachers, we have compiled a list of the most common mistakes that students make when learning Spanish along with some tips about how you might avoid them yourself! 

The 10 most common student mistakes

1. La Problema

When creating sentences in Spanish the prepositions and adjectives must agree with the gender of the noun. For example, the black pen = el bolígrafo negro where the adjective (negro) is also in its masculine form. However, like with most linguistic rules there are some exceptions! One of the most common mistakes that students make with gender agreement is with 'a problem'. This is because in Spanish a problem = el problema which, although it ends in an 'a', is actually a masculine word and therefore needs the masculine agreements - for example, a small problem = un problema pequeño.

2. ¿Dónde es el baño?

How many times have you had to ask where something or someone is when speaking Spanish? I would imagine a fair few! The question is, when asking where something is in Spanish which of the options for ‘is’ (to be) do you use; estar, ser, or haber? Luckily there is a simple rule that applies here: if you are discussing where something is located then you always use the verb estar. For example, if you wanted to ask where the bathroom is you would need to say dónde está el baño rather than dónde es el baño or dónde hay el baño.

3. Me llamo es..

When introducing yourself in Spanish you have a few options to choose from; you can use the verb llamarse (me llamo.....), you can say mi nombre es...., or you can say soy..... Llamarse is the favoured option that most students tend to go for and is also the option that is taught most frequently in language schools. However! Many students seem to forget that llamarse is a verb and so does not need another verb to accompany it, this leads to the invention of me llamo es. To avoid making this classic mistake when using llamarse, remember that it is a verb all by itself, just be sure to conjugate it correctly! Though it is now commonly known as a traditional Spanish dish, the Paella originates from Valencia, inheriting the name off of the Latin word patella meaning frying pan.

4. Estoy curioso/a

The phrase estoy curioso/a does not exist in Spanish! If we want to use the adjective curioso we need to use the verb ser - for example, that is curious = es curioso. If we are talking about ourselves or someone else and would like to say that we are curious then the verb changes to tener - for example I am curious = tengo curiosidad (literally translates to I have curiosity).

5. Por or Para?

The confusion around whether to use por or para in a sentence has haunted Spanish students since they started learning the language, I have even spoken to native Spanish speakers who were unsure on the difference! To try and avoid the confusion between por and para you should try to reframe their definitions. Normally por and para are translated to 'for' however a more helpful way to translate them so you can decide which one to use is: por = due to and para = in order to. For example, someone asks you why you are going to your friend's house, and you have two responses: you are going because your friend asked you to or you are going because you would like to catch up. The first response requires the use of por as you are going to your friend's house due to the fact that they invited you - voy a casa de mis amigos por mi amigo. However for the second response you use para as you are going to your friend's house in order to catch up - me voy a casa de mis amigos para ponerme al día con ellos.

6. Un otro

When talking about 'another' in Spanish many students naturally say un otro as it uses the same logic as in english - another, un otro. However, this phrase does not exist in Spanish - they simply say otro with no preposition in front. For example, I have another brother is tengo otro hermano not tengo un otro hermano.

7. Which or what? Qué or Cuál?

Which and what can be confusing in Spanish as, although there appears to be direct translations - what = qué and which = cuál - it does not always work like this. In English, there are different ways to ask the same question, for example, what is your favourite subject? and which subject is your favourite? ask the same thing in different ways. The same is true of Spanish. There are two tricks that might help you when trying to choose between qué and cuál; The first is that when you are using a noun you always use qué, for example, what/which book? translates to que libro?. The second is that cuál is used when there is more than one potential answer, for example, what is your name? = cuál es tu nombre?

8. Me duele mi cabeza

In Spanish we do not use possessives when talking about the parts of the body as we do in English. For example, if you are talking about the fact that you have a headache then in English you would say 'my head hurts' where 'my' is the possessive, however in Spanish, they do not say me duele mi cabeza, they say me duele la cabeza where 'la' replaces 'mi' and dolorse is reflexive.

9. Realizo que....

The phrase 'I realized that' is often mistranslated by students as the verb realizar is a false friend - it does not mean I realized! Realizar = to carry out, for example, the coder carried out a diagnostic to find the problem = el codificador realizó un diagnóstico para encontrar el problema. If you are trying to talk about realization in Spanish then the correct phrase to use is darse cuenta, for example, I realized that I forgot my book = me di cuenta de que había olvidado mi libro.

10. Pronunciation of the letter H

Spanish is said to be an easy language to learn as it is mostly phonetic - you can just pronounce words as they are written! However, this is not the case with the letter H, in fact it is not pronounced at all! If you are saying words that have the letter H in it, such as ahora or horario then you drop the H to say the word - ahora is said a-ora and horario is said -orario.

So, there you have it, the 10 most common mistakes that students make when learning Spanish according to our seasoned Spanish teachers right here at Camino Barcelona. If you make sure to avoid these common mistakes, then you will be well on your way to achieving your Spanish speaking goals!

 

A special thanks to Camino Barcelona!

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