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The 9 Most Common Mistakes in Spanish for Learners

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We know that learning Spanish can be a bit frustrating, especially for native English-speakers. Trying to understand the language’s structure is intimidating to many—but calm down! No matter how many mistakes in Spanish you make along the way, the most important thing is to enjoy the process and learn step-by-step.

Knowing what to look out for will help you improve your Spanish language skills a lot more quickly. In this article, we’ll introduce you to the nine most common mistakes when learning Spanish. We’ll review a list of common mistakes of English speakers in Spanish, from pronunciation and vocabulary, to gender agreement and false friends. At the end, we’ll also cover some funny errors in Spanish that you should avoid at all costs! This guide will help you recognize many of the most common Spanish mistakes, and give you a better idea of how to correct them. 

In addition to this guide, we have a number of activities on SpanishPod101.com that you can use to practice everything you learn in this lesson.

Let’s get started!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Spanish Table of Contents
  1. Pronunciation Mistakes
  2. False Friends and Similar-Sounding Words
  3. Gender and Number
  4. Using Unnecessary Pronouns: You & I
  5. Prepositions
  6. Grammatical Mistakes
  7. Word Order Mistakes
  8. Politeness Level
  9. The Most Common Embarrassing Mistakes
  10. To Sum Up…

Man Studying

1. Pronunciation Mistakes

Spanish pronunciation mistakes are some of the most common errors plaguing foreign learners. There are words and letters that require more forceful vocalization than English speakers are used to, and other words that contain silent letters that Spanish-learners don’t know what to do with.

In this section, we’ll show you some typical Spanish pronunciation mistakes and how to avoid them! 

    → We recommend that you review the Spanish alphabet before jumping into this section.

1 – Use of R, Ñ, J, and H

In Spanish, the sounds for letters like R, Ñ, J, and H have very special characteristics.

For example, a big mistake that many Spanish students make is to not trill the R. When native speakers hear this incorrect pronunciation, it may confuse them. 

Note that we trill the R at the beginning of a word, or the RR when it’s between two vowels. Otherwise, the sound needs to be weak.

Examples:

RROne R at the beginning of a word(Strong sound)One R(Weak sound)
Carro (“Trolley”)Río (“River”)Barato (“Cheap”)
Borrar (“Delete”)Rodilla (“Knee”)Parada (“Stop”)
Perro (“Dog”)Roca (“Rock”)Pera (“Pear”)
Tierra (“Earth”)Remo (“Rowing”)Caricia (“Caress”)

And now a quick note on the other letters:

  • H

    The H in Spanish is usually silent. We’ll talk more about this soon!
  • Ñ

    This letter has a very particular sound that many English-speakers struggle with. It sounds similar to the underlined sound in the words “canyon” and “onion.”
  • J

    The sound of the J is the same as that of the letter G, when the latter is followed by the letters e or i. In Latin American countries, the sound is the same and is very similar to the sound of H in English. But in countries like Spain, there’s a marked difference; for them, the sound of the G tends to occur in the back of the throat.

Teacher Pronunciation

Words with similar sounds:

Words with GWords with J
Geografía (“Geography”)Cerrajería (“Locksmith”)
Religión (“Religion”)Jarra (“Jug”)
Origen (“Origin”)Jirafa (“Giraffe”)
Genio (“Genius”)Caja (“Box”)

2 – How to Pronounce H

You should know that the H in Spanish never makes the English H sound. Here are the basics: 

  • If you see an H accompanied by a C (CH), it will have a sound similar to the CH in “church,” “chocolate,” or “change.”
  • If you see an H without a C, then it’s silent. 

Examples:      

CHH
Cuchillo (“Knife”)Helado (“Ice cream”)
Chino (“Chinese”)Hamburguesa (“Burger”)
Coche (“Car”)Hielo (“Ice”)
Mucho (“A lot”)Cohete (“Rocket”)
Chocolate (“Chocolate”)Cacahuete (“Peanut”)

3 – Pronouncing S and Z in Spain vs. Latin America

The S, C, and  Z

In Spanish from Spain, the C and Z sometimes have the same sound. The rule is simple: when C is accompanied by the letters e or i, and Z with a, o, or u, the pronunciation is done with the tongue in front of the teeth. That is, it emits a slightly more marked sound than that of the S.

Let’s see some examples:

  • Cena (“Dinner”)
  • Zorro (“Fox”)
  • Cielo (“Sky”)

On the other hand, in Latin American Spanish, S, C, and Z have identical pronunciations.

The best way to prevent making a mistake in Spanish here is to familiarize yourself with words that are spelled similarly but have different meanings. In addition, we recommend that you listen to the pronunciation of Spanish from Spain, so that you’ll avoid falling into translation and context errors. 

Similar wordsEnglish translation
Casa / Caza“House” /  “Hunting”
Basar / Bazar“Base on” / “Bazaar”
Abrasar / Abrazar“Burn” / “Hug”

2. False Friends and Similar-Sounding Words

Confused Woman

Several of the common mistakes Spanish-learners make have to do with writing, spelling, and pronunciation. False friends, intonation, and homonymous words frequently trip up new learners, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with these mistakes and their solutions! 

1 – False Friends

The word “Anglicism” may sound familiar to you. This basically refers to the influence that English has had on other languages, including Spanish.

Although this can be a great help to English-speakers, you must be careful! If not, you’ll fall into the trap of false friends.

These are words that look or sound similar to words in English, but have different meanings. Believe it or not, some of the most common mistakes in Spanish are the result of taking false friends at face value.

For example, did you know that the word recordar in Spanish means “remember,” not “record?” Here are some more false friends to look out for:

  • Enviar 
    • “Envy” X
    • “Send” O
  • Éxito 
    • “Exit” X
    • “Success” O 
  • Parada 
    • “Parade” X
    • “Bus stop” O
  • Vaso
    • “Vase” X
    • “Glass” O
  • Suceso 
    • “Success” X
    • “Event” O

2 – Accent and Tones

Accents in Spanish are graphic signs that are written over a letter to indicate the intensity with which that letter should be stressed. During your Spanish studies, you’ll find that several words—even if they’re spelled the same otherwise—take on different meanings depending on whether the accent mark is present or not. 

That said, it’s best to learn how to recognize them in order to avoid embarrassing situations like calling your father “potato” instead of “dad.”

Let’s look at some of the most common Spanish words, with accents and without, with their respective meanings:

SpanishEnglish
Él / El“He” / “The”
Papá / Papa“Father” / “Potato”
¿Por qué? / Porque“Why?” / “Because”
Práctico / Practico“Practical” / “I practice”
Bebé / Bebe“Baby” / “(S)he drinks”
De / Dé“Of” / “Give”
Sí / Si“Yes” / “If”
Esté / Este“Is” / “This”
Está / Esta“I am” (present subjunctive) / “This”
Bañó / Baño“(S)he bathed” / “Bathroom”

3 – Spanish Homonymous Words

More typical Spanish mistakes have to do with homonymous words. The name may sound very technical, but these are simply words that have identical or similar pronunciations, but different meanings. In this case, there are no accent marks to distinguish between them. 

In this category, there are homographs and homophones.

Example:

  • María buscó diferentes citas de autor para su tesis doctoral.
    “María looked for different authors’ quotes for her doctoral thesis.”
  • Tengo una cita romántica esta noche.
    “I have a romantic date tonight.”

Both Spanish sentences use the word cita, but the context is completely different. This can also happen with the following words:

  • Alce
    “Moose”
    OR
    Conjugation of the verb “to pick up”
  • Capital
    The capital of a city
    OR
    Money one has collected over the years

4 – Homophones 

These are words that sound the same, but are spelled differently and have different meanings. You can usually determine which spelling is appropriate based on the context. 

Examples:

  • asta (“stick”) vs. hasta (“still”)
  • grabe (“record”) vs. grave (“serious”)

As we explained previously, Latin Americans and some Spaniards pronounce the letters Z, C, and S exactly the same way. For this reason, the following words are also homophones in those particular regions. In standard Iberian Spanish, however, these words are not homophones.

  • abrasar (“burn”) vs. abrazar (“hug”)
  • Asia (“Asia”) vs. hacia (“towards”)

Question Mark

3. Gender and Number

Other typical Spanish language mistakes that foreign students make involve gender and number. In fact, native Spanish-speakers can easily identify non-native speakers, because these kinds of mistakes are very obvious and Spanish-learners make them all the time.

In Spanish, gender refers to whether a noun is masculine or feminine. For example, una mesa (“a table”) is feminine, while un vaso (“a glass”) is masculine.

Number refers to whether a noun is singular or plural; keep in mind that you must use the appropriate articles based on the number! For example, las mesas (“the tables”) is plural, while la mesa (“the table”) is singular.

How can you know what gender and number a noun is?

In terms of gender, feminine nouns generally end in -a or -e: puerta (“door”) / llave (“key”). On the other hand, masculine nouns generally end with -o: vaso (“glass”) / suelo (“floor”) / baño (“bathroom”). 

A noun’s article will give information on both its gender and number, in most cases. We’ll talk more about this in the following sections. 

1 – Plural vs. Singular (Is vs. Are)

Many students get confused about singular vs. plural nouns and their articles. In particular, the use of es and son (“is” and “are”) trips up new learners. 

To help you avoid Spanish mistakes like this, you should know the difference between a phrase in the plural and another in the singular. 

If a noun has an -S at the end and is also accompanied by son (“are”), it’s plural. On the other hand, if the noun does not carry an -S and is accompanied by es (“is”), it’s singular.

  • Las iglesias son grandes. (“The churches are big.”) O
    Las iglesias es grandes. (“The churches is big.”) X
  • Los edificios son altos. (“The buildings are tall.”) – Plural
  • El edificio es alto. (“The building is tall.”) – Singular

2 – Gender: Masculine vs. Feminine 

Remember: Nouns and their articles are always going to be masculine or feminine. Here’s a chart to help you differentiate between the articles and what they mean:

Singular M.Plural M.Singular F.Plural F.
El / “The”Los / “The”La / “The”Las / “The”
Un / “A”Unos / “Some”Una / “A”Unas / “Some”

Examples: 

  • La chica es muy inteligente. (“The girl is very intelligent.”) O
  • Una chica es muy inteligente. (“A girl is very intelligent.”) X
  •  Mi hermana compró un gran libro. (“My sister bought a great book.”) O
  • Mi hermana compró el gran libro. (“My sister bought the great book.”) X

Now let’s see the difference between singular masculine and feminine articles: 

  • El árbol está floreciendo. NOT La árbol está floreciendo.
    “The tree is flowered.”
  • La puerta está abierta. NOT El puerta está abierto.
    “The door is open.”

Word Exchange

4. Using Unnecessary Pronouns: You & I 

As a general rule, pronouns in English are indispensable. But this is not the case in Spanish. This is largely an advantage for foreign students, as it makes sentences much easier to write and speak.

For example:

  • (Tú) Comes mucho.
    “You eat a lot.”

However, many English-speakers, out of habit, construct their Spanish sentences using pronouns where they’re not needed. 

Of course, this mistake isn’t too serious. The worst that will happen is that native speakers may joke that you speak like a robot or, in more colloquial words, “speak as an Indian.”

Just try to remember that pronouns are generally irrelevant when speaking, since the verbs should already be conjugated to portray who you’re talking about.

  • Yo voy sacar el perro a pasear. (“I’m going to take the dog for a walk.”)
    = Voy a sacar el perro a pasear. (“[I’m] going to take the dog for a walk.”)
  • Tú necesitas descansar más. (“You need to rest more.”)
    = Necesitas descansar más. (“You need to rest more.”)

5. Prepositions 

“I go to your house by dinner with you.” 

Sounds weird, right? 

Maybe you’ve noticed similar mistakes when listening to native Spanish-speakers converse in English. But did you know that the reverse is also true? Many English-speakers use incorrect prepositions when speaking Spanish! 

In this section, we’ll pay special attention to two of the most commonly used prepositions in Spanish: por and para.

When to Use Them

Por is used to explain causation or motivation, while para is used to refer to the purpose of an action.

Many English-speakers struggle to differentiate between these two prepositions, and as a result, create very confusing sentences. 

For example, it’s not correct to say: Voy a tu casa por cenar contigo. Instead, you should say: Voy a tu casa para cenar contigo. (“I go to your house for dinner with you.”) In this case, you’re explaining that you’re going to the house for a specific reason, which is to have dinner.

Examples with por:

  • Vine a Madrid por mi trabajo.
    “I came to Madrid for my work.”
  • Voy de viaje por unos días.
    “I’m going on a trip for a few days.”

Examples with para:

  • Utilizo mi coche para ir a trabajar.
    “I use my car to go to work.”
  • Este regalo es para ti.
    “This gift is for you.”
  • El doctor recetó antibióticos para la infección.
    “The doctor prescribed antibiotics for the infection.”

6. Grammatical Mistakes

Many English-speakers struggle with Spanish grammar. 

To help you avoid making too many grammatical errors, we’re going to leave you some of the most common examples. By internalizing them, you’ll greatly boost your Spanish fluency!

Thinking Girl

Confusing Spanish Verbs: SER vs. ESTAR

If you’ve studied even a little Spanish, you probably know already that there are some aspects of Spanish grammar that are complicated for English-speakers because they don’t exist in English. 

One of them is the difference between ser and estar. In many cases, it can be easy to know which one to use. But there are certain situations where distinguishing between them is more difficult. 

With time and practice, you’ll see yourself making more and more progress, and better understanding these concepts.

Using ser:

Ser is used to describe permanent or long-lasting characteristics/states of being. 

For example:

  • El hombre es alto. (“The man is tall.”)

Using estar:

Estar is used to talk about location or temporary characteristics/states of being. 

For example:

  • Paris está en Francia. (“Paris is in France.”)

More examples:

Incorrect XCorrect OEnglish Sentence
Ella es dormida.                   Ella está dormida.“She is asleep.”        
Mi vecino está amable.  Mi vecino es amable.“My neighbor is kind.”     
La mujer está delgada.   La mujer es delgada. “The woman is thin.”        

“To like” vs. Gustar 

New learners often make mistakes in Spanish when using the verb gustar

Often, when translating the verb gustar into English, we give it the meaning “to like.” However, note that there are marked differences between the English “to like” and the Spanish gustar.

Take this sentence for example: 

  • Me gusta mucho la paella.
    “I like paella very much.”

Here, me gusta really means something along the lines of “it gives me pleasure.” In the example sentence, the paella gives the speaker pleasure, making the speaker the object of the sentence.

The mistake that some learners make is to use the Spanish pronoun yo (“I”) and treat themselves as the subject or doer. So they normally say:

Yo me gusto la paella mucho, which is incorrect. 

If you want to say that you like the paella, you have to omit the pronoun yo and only say: Me gusta la paella.

7. Word Order Mistakes 

English-speakers often make word order mistakes when learning Spanish. This usually happens for two reasons:

1) They directly translate English phrases into Spanish, word for word.

2) They believe that the first noun they hear is always the subject of the sentence.

Let’s see some examples.

  • Adjectives 

By now, you should know that in Spanish, the adjectives usually go after the subject: 

English Sentence       Incorrect Translation         Correct Translation
“That’s a red car.”Ese es un rojo coche.Ese es un coche rojo.
“The white door”La blanca puertaLa puerta blanca
“A large stadium”Un grande estadioUn estadio grande

  • The Effect of Word Order on the Sentence’s Meaning

In Spanish, the meaning of a sentence can be the same even if the word order is changed.

Example: 

  • Sarah le cantó una canción a Marco.
  • A  Marco le cantó una canción Sarah.  

In both sentences, Sarah sang the song. It doesn’t matter that Marco’s name came first in the second sentence.

8. Politeness Level

First things first, let’s talk about what this means in Spain vs. Latin America: In Spain, courtesy is less common than in Latin American countries.

Here’s an example of things you would hear in Spain:

  • ¿Me pone una caña, cuando pueda? (“Can I have a beer when you can?”)
  • ¿Tiene usted la hora? (“Do you have the time?”)

In Latin America, they use more formalities when speaking:

  • Hola, ¿me das una cerveza, por favor? (“Hello, can you give me a beer, please?”)
  • ¿Buenas tardes, me podría indicar esta dirección? (“Good afternoon, could you give me this address?”)

Tú vs. Usted

is used more with family and friends, while usted is used with people who are older than you and strangers. 

  • Speaking to Strangers / Older People

¿Me podría ayudar con esta dirección, please? (“Could you help me with this address, please?”)

  • Speaking to Family / Friends

¿Me dices la dirección? / ¿Dime la dirección? (“Can you tell me this address, please?”)


People Talking

9. The Most Common Embarrassing Mistakes

To end on a lighter note, here are some mistakes often made by Spanish-learners when they mis-speak a phrase. Pay close attention to avoid the potential embarrassment yourself! 

What you think you’re saying:What you’re saying in Spanish (Incorrect form)What you’re really saying:What you should say(Correct form)
“I’m hot.”Estoy caliente.“I have heat.”Tengo calor.
“I’m embarrassed.”Estoy embarazado (a).“I’m pregnant.”Tengo vergüenza.
“I’m excited.”Estoy excitado.“I’m horny.”Estoy emocionado (a).
“I’m 25 years old.”Tengo 25 anos.“I have 25 anuses.”Tengo 25 años.

10. To Sum Up…

In this article, you learned the nine most common Spanish mistakes. There are many others, but this list is a good place to start; by avoiding these issues, you’ll soon be able to speak with confidence. Believe me, you’ll feel great!

On SpanishPod101.com, you can also find lots of video and audio lessons related to this topic. We have everything you need to further your studies and to keep learning Spanish in a fresh and clear manner.

Before you go, let us know in the comments which common Spanish mistakes you’ve made before. Has our article helped clear up any confusion? We look forward to hearing from you!

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