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Fernando: Five common beginner Spanish mistakes. Welcome everyone to another All About Spanish lesson. I’m here with JP, hey JP.
JP: Hey Fernando. ¿Cómo estás?
Fernando: Bien gracias. So today we’re going to be discussing five mistakes.
JP: Five mistakes that people who are new to Spanish make when they’re learning.
Fernando: What we want to do is give you five nuggets of advice to help you get over those mental roadblocks when learning Spanish.
JP: You know what? Everybody is going to make mistakes. For goodness sakes, I totally make mistakes all the time when I’m speaking Spanish. But there are a few mistakes that if you think them through you can avoid, I think. Or maybe if you listen to this podcast, you realize you’re making these mistakes, you can get over them. And these are common mistakes that are really grating on people’s ears, especially your Spanish teacher. The first nugget I call crimes against gustar.
Fernando: This is a good one.
JP: Now in English we have the verb “to like” and if I like a cake it is something that I am doing to the cake. I like the cake, I’m liking it.
Fernando: Yes, me gusta el pastel.
JP: Me gusta el pastel. When you say it in Spanish I am not liking the cake right? The cake is doing something to me. The cake is giving pleasure to me. Now we usually translate it as “I like the cake” but when you look really literally and grammatically at the words, “me gusta el pastel” it’s really the cake that’s having an effect on me. Now here’s the deal. A lot of people have learned gustar and some of you have learned that it means “to like.” Now, the translation is “to like” but grammatically it’s more like “to give pleasure.” And the reason I’m telling you you should say “to give pleasure to” is because the grammar is all the same and it forces you to use an indirect object, which is the way you’re going to avoid the mistakes. Now the mistakes are kinda funny because gustar means “to give pleasure” right?
Fernando: Yes
JP: And so when people make mistakes with this verb it can get pretty kinky.
Fernando: In English you say “I like.” In Spanish you won’t say…
JP: Well certainly you can conjugate gustar if you want Fernando but your Spanish teacher doesn’t want to hear it. Gustar means “to give pleasure” so if you say “yo gusto” it means “I give pleasure” to what? Or to whom? We don’t need to know that. And it’s funny because as a teacher my students would always make these mistakes. They want to say “I like beans” and they say “yo me gusto los frijoles.” And I’m like, I don’t know what that means.
Fernando: That’s kinky.
JP: It’s none of my business. “I give pleasure…
Fernando: …to the beans”
JP: Myself.
Fernando: Sorry guys. Weird students, JP.
JP: Something weird, something weird. If you want to say, “I like beans” you would say “beans give pleasure to me.” So you’d say,
Fernando: “Me gustan los frijoles”
JP: Exactly. Me gustan los frijoles. The grammar is, beans give pleasure to me. So folks, I want you to forget everything else you’ve learned about gustar. Forget that it means “to like,” forget the teacher that told you it means “to be pleasing.” Forget all of those things. Gustar means “to give pleasure to” and if you use any other translation, it’s a crime.
Fernando: That’s a pretty good piece of advice JP. What’s the next one?
JP: Well I notice that a lot of people have an /r/ fixation.
Fernando: Rrreally?
JP: Rrrealy. There’s people that can’t do it, there’s people that don’t know how to do it. Actually, I was in China a few years and a lot of my Chinese friends, because this /rr/ doesn’t exist in Chinese, they were freaked out about it. They were like, oh I’ll never learn Spanish, I don’t even want to look at Spanish because it has that crazy /r/ sound. They’re all freaked out about it. And that’s not a reason to be freaked out, is it Fernando? I mean do Spanish speakers freak out if they hear someone not pronouncing the /r/?
Fernando: Absolutely not. I think we find it quite encouraging that people are learning another language, and if it’s Spanish then all the better.
JP: Right, exactly. So for all those people, for all my friends in China who are fixated on that /r/, get over it. It’s your fixation. You can still learn Spanish without pronouncing that /r/ perfectly.
Fernando: Absolutely. I don’t see anything wrong with not being able to pronounce one little letter.
JP: Right, it’s just one little letter right?
Fernando: It really has no bearing on how good or how bad your Spanish is.
JP: That’s true folks. You’re going to find Spanish speakers very tolerant of foreign accents because they’re used to it.
Fernando: Even people that have different Spanish accents, we’re all tolerant.
JP: Another aspect of this /r/ fixation that I want to talk about is that some people learn how to do it, they learn how to trill the /r/, /rr/, and they assume that every /r/ they see is trilled.
Fernando: Not the case.
JP: No, you sound like Italian if you’re doing it too much. So remember, a double /r/ you can trill, an /r/ at the beginning of a word you can trill. But most of the time, when you see a single /r/ in the middle of a word, it’s going to be a single /r/. So for example, the word that means “however”
Fernando: Pero
JP: Pero, /p-e-r-o/. Single /r/ right? Pero. And if you double that /r/
Fernando: Dog, perro.
JP: Perro means dog, right?
Fernando: Yes.
JP: So there you can see it’s actually important that you get the single /r/ versus the double /r/ down straight. So, the second nugget was /r/ fixation. You ready for the third nugget? The third nugget, Fernando I think you can help us with more, is called, “who you callin tú?” You know what I’m talking about?
Fernando: Yeah
JP: Ok so Spanish has a distinction between familiar and formal. If you’re talking to someone familiarly you can use tú. But if you’re in a formal situation you want to use usted. Now as a Spanish teacher I always made sure that my students called me usted.
Fernando: They addressed you as usted.
JP: Exactly, and not tú because that would be a little bit familiar.
Fernando: Yes, you want to draw the line there.
JP: I don’t want anyone to think we’re having inappropriate relationships. So, Fernando maybe you can help us with this. What is it like when people get the formality wrong? Like when people are supposed to use usted and they call you tú instead, how do you feel about that?
Fernando: I feel ok because I am a young person. And more importantly I will understand where this person is coming from if they’re addressing me in tú, if they’re addressing me in a casual manner. Here’s the thing, you want to be respectful to your elders so what you’ll do is address them in the usted manner.
JP: Ok, the formal way, usted.
Fernando: Yeah, just to be on the safe side. After bonding well they’ll tend to tell you to address them in a tú manner. Narcissistic
JP: They will break the formality
Fernando: Yes they will. Hablemonos de tú.
JP: Ok, let’s use the informal right? Let’s use the casual.
Fernando: It kind of takes a load off.
JP: Are you ever embarrassed when people get it wrong? Like maybe you see somebody addressing your parents as tú.
Fernando: We’re not going to crucify you if you don’t get it right. It’s water under the bridge.
JP: I can tell you this though, as a Spanish teacher, my students, God help them if they called me tú.
Fernando: Oh boy, that’s quite scary guys. So, what’s the next one JP?
JP: This one is about word order. And this is a listening comprehension, or sometimes it’s a listening comprehension mistake. In English we’re very dependent on word order. The first noun that we hear is going to be the subject of the sentence, then we’re going to hear a verb, and then the next noun we hear is going to be the object, and that’s just the way it works.
Fernando: I’m sorry, you lost me there.
JP: Well English is all order, order, order. Subject, verb, object. Spanish can swivel those a little bit.
Fernando: We’re a little looser with how we build our sentences.
JP: Sometimes the object comes first, sometimes the subject comes last. Sometimes you don’t hear a subject in the sentence. So let’s give an example Fernando. I can say “Jack read the book to Jill.”
Fernando: Jack le leyó el libro a Jill
JP: In that case you use just the same word order as you do in English. We started with Jack and we ended with Jill, right?
Fernando: Right.
JP: In Spanish you can switch that around so if I say Fernando, who did he read it to?
Fernando: a Jill. A Jill le leyó el libro Jack.
JP: Oh, ok, A Jill le leyó el libro Jack. In that case it still means Jack read the book to Jill, but Jill came first in the sentence.
Fernando: Exactly.
JP: Now, Fernando, you don’t know this but some of my students would just see Jill at the beginning of the sentence and just assume Jill’s doing the reading.
Fernando: That’s not the case.
JP: No, that’s not the case.
Fernando: I think you have to figure out where the verb is and who it’s addressing, regardless of how it’s structured, where Jill is, where Jack is in the sentence.
JP: Yeah so order is not going to help you in Spanish.
Fernando: It’s just going to mess you up.
JP: So the nugget here is to follow the verb because the order is not going to help you like it does in English.
Fernando: And there’s one last nugget.
JP: Alright this one last nugget is very easy and it regards pronunciation.
Fernando: Shhhhhhh, silence.
JP: Silence, it’s all about the silent /h/ ladies and gentlemen. When you see an /h/ at the beginning of a word, don’t pronounce it. For goodness sakes, don’t pronounce that /h/. Let’s give them a word with an /h/, Fernando.
Fernando: Hacienda.
JP: Ok, hacienda, right?
Fernando: Yes.
JP: Right, we’re not going to say hacienda. Ok, it’s /h-a-c/ hacienda. Oh, how about that question, what time is it?
Fernando: ¿Qué hora es?
JP: ¿Qué hora es? Now that word “hora” starts with an /h/ right? But did we hear any /h/ sound?
Fernando: I don’t think so.
JP: No! Because /h/ is silent. /h/ is silent in Spanish, don’t pronounce that /h/. You will never see an /h/ and go [hhh]
Fernando: Never. Now, of course if it’s next to a /c/, then you’ve got the
JP: You’ve got the /ch/ sound right? [ch] [ch]. Alright, /c-h/ that’s different, but plain /h/? Forget it. It’s silent.
Fernando: No pronouncing the /h/ ladies and gentlemen. JP, these are great nuggets of wisdom.
JP: You know what, I’m chock-full of them, Fernando.
Fernando: Thank you so much JP. Listeners, thank you for tuning in and we will see you very soon. Thanks JP, see ya.
JP: See ya, hasta luego.
Fernando: Hasta luego.