top of page

Stop saying “no problema” and start speaking like the natives

5 errores comunes y cómo corregirlos

5 common mistakes and how to avoid them

When we start learning a new language, it’s normal to make mistakes, such as translating words or expressions literally from our mother tongue into Spanish.

Today’s blog will look at some of the most common mistakes language learners make when speaking Spanish.

1. Translating words and expressions literally

As we just mentioned, one of the most frequent mistakes is to translate literally from our mother tongue into the language we are learning. For example, in English, we say “no problem” to say that we are happy to do something or that we are not bothered, which in Spanish would translate to “no problema”. However, this is not the correct expression natives would use; instead, you can say “no hay problema”, “de nada”, or “no te preocupes”.

  • Muchas gracias por tu ayuda, ¡te debo una!

  • No hay problema./De nada.

  • Thank you so much for your help; I owe you one!

  • No problem.

  • Perdona por llegar tarde, he perdido el primer tren.

  • No te preocupes.

  • Sorry for being late. I lost the first train.

  • No worries.

The words poco and pequeño can also be misleading; while poco refers to “a few”, “a bit”, or “a little”, pequeño/a refers to “little” or “small” when talking about size.

For example:

  • Esa es una casa pequeña.

  • That’s a little house.

  • Hay poca gente en la calle.

  • There are few people in the street.

  • Bebo poco alcohol.

  • I drink little alcohol.

  • He estudiado un poco.

  • I've studied a little.

2. The gender of nouns

The gender of nouns in Spanish can be tricky as nouns are classified as either feminine or masculine. In many cases, changing the gender of the word we want to use can change its meaning.

As an example, it’s to mistake el Libro, which means "book”, with"la libra, which means "the pound sterling” or pound as a unit of weight. Also, Libro and Libras can also stand for the first and second person singular of the verb librar, which means "to be off work".

In context:

  • ¿Qué libro me recomiendas?

  • Pues me gusta mucho el libro nuevo de Lucia Etxebarria.

  • Which book do you recommend?

  • Well, I like the new book by Lucia Etxebarria.

  • ¿Cuánto cuesta esta camisa?

  • Cuesta treinta libras.

  • How much is this shirt?

  • It's tIt'sy pounds.

  • Oye, ¿hoy libras (tu) ?

  • No, (yo) libro el sábado.

  • Hey, are you off today?

  • No, I’m off until Saturday.

3. Por or para

Even though both can roughly translate to “for” English, it’s essential to have a clear idea of what we want to express before we choose which one we want to use. We use por if we're going to tell a reason or purpose, means or cause for something, a medium to talk about moments in the day, or regularity, among other uses. Meanwhile, we use para if we want to express direction or aim, the destination of our journey, or the purpose of the finished action.

  • ¿Por qué viajas a Mexico?

  • Por trabajo.

  • Hablé por teléfono con mi abogado.

  • I talked on the phone with my lawyer.

  • Me gusta hacer yoga por la mañana.

  • I like doing yoga in the morning.

  • Estudio español dos veces por semana.

  • I study Spanish twice per week.

  • Lo hago por ti.

  • I will do it for you.

  • Voy a Madrid para trabajar.

  • I’m goI'm to Madrid to work.

  • Cojo el tren para Barcelona a las siete de la tarde.

  • I’m taking the train to Barcelona at seven in the afternoon.

  • Este regalo es para ti.

  • This present is for you.

4. Me gusta or me gusto?

The verb gustar, when it’s used as an opinion verb, can lead to confusion. A common mistake is to say Me gusto or Yo gusto to say we like something instead of the correct form Me gusta (followed by an infinitive verb or singular object) or Me gustan (followed by a plural object). On the other hand, Me gusto means “I like me" or "I like myself”, and Yo gusto means (I'm liked). Me gustó (with an accent) is the past form of Me gusta.

Some examples in context:

  • Me gusta tu camiseta, ¿dónde la compraste?

  • I like your T-shirt, where did you buy it?

  • Me gusta salir a cenar con amigos.

  • I like going out for dinner with friends.

  • Me gustan las películas de acción.

  • I like action movies.

  • Yo gusto a la gente.

  • People like me.

  • Tengo mucha autoestima, me gusto mucho.

  • I have high self-esteem, and I like myself a lot.

  • Me gustó el concierto de ayer.

  • I liked yesterday's concert.

5. Ser or estar

One of the most frequent mistakes is the wrong use of the verbs ser and estar. Although both translates as "to be" in English, they are used in different contexts, and choosing one can heavily affect our message's meaning. While the verb ser is used to talk about physical appearance or personality traits, the verb estar is used to describe feelings or emotions and talk about location. Let's look at some examples of their different uses:

  • Soy alto y rubio. (we are talking about our physical appearance)

  • I'm tall and blonde.

  • Soy aburrido. (we are talking about our personality traits)

  • I'm boring.

  • Estoy aburrido. (we are talking about our emotional state)

  • I'm bored.

  • Estoy en Londres. (we are talking about location)

  • I'm in London.

  • Estoy aquí! (we are talking about location)

  • I'm here!

6. False friends

False friends are the worst enemy of a language student and can often lead us to misunderstandings. Let's look at some of them and how to replace them with the correct term in Spanish.

When we want to express our embarrassment, we say Me da verguenza o Estoy avergonzado/a. We don't say Estoy embarazada since this means "I'm pregnant".

If we want to attend a lecture, conference or event, we use the verb asistir.

  • Este viernes asisto a una conferencia.

  • This Friday I'm attending a conference.

But, if we want to assist someone, we use the verb atender.

  • Tengo que atender a los pacientes.

  • I have to assist the patients.

Another example of deceiving words is the word sensible. While sensible means "sensitive" in Spanish, the English word "sensible" is translated to sensato in Spanish.

  • Soy una persona muy sensible.

  • I'm a very sensitive person.

  • Eso no me parece sensato.

  • I don't think that's sensible.

And you? What's the most challenging part of your Spanish learning journey? Let us know in the comments. ¡Hasta pronto!

- Lea and Queralt.

50 views0 comments


bottom of page