Mistakes are not the end of the world. Being understood will always be more important than anything else. However, as an ESL teacher and native Spanish speaker myself, I know how frustrating it can be to constantly make the same mistakes in English.
This is why, today I not only want to tell you about the 5 most common mistakes Spanish speakers make in English but also how you can use logic and the structure of each language to fix these mistakes.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. Don’t all learners of English make the same mistakes? The answer is.. not exactly. Depending on what your first language is you will have the tendency to make different “mistakes”. These mistakes, like I mentioned before, only come from the structure of your native language and the sounds you are accustomed to producing.
With this in mind, the goal is to internalize the structure and sounds of English. As you will see, all these error patterns have in common that the structure and phonetic sounds of Spanish get in the way.
1. Adding an E to words beginning with S:
This is a phonetic error ESL students are initially completely unaware of. The reason for this is that starting a word with an S sound followed by a consonant is completely unnatural to Spanish. Moreover, consonant and consonant clusters in Spanish are always accompanied by a vowel sound.
So, when you want to say a word such as “student”, it makes perfect sense to try and put an “e” before the S, and make the consonant-vowel combo Spanish is known for. As a result, you will end up saying things like “Eschool”, “Estreet” and “Escore”.
How to fix this:
First, being aware of this mispronunciation will help on its own. To practice the correct pronunciation, try isolating sounds first. Pronounce only the S sound (similar to the sound you would make when asking someone to be quiet Ssssss). Stretch this sound and exaggerate the sound first. Simply make the S noise(Sssss Ssssss). Then say the rest of the word with a little pause in between. Ssssss-top, Sssss-chool, Ssssss-core.
Practice this on your own as often as possible. Drill the sound.
Then, once you are comfortable saying those two sounds together, work on making the S sound shorter and on closing the gap between the S sound and the rest of the word.
Before you know it, you will be sssspectacular at this! (sorry, I had to!)
2. Saying Your instead of His/Her:
To understand this, first, we need to talk about possessive adjectives in both English and Spanish. Possessive adjectives are particule words that indicate ownership, that something belongs to someone. For example: there’s a difference between saying “A computer” and “My computer”. My is the possessive adjective that indicates this is not just any computer, it’s my computer.
Now, in English, possessive adjectives change according to gender. If the person who owns something is she then the possessive adjective will be Her, as in Her computer. If the person is he then it would be His.
Now, it’s not uncommon for Spanish speakers to change His and Her for Your (which is the possessive adjective of You). And the reason for this is that in Spanish, even though gender is ever present in this language, in the case of possessive adjectives it does not matter. Take a look at the chart below. Notice how “su” is the singular possessive adjective for almost all subjects in Spanish. They do not change for feminine and masculine. Even though they do change with either singular and plural.
I believe that the mistake of saying Your when you need to say His or Her, comes from mistakenly confusing Your with Su. And since Su is used with so many subjects, this tendency, again, makes a lot of sense.
How to fix it:
There’s no easy fix for this one. If you are in a class or talking to a good friend, they will probably correct you. However, you can start by making the mental connection between You and Your. Just remind yourself, they belong together. Every time you say Your, you are basically referring to the person you are speaking to. Always!
Let’s look at this scenario: You are talking to a friend about someone else’s dog and the person is a she. If you want to say “Su perro es muy lindo” (Her dog is so cute), you can’t say “Your dog is very cute” or you would be referring to your friend’s dog and the other person’s pet.
So just remember: You → Your
3. “I am agree”:
When debating or talking about a topic, it is common to hear Spanish speakers say “I am agree” instead of “I agree” to express that they have the same point of view. Now, this is not just a random mistake. The reason for this is a fundamental difference between English and Spanish when it comes to agreeing or disagreeing.
In Spanish, we use the verb estar (to be) + the phrase de acuerdo. You are basically saying “I am in agreement”. On the contrary, English does not use the verb to be to express this because English has an action verb that indicates agreement and that is the verb “to agree”.
That means you do not need to use anything to translate the verb estar in Spanish. You simply don’t need it. Instead, you will say “I agree” (subject + verb).
How to fix this:
This is a case when translating in your head just does not help. Memorize the two words “I agree” and do not try to make it make sense with the Spanish “estoy de acuerdo”. It will take time at first. At the beginning, you will probably first say I am agree and either correct yourself or be corrected. But with time, you will internalize this and leave this mistake in the past.
Another good idea, it’s to say this to yourself whenever you are watching the news or listening to a podcast or interview and you coincide with someone’s point of view, say to yourself: I agree.
4. People is:
I remember this clearly. I had an English teacher from Uruguay when I was younger who would constantly correct me whenever I would say People is… But, why was I making this mistake?
There are two reasons for this:
- People is the plural form of person. Which means people in English is what is known as an irregular plural noun. This means this word IS plural even though it doesn’t end in -S. Here are some other examples of other irregular plural nouns:
child → children.
foot → feet.
mouse → mice.
For this reason, saying people is is like saying Roses is or Dogs is…
But, there’s an added challenge for Spanish speakers.
2. The second reason why we, Spanish speakers, might get confused is because Spanish for people is gente. And gente in Spanish is, in fact, singular! We say “La gente es”. Not only are we used to saying es but also gente in Spanish is a singular noun that refers to a group of people. A singular group, if you will.
How to fix this:
Just understanding that people is a plural noun should help fix this mistake. But, just in case, here’s an idea: Start to mentally connect the word “people” to the image of dozens of humans altogether in one space. This image will hopefully trigger the idea of people as a plural concept. Also, once again, it will take some time to fully get rid of the habit of saying People is. Instead of getting frustrated, celebrate each time you correct yourself. It means the transition is taking place.
5) -ed endings in the simple past:
Here’s another common pronunciation mistake that originates from wanting to make a vocalic sound (very common in Spanish) where there isn’t any. But to be fair, English makes it very difficult for Spanish speakers because we are used to pronouncing words just as they are written. Especially when there are vowels involved!
As may you know, all regular forms in the simple past in English are formed by adding -ed at the end of the verb form. So, the verb trust, for example, becomes trusted and to call becomes called.
However, in only TWO situations English speakers pronounce this ending. And that is when the verb ends in -t or -d. ALL other verbs that end in other consonants will drop the vowel sound and turn it into either -t or -d sound.
If we take the two verbs previously mentioned. Trusted will be pronounced trus-tid because the verb trust ends in -t. On the contrary, call will NOT be pronounced cal-lid since the verb call does not end in either -t or -d.
How to fix this:
Here’s what important to remember:
Verbs that end in a voiceless (vocal cords won’t vibrate) consonants (p, k, sh, ch, gh, th, ss, c, x) the -ed will become -t
This means, verbs like skipped, talked, washed, watched, coughed, kissed will sound
like skipt, talkt, washt, watcht, cought, kisst.
Verbs that end in voiced (vocal cords vibrate) consonants (l, n, r, g, v, s, w, y, z) the -ed becomes -d
Cleaned, enjoyed, saved, married will sound cleand, enjoyd, savd, marrid.
ONLY verbs that end in -d (need, rid, demand, pound) and -t (want, sit, lift, frost, dedicate) will have the full syllable sound /id/ when it’s in the simple past.
So there you have it, everyone, the five common mistakes Spanish speakers make when speaking English and some possible solutions on how to fix them. Let me know in the comments, are there any other mistakes you constantly make and are hoping to work on?