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Common English errors made by Spanish speakers

An explanation of the most common errors made by native Spanish students and how they can be corrected by the teacher.

Native Spanish speakers face a number of challenges in learning English. The translation from Spanish into English leads to common errors. If the teacher understands exactly what the error is and why it is being made then correcting the error is made easier.

Here are seven of the most common errors together with an explanation as to why the error is made. If you find this interesting and would like me to cover more of these common errors please do leave a comment below.

1: Pronunciation; “eschool, espaghettis”.
In Spanish words that begin with ‘s’ followed by a consonant start with the letter ‘e’. Students need practice in saying and writing these words correctly.

2: Common requests; “I can go to the toilet?” or “You are poorly?”
In English the habit of ‘upspeak’ is generally considered poor practice. It refers to raising the tone of the voice at the end of a statement in order to turn the statement into a question. In Spanish questions are normally formed without the use of an auxiliary verb and there is no need to invert the verb/subject order. Students need to learn that in English questions should not begin with the subject. Younger students should be able to learn this through modelling and oral repetition but older students will benefit from understanding why they are making the mistake.

3: Order of noun and adjective; “the car red”. Plural adjectives “the fats cats”.
In Spanish the order of the noun and adjective is usually opposite to English and students need to know to change the order of the noun and adjective.
In Spanish adjectives agree in gender and number with the word that they describe. Consequently students often pluralise adjectives in English. They need to be explicitly taught that adjectives in English are not plural.

4: Questions – In English questions are normally made using an auxiliary verb.
Forming questions correctly is a difficult area for Spanish learners. Students need to learn how to form questions using auxiliary verbs such as “can”, “have” and “do”.

5: Short answers to questions; “me no!”.
In English the short answer to a “yes/no” question is made by repeating the auxiliary verb with which the question has been made.
E.g. “Can you swim?” is answered with “Yes, I can.” Or, “Do you like pizza?” would be answered with “No, I don’t”.

6: Ellipsis of subject pronoun; “(Carlos) is a fast runner”.
In Spanish it is common to leave out the subject pronoun as the verb ending often contains this information. Students need to be taught to say and write the subject with the verb. In speech and in writing Spanish students often add the verb “is” when it is not needed. E.g. “Carlos is like the pizza”. This normally happens with the third person singular and is less common with other pronouns. For example, it would be more unusual to hear the error as “You is like the pizza”. This may well result from students confusing the conjugation of the third person singular verb “he likes, she eats” with the “s” sound in “is”. Students benefit from focusing on the conjugation of regular verbs in the present tense and understanding that it is only the third person singular that carries the final “s” sound.

7: Countable and uncountable nouns/there is, there are; “the people is happy” or “there is pens on the table”.
In Spanish some nouns are uncountable whereas in English those same nouns are countable. In Spanish the impersonal verb “haber” is used to express “there is” and “there are”. The same word (hay) is used for singular and plural objects which further compounds this problem.

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  1. February 2, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    i love this! i taught in spain and loved all of these little things that the students would say.

    • February 2, 2015 at 8:42 pm

      Glad it brought back good memories. It makes it so much easier to help the students if you have an understanding of why they make these mistakes.

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