Your native language defines many aspects of your personality, your identity, and how you relate to the world. And, one of the many things it influences is the way you experience language learning.
If you're a native Spanish speaker who's learning English, for example, you will transfer many aspects of your native tongue. Some examples are word order, pronunciation, spelling, and the way vocabulary fits within phrases.
This means that, sometimes, you'll have certain difficulties when studying that other native Spanish speakers can relate to. Recognizing these difficulties can help you overcome them and make the learning process smoother.
In this article, we'll present you with the most common difficulties Spanish speakers share when learning a foreign language such as English - and how to tackle them effectively!
Pronunciation & Rhythm in the English Language
There are many challenges for Spanish speakers when it comes to learning how to speak English. First, the two phonetic systems differ widely, particularly when referring to vowels. Spanish has a 1-1 correspondence between spelling and sounds. The word "banana" has three "a" in spelling and the exact same sound in the three syllables.
In English, however, the same term "banana" has two different sounds: the ash as in "cat” and schwa as in the last syllable of "father." This difference can confuse you as a native Spanish speaker, especially if you have never studied phonetics before.
What about stress and rhythm?
Something similar happens with stress and rhythm. The English language is stressed-timed, while Spanish is syllable-timed. This means that, in Spanish, all the syllables take roughly the same to be produced.
Meanwhile, in English, there are weak forms (that is, syllables that carry no stress) that take less time to be produced. This generates a sort of "clipping," where many sounds are not produced at all.
While this phenomenon occurs as something completely natural for English speakers, it can be cumbersome to learn for people whose native language is Spanish.
Common Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make When Speaking English
Most Spanish speakers make these errors when starting to learn English. These are common vocabulary words, so learning how to correctly pronounce them is essential for communication:
- The TH sound is problematic because it doesn't exist in Spanish. So, students may end up pronouncing "thirsty" with a "t" as in "tea" or with an "f" as in "fly."
- The V sound doesn't exist, either, so it's common for Spanish speakers to say "very" with the sound "b" as in "boat."
- Spanish words don't typically start with a consonant, so it's common for Spanish-speaking students to insert a vowel in words like "strike" or "sport" and say something like "esport" or "estrike."
- Finally, Spanish words don't usually end in a consonant cluster. So, a common mistake is to delete a sound and say "tas" instead of "task" or "lof" instead of "loft."
How to Solve This Difficulty
Luckily, these difficulties with phonetics and phonology can be overcome with patience and practice! Use online resources such as podcasts, record yourself, practice with native English speakers or other learners, and surround yourself with as much English as possible. Practicing in front of a mirror can also help you notice how your tongue and mouth move to pronounce words in English.
And, one of the most effective ways to improve your pronunciation is working with an experienced English teacher who can give you accurate feedback. Soon, you'll notice an amazing improvement in your pronunciation skills!
The Grammar System
Yes, the Spanish grammar system is a lot more complex when it comes to verb conjugations. But, the English language comes with its difficulties, too. For instance, learning the order of adjectives can be a nightmare for Spanish-speaking students.
Another very complicated feature is auxiliary verbs. Let's take questions as an example. Spanish speakers, who want to ask their friends whether they liked the movie would simply use a specific verb conjugation, while English would use the verb "did":
¿Te gustó la película?
¿Te gustó la película?
Did you like the movie?
Thus, it's very common for native Spanish speakers to make the mistake of not using an auxiliary verb in questions like "Where (do) you work?".
Common Mistakes Regarding Grammar
Here are some common mistakes Spanish speakers make when they learn English grammar:
Personal Pronoun Confusion
As a native-speaking Spanish student, you may have problems with the pronouns his, her, him, and her, because the Spanish language only uses the pronoun "su."
So, you may end up saying, "Janet left his jacket behind" instead of "her jacket."
Doing Away with the Subject
In Spanish, there are many verb conjugations, so many times you can simply omit the subject. In English, this is not possible, and it's a grammar mistake.
Some common errors include saying "is a nice day" instead of "it's a nice day" or "went shopping" instead of "I went shopping."
They exist in Spanish and are considered grammatically correct, but in English, they are not. As a result, you may believe that saying "I did not do nothing" is OK, but it's actually a grammar mistake.
Wrong Order of Adjectives
Finally, it can be difficult for Spanish speakers to learn the correct order of English adjectives. While in Spanish, adjectives go after the noun, but in English, they go before.
This feature can bring about a lot of confusion for native Spanish speakers when they are speaking English.
How to Overcome This Difficulty
Studying grammar can be tedious and difficult, particularly if you don't have a teacher to explain new features. But, make sure not just to memorize; take the rule and practice it as much as possible.
Today, there are many language apps, like Langster, that give you a lot of practice in context and provide you with the answer keys, so you can check whether you have answered correctly.
False Friends & Words That Don't Exist
False friends (also called false cognates) are words that seemingly have the same meaning in two languages, but actually, they mean something different.
Let's see some examples:
Actualmente/Actually: You may believe they mean the same, but "actualmente" means "currently," while the Spanish translation of "actually" is "en realidad."
Carpeta/Carpet: "Carpeta" means "folder," while the Spanish translation of "carpet" is "alfombra."
Largo/Large: "Largo" means "long," while the Spanish translation of "large" is "grande."
Últimamente/Ultimately: "Últimamente" means "lately," while the Spanish translation of "ultimately" is "finalmente."
There's also the issue of words that are common in English but don't exist in Spanish. For instance, the words "lose" and "miss" are both "perder" in Spanish, so they are easy to mix up for Spanish speakers. Other similar examples include:
- Story and history: both mean "historia."
- Know and meet: both mean "conocer."
- Listen and hear: both mean "escuchar."
How to Address This Difficulty
These mistakes are only natural when you're just starting to learn English. Just be patient with yourself; in time, you'll learn the difference and use these terms naturally.
Meanwhile, you can practice with resources for Spanish speakers to learn English. Most textbooks, for example, include sections about false friends, so you start becoming aware of their existence.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to practice and motivation.
Vocabulary & Grammar Transfer
It's only natural to transfer certain features of your native language to the one you’re learning. After all, it's the tool for communication you have used your whole life. The thing is that many features of the Spanish grammar and vocabulary systems do not exist in English.
This means that transferring those elements can result in misunderstandings. Let's have a look at some examples of what a Spanish speaker learning English would say:
- "I am agree," because the Spanish language uses the verb "to be" for this construction.
- "I said that yes, because the expression in Spanish is "Dije que si".
- "The people is nice," as "people" (gente) in Spanish is singular instead of plural.
- "I have 8 years" instead of "I'm 8 years old," as the age in Spanish is used with the verb "tener" (have).
- "It's the car of my mother" instead of "it's my mother's car," as this type of genitive does not exist in Spanish.
The Bottom Line
Wise men say that it's important to know your enemies (in this case, common mistakes made by Spanish speakers learning English). Don't feel intimidated by this list of obstacles; instead, look at them as ways to improve faster.
When you become aware of the influence your native language has on the learning process of a foreign language, you'll be able to tackle each issue with ease. English fluency will soon be at the tip of your fingers!