This article is principally aimed toward English teachers, Spanish speakers who are learning English and all people interested in knowing some of the most common English mistakes made by these learners.
As English teachers, we should be aware of these mistakes and when the time arrives, get over them with ease and prevent fossilization.
As Spanish speakers, we may face some struggles when learning English. It is known that the English language is pretty different from Spanish. Just to mention some of these differences:
Punctuation: Incorrect: ¡What a great day! Correct: What a great day! In this case, in the English translation, you don't need both of the exclamation marks.
Phonology: I'm referring to vowel sounds and stress (emphasis). Moreover, some diphthongs are very difficult for Spanish learners to pronounce.
Grammar: Just consider the example: "Es difícil aprender inglés" An English learner might say: "It’s not easy learn English," which, in Spanish, would be: Es difícil aprender inglés. At first sight, it seems to be correct. However, there is something missing-- the preposition to. It’s not easy to learn English.
I have encountered many of these mistakes while teaching my pupils, and I would like to share these mistakes with you. Note that all of these involve grammatical rules in Spanish. I list the most common, divided into five groups. (All these rules have been taken from: Learner English 2nd Edition by Michael Swan and Bernard Smith, 2001, CUP)
There is no set word order for questions, and auxiliaries play no part in them:
- ¿John ha comprador los libros?
- Incorrect: John has bought the books?
- Correction: Has John bought the books?
- ¿Mary vino?
- Incorrect: Mary came?
- Correction: Did Mary come?
- Mary, ¿cuándo vino?
- Incorrect: Mary, when came?
- Correction: When did Mary come?
Naturally, subject and object questions cause difficulty both in recognition and production:
- Incorrect: Who did kill Oswald?
- Correction: Who did Oswald kill? - ¿A quién mató Oswald?
- Incorrect: Who Oswald killed?
- Correction: Who killed Oswald? - ¿Quién mató a Oswald?
Learners have difficulty with do/does/did.
- Incorrect: Did they went? / Do they went?
- Correction: Did they go?
- Incorrect: Do she goes? / Does she goes?
- Correction: Does she go?
In Spanish, the way to urge agreement to any positive statement, no matter what its form, is to add a rising ¿no? at the end.
- Incorrect: They’re coming tomorrow, no?
- Correction: They’re coming tomorrow, aren’t they?
- Incorrect: You have a car, no?
- Correction: You have a car, don’t you?
- Auxiliaries play no part in forming negative sentences in Spanish; the negative word goes before the verb phrase.
- Incorrect: Peter not found the key.
- Correction: Peter didn’t find the key.
- Incorrect: Peter not has found the key.
- Correction: Peter hasn’t found the key.
Likewise with no instead of not, e.g. No entiendo
- Incorrect: I no understand.
- Correction: I don't understand.
- The double negative is standard in Spanish:
- No vi a nadie
- Incorrect: I not saw nobody or I didn’t saw nobody.
- Correction: I didn’t see anybody.
- The definite article goes with mass nouns and plural count nouns that are used with a general meaning.
- La comida es más importante que el arte.
- Incorrect: The food is more important than the art
- Correction: Food is more important than art.
- ¿Te gustan los perros grandes? (meaning big dogs in general)
- Incorrect: Do you like the big dogs?
- Correction: Do you like big dogs?
- Spanish uses the definite article with possessive pronouns.
- Ese es el tuyo, y éste es el mío.
- Incorrect: That is the yours, and this is the mine.
- Correction: That is yours, and this is mine.
- Spanish makes no distinction between the indefinite article and the number one.
- Solíamos vivir en un departamento; ahora vivimos en una casa.
- Incorrect: We used to live in one flat; now we live in one house.
- Correction: We used to live in a flat; now we live in a house.
- In some expressions where the distinction between one and many is considered irrelevant, singular-count nouns need no article.
- ¿Tienes coche?
- Incorrect: Do you have car?
- Correction: Do you have a car?
- Su hermana es dentista.
- Incorrect: Her sister is dentist.
- Correction: Her sister is a dentist.
- The indefinite article has a plural form (corresponding roughly to some). This can cause beginners to make mistakes.
- Tengo unos amigos Americanos.
- Incorrect: I have ones nice American friends.
- Correction: I have some nice American friends.
Spanish has grammatical gender: all nouns, as well as related articles and adjectives, are masculine or feminine. Reference is made with the corresponding pronoun.
- La mesa está sucia. Límpiala, por favor.
- Incorrect: The table is dirty. Clean her, please.
- Correction: The table is dirty. Clean it, please.
4. Time, tense and aspect:
In form, Spanish makes a simple/progressive tense distinction: María visita = Maria visits. María está visitando = Maria is visiting.
Spanish also has a perfective aspect: María ha visitado = María has visited.
However, although these forms correspond to English forms, they do not necessarily represent similar distinctions of meaning.
- The simple present is often used for an action taking place now.
- Mira! Llueve!
- Incorrect: Look! It rains!
- Correction: Look! It’s raining!
- The simple present is often used to refer to future time.
- ¿Vengo mañana?
- Incorrect: Do I come tomorrow?
- Correction: Shall I come tomorrow?
- Te espero en la casa.
- Incorrect: I wait for you at home.
- Correction: I’ll wait for you at home.
- La veo esta tarde.
- Incorrect: I see her this evening.
- Correction: I’m seeing her this evening.
- The present tenses are used to refer to a period starting in past time and continuing up to the present (where English uses a perfect).
- ¿Cuánto tiempo llevas trabajando en tu trabajo actual?
- Incorrect: How long are you working in your present job?
- Correction: How long have you been working in your present job?
- Spanish has more than one form corresponding to the past progressive in English, one of which means the same as used to. This causes confusion.
- Cuando éramos jóvenes, jugabamos mucho al tenis.
- Incorrect: When we were young, we were playing a lot of tennis.
- Correction: When we were young, we used to play a lot of tennis.
- The imperative often has an expressed subject.
- Ven tú mañana!
- Incorrect: Come you tomorrow!
- Correction: Come tomorrow!
- Spanish has a frequentative verb (soler) which allows all past tenses. Learners try to use a form of used to to express frequency in the present.
- Suelo hacer mucho ejercicio.
- Incorrect: I use to do a lot of exercise.
- Correction: I am used to doing a lot of exercise.
In Spanish, all verbs show the normal range of tenses (present, past, future, conditional) and composite forms (progressive, perfect). Thus, there is no separate category of modal auxiliaries as in English, and learners find the concept, the simplicity of their forms, and their uses difficult to grasp. Examples:
- María puede cocinar.
- Incorrect: Maria cans cook.
- Correction: Maria can cook.
- Puedes nadar?
- Incorrect: Do you can swim?
- Correction: Can you swim?
- Particular problems of verbal structure include the fact that many English phrases consisting of be + adjective are expressed in Spanish by have + noun.
- Tengo razón.
- Incorrect: I have reason.
- Correction: I am right.
- In Spanish, I like this is expressed as This pleases me, leading to confusion such as: Football likes me. Correction: I like football.
- Some other common mistakes include the placement of adjectives, collocations and prepositions, but these are beyond the scope of this article.