Learning Spanish Best Practices: 5 Mistakes Beginners Make

The great news about learning Spanish best practices is that you can learn from others’ mistakes.

As a beginner, you want to know some Spanish learners’ typical errors. Knowing them will save you a ton of frustration and hours figuring things out on your own.

Today, we’re going to share the top five mistakes Spanish beginners make.

1. Translating Things Literally

One of the most common starter errors is translating everything literally from English to Spanish and vice versa. 

Just because some words are equivalents in both languages, it doesn’t mean literal translations always make sense. They rarely do. So resist the temptation to translate word by word. Be patient. Make sure you use online dictionaries and translators such as SpanishDict and WordReference to contrast your initial guesses.

Just because some words are equivalents in both languages, it doesn’t mean literal translations always make sense. In fact, they rarely do.

The most successful Spanish learners aren’t the ones who can always translate everything—they’re the ones who don’t need to do so. They’ve realized languages have their particularities—and that they aren’t supposed to be equal. Note that professional translators need a university degree to translate documents.

Most importantly, language is usually open to interpretation. The same word can have different meanings depending on the context. Let’s see some examples of how this happens.

Phrases that work as a single unit

Some phrases work as a single unit. Their meaning is already set and has nothing to do with the words that appear in it.

Examples:

  • “En cambio”: If you translate these words literally, you’d have “In change.” However, that’s not their real meaning. “En cambio” means “however” or “whereas.”
  • “Por supuesto”: In this case, we can say “por” means “for” and “supuesto” means “supposed” or “case.” Yet, both elements together mean “of course.”
  • “A través de”: This phrase means “through” in English. We could say, “Conocí a tu hermano a través de mi amiga” (I met your brother through my friend).

Colloquialisms

People love using slang expressions in informal contexts. Here’re some examples of colloquialisms people in Spain usually say: 

  • “Ser un rata” (Literal translation: To be a rat): To be stingy. 
  • “Ser la leche” (Literal translation: To be the milk): To be the best (but it can also have a negative sense!)
  • “Estar de muerte” (Literal translation: To be of death): To be delicious.

Investing too much time in learning those colloquialisms may not be as important as you think. These expressions are sometimes trendy among young people and usually used regionally. So even though being familiar with some of them can’t do any harm, trying to learn them all might be too much time-consuming and not so rewarding. More neutral words can help you communicate in Spanish with natives from everywhere.

Intransitive verbs 

Some Intransitive verbs such as “nacer” (to be born) can’t have passive voice. You can’t say “Fui nacido en 1980” (I was born in 1980) in Spanish. On the contrary, you’d have to say “Yo nací en 1980”, which cannot be translated in English literally.

2. Misusing False Cognates 

English and Spanish share some common words that are spelled equally or very similar: chocolate, dragon, horrible, to name a few.

When their meaning match, we call them cognates. When they don’t, we call them false cognates.

Often, Spanish beginners use false cognates wrong because they assume their similarity makes them equivalents. But the truth is they’re misusing them. We’ve heard these mistakes time and time again. With the best of intentions, they’d say things like “Estoy excitado” (I’m excited)—without knowing that they’re saying that they are “sexually aroused.”

3. Using Personal Pronouns All The Time

Whereas in English, one has to use the personal pronoun all the time, in Spanish, that’s not the case. The conjugated verb gives you the information you need to know who’s doing or receiving the action. As English speakers aren’t always familiar with this concept, they’ll say “Yo” way too often. 

This mistake isn’t embarrassing, but it is common and kind of awkward to hear. If you forget that the word “yo” exists, your Spanish will immediately sound much more natural. 

So when is it appropriate to use personal pronouns? Generally, when we want to provide emphasis. For instance, to express your opinion, you’d have to use “Yo” by saying: “Yo pienso que… (I think that…)”.

4. Not Spending More Time Talking to People in Spanish

When it comes to learning how to speak Spanish, this one is a big deal. Stop making excuses; if you don’t know any native speakers in person, you can always find them online. Start by having conversation lessons with a tutor if you’re too shy.

Many Spanish learners make the mistake of delaying speaking, focusing too much on correctness and grammar. Please don’t do it. You know you have no excuse.

5. Placing Adjectives Before The Noun 

Many beginners make the mistake of placing adjectives before the noun:

  • La roja casa (The red house).
  • El grande coche (The big car).

In Spanish, we usually say adjectives after the noun:

  • La casa roja (The red house).
  • El coche grande (The big car).

However, this one is not an absolute rule. Several adjectives typically go before the noun:

Quantity adjectives such as “mucho/a” and “poco/a”: 

  • Hay mucha comida (There’s a lot of food). 
  • Tienes poca paciencia (You don’t have much patience). 

Adjectives that show a personal opinion: 

  • Vimos una buena serie (We watched a good series).
  • Es mala persona (He’s a bad person).
  • Son grandes amigos (They’re great friends).

Some other exceptions on adjectives that go before the noun are:

  • To signify the meaning is taken as an essential quality: 
    • Un bonito paisaje (a naturally beautiful landscape).
    • Un paisaje bonito (a beautiful landscape, as opposed to an ugly one). 
  • As a literary device in poetry or lyrics.

Depending on the adjectives’ position, some phrases may change their meaning: 

  • Tus amigos viejos (Your elderly friends)
  • Tus viejos amigos (Your long time friends).

Conclusion: Follow These Five Learning Spanish Best Practices and Get Confident Speaking Spanish

When it comes to making mistakes in Spanish, most beginners aren’t even aware of them. You can dramatically improve your Spanish communication skills and eliminate typical common mistakes by following these five best practices that we’ve covered here.

Next time you use your Spanish, remember this short checklist to speak as naturally and confidently as possible:

  1. Avoid translating things literally.
  2. Know the real meaning of some false cognates.
  3. Forget “yo” unless you talk about your opinion or want to add emphasis.
  4. Spend more time speaking in Spanish with people.
  5. Place adjectives after the name (except for some cases).

Ready to Improve your Spanish?

Use these Spanish learning best practices and our Spanish tutoring services to speak Spanish as naturally and confidently as possible.