We recently received an email asking for a list of the biggest ‘dead-giveaway’ mistakes a Spanish learner typically makes. We put a call out on the forum at our sister site Notesfromspain.com asking for help, and this is the list you helped us come up with:
Dead-Giveaway 1: Past Tense Confusion
Getting confused by the difference between the pretérito indefinido (canté/estuve/escribi) and the pretérito imperfecto (cantaba/estaba/escribía).
Solution: Check out our Inspired Beginners Podcast number 19 (great no matter what your level!), where we look at how these two key past tenses, the Pretérito Imperfecto and the Pretérito Indefinido, can be used together to tell a great story in Spanish.
Dead-Giveaway 2: Por/Para
No getting away from these two – you have to knuckle down and learn the differences, but fear not, soon it becomes second nature, and we have the perfect…
Dead-Giveaway 3: The Rolling ‘R’
There is a subtle difference between the pronunciation of ‘r’ and ‘rr’, for example in pero/perro, caro/carro, and many Spanish learners are convinced they will never be able to pronounce a proper rrrrrolling ‘r’.
Solution: Practice! Ben was convinced he couldn’t do it either, but endless attempts have led to a half-decent ‘perro’ – so don’t give up, just rrrrrr all day long, and pay careful attention to how Spanish speakers differentiate between the two.
Dead-Giveaway 4: Ser/Estar
Just as with Por and Para, the Ser y Estar ‘problem’ drives many Spanish learners mad, but worry not! We have a a very good bit of audio to sort these two out as well!
Solution: Listen to Inspired Beginners 23, Ser y Estar
Dead-Giveaway 5: ¡Doy Propinas Demasiado Grandes!
Giving excessive tips (propinas) is a sure sign of being a foreigner on holiday in Spain. Spaniards tend to leave somewhere between no tip at all (when drinking in bars, or for a menu del día at lunchtime), to around 5% (if service is really good, usually at dinner in the evening or for a smart lunch).
Solution: Do as they do and don’t feel guilty about it! Spanish waiters receive a fixed wage, but tips make a nice extra.
Dead-Giveaway 6: Using “El Subjuntivo”
It’s not such a nightmare as you think to start using the subjunctive! You have to start eventually, and if you are at a comfortable intermediate level, nows the time to get going!
Dead-Giveaway 7: Word Order and More…
Failing to make adjectives and verbs agree with the gender and number of objects/people… word order in sentences… using the right prepositions… This covers an awful lot, but the solution to all of these problems is the same…
Solution: It helps a lot to find someone to correct your mistakes as they happen. Marina constantly corrects Ben’s mistakes in our audio (and these are genuine mistakes!) Find an online or real-life intercambio and ask them not to worry about correcting your mistakes – making mistakes and having them corrected is the best way to learn!
Dead-Giveaway 8: Falsos Amigos
Why does Actualmente mean Currently (and not actually, which is de hecho), and how can Sanidad mean health system (and not sanity, which is juicio or cordura)?
Solution: We have a special report for this too available here, with a complete list of false friend pairs and more!
Dead-Giveaway 9: Saying Please and Thank You Too Much!
The British, to name but one nationality, use please and thank you quite a bit more than the Spanish use ‘por favor’ and ‘gracias’.
Solution: Don’t worry about it, we don’t think there can be too many ‘por favor’s and ‘gracias’ in the world, so keep throwing them in whenever you would in your own language, and save your efforts for bigger challenges like Por/Para and the Subjunctive!
Dead-Giveaway 10: The Gender of Words
How annoying that the Spanish language has to decide if things are Masculine or Feminine! What’s more, there are ‘trick’ ones that really look like they should be the other way round, like ‘la mano’, ‘el sofa’, ‘el problema’, and ‘el tema’.
Solution: You’ve just got to learn them! But don’t worry, the exceptions to the obvious, like those above, are few! There is further discussion (with more examples) of this in the second Q and A recording in Notes in Spanish Gold Season One.