Over the years of teaching I have created a list of the most common mistakes students make when learning Spanish. To help you make sure you’re not making the same mistakes, today I am going to share the list with you.
Cognates and False Friends
There are thousands of words in Spanish and English that not only look and sound the same, but also have the same meaning, which makes learning a little easier. These words are usually cognates. Words that have the same linguistic origin. Conversely, there are also dozens of words in Spanish that appear to be the same, but have very different meanings. These are called false friends. False friends can be frustrating and confusing, and may even put you in embarrassing situations where you think you know what someone is talking about, but later find out you misunderstood the whole conversation just because you didn’t know the right meaning of one simple word. We have all been there, feeling ashamed having to explain to someone that the other day when we went to the movies we were not actually “exitados de ver la película” but instead “emocionados de ver la película”. Awkward! So I’m going to help you win the battle against some of these horrible opponents we call false friends.
1. Realizar ≠ To realize:
The word “realizar” means “to do” or “to accomplish something.”
“Realize” in Spanish is “darse cuenta” (conjugation: Yo ME doy cuenta, Tú TE das cuenta, El/ Ella SE da cuenta, Nosotros NOS damos cuenta, Ustedes/ Ellos/ Ellas SE dan cuenta).
2. Embarazada ≠ Embarrassed
“Embarazada” means “pregnant.”
If you want to say “embarrassed” in Spanish, you’d say “avergonzado” or “avergonzada”
3. Parientes ≠ Parents
“Parientes” means “relatives”.
“Parents” is “padres” in Spanish.
4. Suceso ≠ Success:
“Suceso” means “event”.
If you want to say “success” in Spanish you’d say “éxito.”
5. Introducir ≠ To introduce
“Introducir” means “to put in,” “to insert,” or “to enter.”
“To introduce someone” is “presentar”.
6. Actualmente ≠ Actually
“Actualmente” means “nowadays,” “in this day and age,” “now”, and “at the moment”.
There’s no exact way to say “actually” in Spanish, but these are some options: “La verdad es que,” “de hecho,” “en realidad.”
7. Soportar ≠ Support:
“Soportar” means “to stand.”
“To support” is “apoyar”.
8. Sentencia ≠ Sentence
“Sentencia” in Spanish is the punishment given by the court or judge to a criminal.
The word in Spanish for “sentence” is “oración” or “frase.”
9. Colegio ≠ College
“Colegio” is any kind of private school (elementary school, highschool, any school that’s private).
The word for “college” in Spanish is “universidad”.
10. Buscando para ≠ Looking for:
This is not a false cognate, but a case of a literal translation gone wrong.
“Buscando para” is what many English Speakers say instead of “Looking for.”
“Buscando para” is wrong. It doesn’t exist. If you want to say “looking for” in Spanish say only “buscando”.
11. Ser vs Estar:
Ser and estar can get really complicated to learn since they seem to follow their own rules on how and when to use each of them. But the good news is that there is a very easy way to know when to use one or the other!
The main difference between these verbs is that:
-SER is most commonly used to talk about things that exists in a way that cannot be changed or that would be quite difficult to change.
People’s physical appearance
-On the other hand, ESTAR expresses a state, something that can change and/or varies from time to time.
Of course there are a few exceptions to this rule, but this is basically how SER and ESTAR work.
Knowing when to use ser or estar is not that complicated once you think about what you are describing. Just ask yourself “Is that permanent?” “Can that change at some point?” Then you will find it easier to know if you should go with one or the other. We made a video with examples to help you identify when to use ser or estar. Check it out for more examples:
Now pat yourself on the back for taking the time to read this article, because now you’re equipped with the knowledge to avoid these common mistakes. Don’t forget to be patient with yourself. The best students are not afraid to make mistakes, and therefore get a lot more practice in than those who remain silent.
Practice reading the above examples out loud, or even writing them down again. This will help make what you just learned stick. Keep a steady practice regimen, and you will make significant progress.
Tell us what you think the hardest part of learning Spanish is in the comments. Do you identify with this list? What did we miss? We love to hear from you! Also, don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, where you’ll get our Spanish Phrase Power Pack of 150+ common words and phrases to Supercharge your Spanish and stay up to date when we release new content.