10 Common Mistakes to Avoid

10 Common Mistakes to Avoid for Faster Learning

When you’re in the process of learning a new language, it can seem like a confusing, unsolvable mystery. But there’s a method to the madness, and as confusing as it all may seem, it turns out it’s confusing to mostly everybody in almost the exact same way. It makes sense—after all, they’re all coming from the same familiar language and trying to learn the same unfamiliar language. Because they’re used to the same things, they end up tripping over the same things in Spanish. As a result, almost all of my students have stumbled over the same common Spanish mistakes. I’ve been teaching Spanish for over a decade, and over that time, I’ve been taking note of these mistakes and collecting them. Now, I warn all of my students ahead of time of what to avoid. Since I’ve started doing that, I noticed they learn faster, and have a much easier time tackling the obstacles that used to give them so much trouble. As it turns out, learning what not to do is just as important as learning what to do!

So, without further ado, here are some common mistakes to avoid:

  1. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Ella es mucha gorda.                                      Ella es muy gorda.
    Always use “muy” before an adjective (gorda). “Mucho” generally translates as “a lot,” while “muy” translates as “very.” It doesn’t make sense to say, “She is a lot fat.”
  2. Incorrect:                                                      Correct:
    Yo soy 20 años.                                              Yo tengo 20 años.
    Never use the verb “to be” when you are saying how old you are. Instead, use the verb “tener:” ”I have 20 years.” Think of it as having 20 years under your belt.
  3. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Me gusto bailar.                                             Me gusta bailar.
    “Gustar” is one of a few special verbs that don’t conjugate as a regular verb. That means “gusta” will remain the same, in the present tense, for all the personal pronouns–it changes only from singular (gusta) or plural (gustan) depending on the OBJECT. For example, “Me gustan los flores.”
  4. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Hay es un libro en la mesa.                          Hay un libro en la mesa.
    Never use “es” when you use “hay,” because “hay” already means “there is or there are”. You are saying “is” twice.
  5. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    La fiesta está en Santa Mónica.                   La fiesta es en Santa Mónica.
    Normally, we use “estar” when we talk about where we are. But when we talk about something more set in stone, like origin or what country a city is in or where an event is scheduled, we need to use “ser.”
  6. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Yo conozco Juan.                                             Yo conozco a Juan.
    Always remember to use the personal “a” whenever a person’s name directly follows a verb (like when you use “conocer”).
  7. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    ¿A qué hora es la fiesta?                               ¿A qué hora es la fiesta?
    Son las 7 de la noche.                                     Es a las 7 de la noche.
    Es las 7 de la noche.
    Never answer this question with “son las” or “es las”—Remember the “at” (a). Or else it’s like you’re saying: At what time is the party? It is 7 pm.
  8. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Mi cumpleaños es marzo 5.                           Mi cumpleaños es el 5 de marzo.
    When saying the date, the number never goes after the month.
    In Spanish, the number goes before the month: My birthday is the (don’t forget the “el”) 5th of March.
  9. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Yo necesito estudiar antes comiendo.         Yo necesito estudiar antes de comer.
    Yo necesito estudiar antes como.
    Yo necesito estudiar antes de comiendo.
    Always use “antes” + “de” + the infinitive (unconjugated) form of the verb.
  10. Incorrect:                                                       Correct:
    Estoy embarazada.                                         Tengo verguenza.
    If you’re trying to say you’re embarrassed and you use the word “embarazada,” it’ll only increase your embarrassment—because “embarazada” means “pregnant.” The right way to say you’re embarrassed is “Tengo verguenza.”

Sharing these common mistakes with my students has proven to be such a great guide that I decided to include a Common Mistakes feature in every single chapter of all of my Spanish at Home Spanish learning books. If you found these tips helpful, you can buy or learn more about my books and their other great features on the Spanish at Home website.


Good luck!


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