A seasoned Spanish teacher from Mexico tells a rookie colleague from Spain about 3 common mistakes beginner students -and no so beginners- make when speaking Spanish.
Los tacos de este episodio no se comen. Estos tacos son groserías, palabrotas, obscenidades, etc. Valeria y Santiago hablan de los que más se usan en el lenguaje coloquial en México y en España. Este episodio puede herir la sensibilidad de algún oyente. Warning: This podcast contains adult language. Listener discretion is advised.
Literally translated a “falso amigo” in Spanish means a “false friend”—when referring to grammar, it may not make much sense in English, but in Spanish it is used to refer to words that are alike in form but vary in meaning. We, Spanish teachers, love “falsos amigos” because they give us a chance to identify a problem and help students improve.
A “falso amigo”, or in English a “false cognate”, is a word that “sounds” more or less the same in both English and Spanish, but whose meanings and usages are often very different. The most commonly referenced example of this is the mistaken use of the Spanish phrase: “estar embarazada” for the English “to be embarrassed”.
I remember several years ago, as I was on my way to meet Pam and Todd, long-time students of mine, to have our weekly Spanish class, I received an urgent phone call from home–it was my wife. She was calling to ask me to come home quickly to take her to the emergency room. She was pregnant; “embarazada” as we say in Spanish. I called Pam to tell her—in Spanish—what was going on; she understood perfectly that the class was to be rescheduled since I had to take Valeria, my wife, to the hospital, but was confused as to why Valeria was “embarrassed” about the situation, because as she noted, “Everybody has the right to get sick!” The next class with Pam and Todd was fun but also a milestone. We laughed a lot about the misunderstanding and began to practice every week with a “falso amigo”.
Though it is a notable “falso amigo” to use “estar embarazada” for the English “to be embarrassed”, in the hundreds and hundreds of hours I have invested in teaching, I have only heard it misused a handful of times. Let´s take a look at another more commonly used “falso amigo”, and let’s try it in Spanish:
“Pedí un café en Starbucks pero cuando iba a pagar me realicé de que no tenía dinero.”
“Los niños no se realizan de que el dinero no es gratis.”
In English the verb “to realize” has two meanings: 1. “to become aware of” or “appreciate” and 2. “to accomplish” or “to bring to fruition”. Conversely, in Spanish the verb “realizar” has only one use—similar to the latter in English—meaning “to carry out or execute” as in a task. Therefore, it is not correct to use “realizar” for the first meaning of “to realize”, as it is a “falso amigo”. To properly express the meaning of “to realize” in Spanish, we must use “darse cuenta (de que)”. For example:
“Pedí un café en Starbucks pero cuando iba a pagar me di cuenta de que no tenía dinero.”
“Los niños no se dan cuenta de que el dinero no es gratis.”
“Juan buscaba su bolígrafo sin darse cuenta de que lo tenía en la mano”
Try it out!
Send us up to three of your own examples in Spanish using the expression “darse cuenta (de que)” and we will do our best to correct them and send our feedback to you in a few days. Email examples to: firstname.lastname@example.org. We will post the best examples on our blog.
Check back here every Friday to find new articles. You will have a chance to apply your Spanish skills by sending us your own sample sentences each week.
When beginner students start their Spanish lessons, typically they are told that masculine nouns end in “o” (teléfono) and feminine nouns end in “a” (casa). Well, the caveat to this over-simplification is that it is used only in order to easily introduce students to the rules of agreement in gender with nouns, articles and adjectives (La Casa Blanca, el teléfono rojo).
In all honestly, several pages could be written about exceptions and comments to the “feminine, a”, “masculine, o” convention – for instance: la mano (the hand), el día (the day).
The top winners among the many common errors that arise as a result of this “rule” occur with words that end with “-ma” include: “La problema es seria…”, “las temas (subject, topic) del artículo…”; “es una sistema perfecta”; “esta programa de televisión…”. These words (el tema, el problema, etc.) are masculine in spite of ending in “-ma”. Many words ending in “-ma” are masculine. More examples: el poema, el teorema, el clima, el fantasma (ghost) among others. Why the inconsistency? Most of these come from neutral words of Greek origin that were adopted in Spanish as masculine nouns. Notably, many of these words have some relationship with the arts and philosophy.
With that said, not all “-ma” words are masculine. For example: la cama, (bed), la broma (joke), la firma (signature, firm), etc.
My advice is not to memorize every exception. Instead practice with the more common words ending in “-ma” such as: el problema, el sistema, el tema, el programa, el clima, el poema. Sometimes you may have a doubt between the masculine or feminine form with words of “-ma” endings. Well, yes, but don’t worry–it is not “un drama”.
Check back here every Friday to find new articles. Usually you will have a chance to apply your Spanish skills by sending us your own sample sentences each week.
In English it sounds perfectly natural to say: “I wake up at 8:00 am. I eat breakfast at home, and then I drive 30 minutes. I arrive in my office at 9:00am.” Literally translated in Spanish would be: “Yo me levanto a las ocho. Yo desayuno en casa y luego yo manejo treinta minutos. Yo llego al trabajo a las nueve.”
If you say it this way in Spanish, your friends may cringe and make fun of you and say something in reference to what a big ego you seem to have. You see, expressing yourself in this literal translation, it comes across more as if you are a self-centered person who thinks only of himself than of actually simply describing your morning routine. The reason is that we Spanish speakers very rarely use subject pronouns in front of verbs (yo, tú, él, ella, etc.). They are not necessary since the ending of the conjugated verb already indicates the person who is completing the action, (i.e.: hablo can only mean “yo”, hablas can only mean “tú”, etc.). A similar problem arises when you refer to others constantly by “ella, ella, ella”, or “nosotros, nosotros, nosotros”.
The correct way to express the above example would simply be: “me levanto a las ocho, desayuno en casa y luego manejo treinta minutos. Llego a mi oficina a las nueve.”. You could start with one “yo”, as in “yo me levanto”, but you would be wise to say it no more than that.
With that said, there are exceptions, of course. If you need to emphasize, sometimes the use of the subject pronoun is helpful: “yo no cocino mal; yo soy un buen chef.”. This also helps to distinguish parallel structures: “yo voy a Boston y tú a California”.