Learning a foreign language can be a tricky business. Everything is different. It’s basically a whole new way of thinking and interacting with the world. So as you learn Spanish, just know mistakes are inevitable. They are going to happen, and it is a natural part of the process. However, to save yourself some embarrassment and to keep yourself from being an anecdote someone tells for years to come, avoid the following mistakes in your pursuits to learn Spanish.
How one little pronunciation difference can completely change the meaning.
One of the biggest differences between English and Spanish is the idea of accent marks, including the tilde (squiggly line) used over the letter “n” that makes it another letter entirely. As you probably already know, “n” and “ñ” are pronounced differently. You may not think this is a big deal, and that if you accidentally don’t use the right one, people will still know what you mean. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. Or even if they do understand what you meant to say, they will be too busy laughing at what you actually said.
The best example, and the big mistake you never want to make, is the stark difference between año and ano. First a primer though. In Spanish, to tell a person your age you say, “Yo tengo ____ años,” which literally translates as “I have ____ years.” However, if you mistakenly say “Yo tengo ____ anos,” you will be telling whoever is listening that you have an abnormally large number of anuses. Needless to say, this is not a mistake you want to make. Accents and tildes do matter. Don’t forget it, or be prepared to be on the receiving end of confused looks and laughter.
How you can accidentally share very personal news with someone
Oftentimes, when you are learning Spanish you will notice words that are similar in the two languages and that share meanings. Computer and computadora, for example. These words are easier to learn for sure. However, don’t allow this to lead you into the trap of thinking that every word in Spanish that looks like an English word means the same thing in both languages. This is not always the case and can lead to confusing mistakes.
One such example would be when you are attempting to tell someone you are embarrassed. There is a word in Spanish, embarazado/a that looks very similar to the English embarrassed.
However if you are a male, in particular, and you tell someone, “estoy embarazado,” you will get nothing but laughter and confusion. Why? Because you just told someone that you are pregnant. Oops. Now that is embarrassing! And by the way, in case you wondered “estoy avergonzado” would be the correct way for a man to say he is embarrassed.
How you can accidentally say something wildly inappropriate.
When it comes to Spanish, there are many different ways to speak it. Think of the difference between American, British, and Australian English for example. You can probably think of multiple differences without even trying. Spanish is no different. In fact it is more complicated. Every country has their own dialect, and in many countries there are regional variations as well. So, it stands to reason that words can have different meanings in different places.
One mistake you want to avoid is the incorrect use of the verb coger in certain places. In Mexico, Puerto Rico, and in Caribbean countries, coger means to take. So if you are going to take the bus, you would say, “voy a coger el autobús.” However, anywhere else, the verb actually means something far more vulgar. To be exact, the f-bomb as it is colloquially known. So make sure you are aware of the differences in word usage between countries before you accidentally offend someone by suggesting you are going to commit inappropriate acts with an innocent bus.
These are just a few of the mistakes you can make while learning Spanish. Of course, errors and mistakes are a part of the learning process, and nobody expects you to be perfect. However, if you can avoid these major faux pas, you will avoid extreme embarrassment and inappropriateness.