6 top tips for English speakers learning Spanish

By Matt Mills at Europe Language Jobs on 07-09-2017
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So... you've decided to break free from the shackles of monolingualism and embark on a journey of linguistic enlightenment. Sorry to assume that as an English speaker you only speak English but the odds are stacked against us.

Perhaps I'm wrong and you simple wish to add Spanish to your armoury of languages. If that's the case then great!

Languages are an increasingly attractive and employable skill that recruiters and companies look for in candidates. In fact job boards like Europe Language Jobs, which focus on multilingual candidates, emerged to take advantage of this trend.

These 6 pieces of advice should help you on your quest to conquer the Spanish language and hopefully make yourself more employable. So let's get started.


  1. Learn nouns with the articles

Your arch nemesis on this quest will be the masculine and feminine nouns. Don’t ask me why a table, which is clearly devoid of any genitalia, is feminine and a car is masculine.  They just are and there’s nothing we can do about them.

If you start doing this from the start you will make the whole process ten times easier.

So rather than learning...

brazo – arm

mano - hand

pierna – leg

learn:

el brazo – the arm

la mano – the hand

la pierna – the leg

Learning long lists of nouns is great but if you don´t know the gender of each one then by the time you are approaching fluency your inability to use “la” and “el” correctly will really frustrate you – as well as native Spanish speakers!

But if it’s masculine then it ends in “o” and it´s “el”. If it’s feminine then it ends in “a” and it´s “la”. Not true.

This rule is great for absolute beginners but you will soon realise that there are exceptions around every corner. Maybe you noticed the one in the list above. Also, not every noun ends in an A or an O.

2.  Forget English word order

English speakers often – not always - only have one language as a reference point when learning a new language. As a result of this they have a habit of butchering sentences in an attempt to jam Spanish words into an English sentence structure.  

The best thing to do is forget the word order. What helped me when I started learning Spanish was the mistake that Spanish speakers make in English.

Someone with a low level of English said to me ´from where are you?´ and I realised that they were translating the Spanish phrase literally. Listening out from these little errors will help you understand the Spanish language, assuming you have the luxury of being around native speakers.  

Extra tip: the adjective usually comes after the noun rather than before it. For example un gato negro literally translates as ‘a cat black’.

3.  Learn to laugh...at yourself

The reality is that you will make mistakes when learning a language. Until you make peace with this fact and learn to shake off your fear of looking stupid, you will be unable to make any real progress. Being corrected by others and just having a go at using a new phrase are essential stepping stones on any language learning journey.

Allowing people laughing at you to stress or frustrate you will mean that you avoid such situations and therefore will not practise. Learning to laugh along with others will help you handle the embarrassment and protect your confidence.

Make sure they’re laughing with you – not at you. A great way to do this is put yourself in their shoes. If they made a funny mistake in English would you really think of them as stupid? No, you’d see a foreign person trying to engage with your language and culture. Why is it any different for you?

4.  Take notes

Maybe you have an insane ability to remember words after just hearing them one time, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll have to write them down to fully cement them in your brain.

Carrying a note book around with you or just having notes at the ready in your phone, will help you make sure that those important words that you stumble across don’t get away.

5.  Take advantage of the similarities

When Spanish people are jabbering along at 100 miles per hour it may not sound like there are any similarities between Spanish and English but there are. Words like “normal” and “similar” just need a slightly different pronunciation, and others, such as “contento” and “importante” just need an extra vowel on the end.

Check out this lengthy list of Spanish words you already know.

The Latin influence is heavier in Spanish but both languages have a many mutual Latin words. There are numerous verbs that are immediately recognisable, such as: comunicar, adoptar, invitar.  

However, don’t be fooled as there are many words which appear to be similarities which could result in a red face...

6.  Beware of false friends

If you’re not familiar with the phrase, then false friends mean words that appear to be the same in two languages but actually mean something very different.

Hopefully the list below will save you from some potentially embarrassing moments. You’re lucky, as most of us learnt them the hard way...

Sensible = “sensitive” NOT “sensible”!

Searching for a job in Spain? Maybe don't walk into your first interview in Spanish and say “Soy muy sensible”. You're unlikely to get the job as the interviewer will be worried about you bursting into tears on your first day.

Casualidad = “coincidence”NOT “casualty”

Many people see casualidad and think “oh, of course; casualty”. Hearing about an accident and asking how many coincidences there were may seem somewhat off-topic and earn you some strange looks.

Embarazada = “pregnant” NOT “embarrassed”

I learned this one the hard way a couple of years ago. Wanting to say “I am embarrassed”, I said, “Estoy embarazada”, inadvertently claiming to be pregnant. This works two ways, as many Spanish people claim to be embarrassed for up to 9 months.

Of course there are endless top tips to help learn a language but hopefully these six will set you on your way. Remember, confidence is absolutely the key to language learning and with any luck now you know how to safeguard against those confidence knocks that make so many people give up.

One bonus tip...

Watch television in Spanish. It seems obvious (which is why I didn’t include it in the list above) but I cannot stress enough the value of getting into a TV program in another language to become truly fluent in it.

You hear natural conversation, you can choose what you watch so that it interests you, you don’t have the pressure of responding, you can do it regularly and in your own time and, of course, it’s free!  Dubbing Spanish over English and American TV shows didn’t do the Spanish any favour in terms of learning English...

Think you know a bit of the language already?  Why not test your Spanish?

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