Common mistakes English speakers make when learning Spanish


After many years in Guatemala trying to master the Spanish language I have been able to notice a number of common mistakes native English speakers (myself included) make. Here are just a few of them and see if they apply to you.


1) Assuming a Spanish word that has a similar sound in English has the same meaning.

In Spanish there are many words that sound similar and also have the same meaning:

Apartamento – Apartment

Renta – Rent

Característica – Characteristic

– Physics

However, there are also words in Spanish that sound like they could be in the above category but actually mean something completely different in English:

  • Embarazada‘ is mistakenly used for the word ’embarrassed’ when it actually means ‘pregnant’.
  • Constipado‘ is mistakenly used for the word ‘constipated’ when it actually means ‘to have a cold’.

2) Using the verb ‘gustar’ towards a person when unintentionally not realising what it signifies.

Gustar‘ means ‘to like.’

Me gusta Arsenal.
I like Arsenal.

Me gusta comer dulces.
I like to eat sweets.

However if you aim it at a person:

Me gusta Pedro.
I like Pedro.

It means you like Pedro but not only in a platonic level; you could like Pedro romantically or like him physically.

Therefore, if you want to say you like someone without sounding as though you romantically like them use:
caer bien‘.

Me cae bien Pedro.

3) Using the correct order for adjectives.

In English the adjective comes before the noun:

The yellow door.
The crazy night.

In Spanish you would not say:

La amarilla puerta. (The yellow door.)
La loca noche. (The crazy night)

Instead it would be:

La puerta amarilla.
La noche loca.

(Please note in some cases the adjective does come before the noun.)

4) Using the verb ‘tener’.

In Spanish there are many cases where the verb ‘tener‘ (‘to have’) is used where as in English you would use the verb ‘to be’. Expressing age is one of these cases:

I am 30 years old.
Tengo 30 años.
(Not – Estoy / Soy 30 años)

Therefore, it is common for many English speakers to use the verb ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ when in actual fact they shoul be using the verb ‘tener’. Here are a few other examples:



Literal Translation

Tener hambre To be hungry To have hunger
Tener frío  To be cold  To have cold 
Tener miedo  To be scared  To have scared 


Hopefully now if you make any of these mistakes you can you will be able to correct yourself!

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