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Problems for learners in SpainWhen a spaniard starts to learn english they may have an advantage over some other nationalities since both spanish and english have roots in similar base languages. This means that there are a number of words and concepts that can be built on to help students learn the language, but there are also a number of pitfalls waiting for them too.
english students will more than likely have issues with many of the following:
Every noun in spanish is classified either as male or female, generally words ending in ‘o’ are male and in ‘a’ female, though there are exceptions. When talking in english, spanish students frequently will use the wrong pronoun for he/his and she/her as the rest of the sentence trips them. A sentence such as:
“Mark cut his hand yesterday” will commonly said as “Mark cut her hand yesterday” as hand in spanish is a female word.
Apart from practice, this is a very difficult problem to overcome. Even students of years who are almost fluent in english can still fall fowl to this on occasion.
There are many words in spanish that sound similar too english but mean something different, either conceptually or completely. These can be taught during lessons to make the students aware of these words in order to avoid using them incorrectly.
Words in this category would be:
english spanish Difference
Embarrassed Embarazada Embarazada in spanish means pregnant.
Approve Aprobar Aprobar is translated as ‘to pass’ i.e. an
exam, not to agree with.
Familiar Familiar Familiar in spanish means part of the family.
There are many others, some are true friends such as colour and color, but the false friends will need to be explained as they appear during the lessons.
Dropping the Subject
In spanish it is not mandatory to always specify the subject of a sentence. This means that when a student is translating from spanish to english they often forget to include the subject in the translation.
“Mañana va a llover.” to “Tomorrow is going to rain.” rather than “Tomorrow it is going to rain.”
In spanish geographical names are never capitalised so getting the students to remember to do this in english can be difficult.
“In australia they speak english too.” instead of “In Australia they speak english too.”
Plural and Singular nouns
There are some nouns in spanish and english that are singular in one language are plural in the other, an example of this is the word ‘people’. In english this is a plural noun (though irregular) while in spanish the translation is ‘gente’ which is singular. This leads to mistakes such as:
“The people is …” rather than “The people are …”.
Rather than try and list all the nouns this may apply to, during lessons should one of these nouns appear a quick explanation and maybe a follow up study task in a later lesson may be the best way to introduce students to this issue.
Reflexive verbs exist in english, though they are less used, while in spanish they are very commonly used. When students try to translate from a spanish sentence using a reflexive verb they tend to not translate it correctly, for example.
“Me llamo …” is directly translated to “I call myself …”, where the more common english translation would be “My name is …”.
“Me gusta cafe” as a direct translation would be “Coffee likes me”, rather than “I like coffee”.
There are other issues that may trip up spanish students learning english, but in the 10 years I have been living in spain
these are the issues that I have consistently come across when talking to Spaniards.