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8 Easy Tips to Improve your Spanish

1. Never make the /z/ sound

The /z/ sound as in the English words “zebra” and “crazy” does not exist in Spanish. The letter “z” is pronounced as /s/ by most Spanish speakers, and as the unvoiced /th/ in most parts of Spain. 

In English, the letter “S” is also pronounced as /z/ in many words such as: is, his, rise, advertise, reason, cars, nose, because. This is never the case in Spanish, because the /z/ sound does not exist. It’s a common mistake for English speakers to adopt this habit with Spanish words, especially in words with similar English spellings, so remember:

  • It’s museo not muzeo.
  • It’s usar not uzar.

2. Don’t mix up English homonyms

Homonyms are words that are spelled and pronounced the same but have different meanings. For example, the word “bat” can mean an animal or a piece of sport equipment.

In some cases the difference is obvious, rarely do people use the word “planchar” when they mean “hierro,” but other times the difference is more subtle and harder to notice.

Common confusions include:

Try:

  • probar = try an experience or new item
  • intentar = to put in effort

Time:

  • el tiempo = general time (time is running out, he has free time)
  • la hora = time on the clock (what time is it, it’s time to eat)
  • la vez = occasion (first time, every time, sometimes)

Right:

  • la derecha = direction (not left)
  • el derecho = entitlement (human rights, property rights)
  • tener razón = to be right (not wrong)

Free:

  • libre = without responsibilities/obligations, empty
  • gratis = without cost

Date:

  • la cita = meeting
  • la fecha = day on calendar
  • el dátil = date fruit

3. Say “Creo que”  instead of “pienso que”

The verb “pensar” describes the process of thinking (i.e. I thought about many things today, I’m thinking about you).

To express an opinion use the verb “creer.” Using “pienso que” will be understood as an expressing an opinion, but it sounds more tentative than the more commonly used “creo que” or “me parece que.”

4. Never say “un otro”

There’s no need to plug an article in front of the word “otro” to mean “another.” While saying el otro or la otra is correct to mean “the other one,” un otro or una otra is not correct.

To say “another” simply say “otro” or “otra.”

5. Don’t use “en” with days of the week or time of day

In English we say “on Monday,” “on the weekend,” “in the morning.” This doesn’t translate directly into Spanish:

Trabajo el sábado. I work on Saturday.
Tomo café por la mañana. I drink coffee in the morning.
Voy el jueves por la mañana. I’m going on Thursday morning.

6. Learn which masculine nouns end with an “a”

Some nouns break the pattern of feminine nouns ending in “–a” and masculine nouns ending in “–o.” This is especially common with nouns that end in “–ma” and “–ista,” but other words also break the pattern:

  • El problema
  • El día
  • El clima
  • El sofá
  • El artista
  • El mapa
  • El idioma
  • El tema
  • El dentista

7. Use the present progressive tense only for things in progress

Spanish’s present progressive should only be used for things that are actually in progress. “Qué estudias?” and “Qué estás estudiando” can both be translated as “What are you studying?” The subtle difference is that the second one emphasizes the process and the direct present moment.

8. Don’t end a sentence with a preposition

This is one of those non-sense rules many of us are taught about the English language, even though sentences like “Who are you going with?” or “Where are you going to?” are perfectly acceptable in English.
But in Spanish this rule absolutely applies, don’t make the mistake of saying sentences like “Quién vas con?” or “Dónde vas a?” instead say “Con quién vas?” or “Adónde va?”

 

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3 Responses to 8 Easy Tips to Improve your Spanish

  1. kristy October 25, 2013 at 10:10 PM #

    Just found your blog via r/spanish, and I wanted to say thanks for sharing these tips! Super helpful – I’m trying to polish off my Spanish these days because I haven’t used it since university!

    • Kate Peregrina October 26, 2013 at 6:46 PM #

      Sure! Glad to help!

  2. Kaitlin November 4, 2013 at 2:32 AM #

    Thank you for 8 actual tips, and a big thank you for not including one that is “Make Spanish Friends”! Nice blog!

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