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One of the more exciting aspects of learning a new language is finding out the unusual characters it contains, and Spanish is no exception. Not only do we have special characters like ‘ñ’, but also combined characters like ‘ll.’ There are also some letters that sound the same and others whose sound depends on its placement in a word.
Phew! All that can make your head spin if you take it all at once. In today’s blog, we’ll organize, simplify, and explain several of the tricky consonants that are found in the language. If you’re the kind of student that’s been speaking Spanish for a while, you’ll find these guides will help you perfect your understanding of the language. If you’re just starting out, these tips will serve as tools to jumpstart your Spanish career by helping you get ahead of the reading game! Remember that while these tips are useful, practice is the key to becoming a bilingual master. Let’s get started!
LL or Y – What’s the difference?
I remember that when I first began working with my new office mate from Costa Rica, she would make fun of me for not pronouncing the ‘ll’ and ‘y’ correctly in Spanish, as I would often use the ‘y’ sound for both. The truth is, I never really paid much attention to the differences between the two, and each culture has a different approach on how to pronounce these two letters. So, what’s the consensus on pronunciation?
For la doble l, the double l, the sound you make is the same sound that the letter ‘j’ does in a lot of English words. Juice, jade, June, and July are some examples of words that use the same pronunciation. You can then alternate words like juice and lluvia (rain) to practice!
For the letter ‘y’, it’s a bit more complex. Sometimes, you’ll use the same pronunciation as in la doble l, and sometimes you’ll use the same sound as the ‘ee’ in ‘eerie’. When should you use each one? The basic rules are as follows:
When the ‘y’ is found at the end of the word, it acts as a vowel, and its use is purely grammatical. Also, in some regions of Latinoamérica, people won’t change the way they pronounce the ‘y,’ having it act as a vowel all the time! It’s fun to learn how speech changes from one region to the next, your Spanish will improve faster if you talk with people from different countries.
B and V
Unlike the b and v in English, these letters are pronounced exactly the same in Spanish – the pronunciation is officially called a bilabial sonoro, or a bilabial sound. In other words, you use both of your lips, more like the English ‘b.’ The difference between the letters has been purely grammatical for over 100 years! While you may hear people in some regions pronounce them differently, the correct pronunciation that the majority of Spanish-speakers use is to not differentiate between the sounds.
Below you’ll find a chart with different ways to name these two letters. Bear in mind the names on the last row of the chart are very informal, and it’s best to avoid using them (especially in a business setting) but are important to know anyway.
Different names for ‘v’ and ‘b’
The letter H is like a spooky ghost!
It is probably the easiest letter you’ll ever learn how to say in Spanish, because you don’t say it at all! The ‘h’ is a silent letter. Much like how the English language has changed and been left with quirks and marks in writing, this letter is a vestige of the way we spoke some centuries ago. As the language became more sophisticated and evolved with time, the consonants became smoother. The ‘h’ actually became so smooth that people stopped pronouncing it all together; that doesn’t mean it’s completely useless, though! In some cases, the ‘h’ will guide the pronunciation of certain words like buho (owl) by separating the two vowels and making the word composed of two syllables as opposed to one, changing the way it’s said.
One noisy exception
As my preschool teacher used to say: “The ‘h’ is shy and doesn’t like to make noise, but if her best friend ‘c’ sits next to her, everyone will be able to hear them!” This was a neat way to let us know that our beloved ghost letter still holds some use in Spanish. If you’ve ever been to a mexican food restaurant you’ve probably ordered a ‘chimichanga’ or a ‘chalupa.’ These words are great because they tell us just how the letter ‘h’ combined with the ‘c’ sound. The examples I gave you, I believe, are a great way to remember when and how the ‘h’ makes a noise in Spanish. However, perhaps the easiest examples I can give you on how to pronounce these letters are words like chair, chimes, and cherry. It’s indeed charming how cheerful these letters sound together!
The deceitful D
It is not uncommon for native Spanish speakers to accommodate their speech to better communicate with someone who’s still learning. In fact, I believe that’s one of the beautiful aspects of learning a new language: people will make an effort to connect with you better, even if you’re not great at their native tongue. However, in situations like social gatherings, for example, there can be a group of Spanish speakers that all of a sudden start making no sense at all. How can you better understand what they’re saying when they don’t pull their punches?
Idioms aside, one of the letters that Spanish speakers skip the most (besides the ‘s’) is the ‘d.’ When saying words like nada (nothing), native Spanish speakers like myself will say ‘nah-ah’ instead, and that can easily throw you off the flow of conversation if you have to listen in an active manner, like all language learners must do. Some Americans do this too! In some areas of the States, people cut out the ‘t’ of words. For example, instead of saying ‘mountain,’ you may hear ‘moun-ain’ without the ‘t!’ Even though a letter is skipped, the audience still understands. In Latinoamérica we do the same!
Another important thing to note is that the ‘d’ sound is a lot softer in Spanish. The main difference lies in the position of the tongue when saying this letter. You might be tempted to say the ‘d’ the same as ‘th,’ but that will make words like oportunidad (opportunity) way harder to say. To simplify things, to the Spanish ‘d’ sound you just have to move your tongue behind your teeth rather than in between, making a ‘doh’ sound instead.
J is a funny letter
If you’ve ever interacted online with someone who’s a native Spanish speaker, you might come across a text message that looks like this: jajajaja ¡qué risa!
It might look like they missed the keyboard when they tried to type “hahaha, that’s funny!” but that’s because the ‘j’ sound is the same as the basic ‘h’ sound in English. There is a subtle difference though, and that is that the ‘j’ sound can be both identical to the ‘h,’ or have a more ragged, raspy feel to it. The difference is regional (Guatemala has a raspy ‘j’ while El Salvador is known for doing more of an ‘h’ sound), and it mostly affects your accent rather than your understandability, so you can stick with the basic ‘h’ sound no problem.
My N has a little hat!
One of the two extra letters you’ll find in Spanish and not in English is the ‘ñ.’ I have a little trick that will help you say this letter right, and it’s a very easy trick at that! The way to pronounce the ‘ñ’ in Spanish – eñe – is as simple as saying the word ‘lanyard’ while keeping your teeth together. The sound that will come when you say ‘nya’ is the sound that belongs to our friend the eñe. Below are some Spanish words to practice with.
Last but not least, the Z
This letter is tricky because it’s one of the main differences between España and Latinoamérica when it comes to pronunciation. For Latinoamérica there’s really no difference between ‘z’ and ‘s,’ but if you’re in Spain, you might want to consider the following:
To pronounce the ‘z’ as they do in Spain, just talk as if you had a lisp, changing the ‘z’ for a ‘th’ as in the word ‘thick.’ Some word that’ll help you practice the ‘z’ are cereza (cherry), zapatos (shoes), and Suiza (Switzerland).
Take it one step at a time
Consonants are often a milestone when learning a new language. They can be scary and confusing, so remember to tackle them one by one! We cover most of the letters in this blog in our video about confusing consonants on our YouTube channel. Subscribe to receive great content to improve your Spanish! Make sure you visit our website to receive a free Spanish class live with one of our teachers.
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If you have studied Spanish for a little while, you have probably noticed that there are many connections between English and Spanish. Since they both have roots in Latin, there are many similarities, making it pretty easy to identify the meaning of new words in Spanish…or so you think. While you may be able to stick an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ to the end of some English words or change an -tion to a -ción to make them Spanish equivalents (tranquil — tranquilo, education — educación), it is not always that simple!
These words that look alike and have the same meaning are called cognates. Let’s look at some more:
- Plate — Plato
- Intention — Intención
- Capital — Capital
These examples either have the exact same spelling or just slight differences. There are other examples where the words may not look exactly the same but look enough like each other for us to make the correlation between the two:
- Necessity – Necesidad
- Lamp – Lámpara
While these connections between the two languages are great and can help us understand a lot more Spanish than we expect, it can often set us up for some awkward situations. How many times have you not known a word in Spanish and tried to just put a Spanish ending on the English one and hoped for the best? This often works (like with education and educación), but not always. There are numerous false cognates, or false friends as they are often called, that create confusion and miscommunication. Possibly the most common example of this is embarrassed and embarazada. They look similar, so they must mean the same thing, right? Wrong! Embarazada is actually pregnant, and the correct translation of embarrassed would be avergonzado(a). Can you see how false cognates can cause a lot of problems? Let’s look at some more.
Phew! That’s a lot of false cognates. Don’t stress, though! I learned a lot of these through trial and error, and it’s okay if you confuse these, too. Keep practicing, and be sure to talk with one of our certified Spanish teachers if you have any questions. Sign up for a FREE class now!
Today is my 20th birthday! My party will be at the fifth house on the second avenue. As of now, you’re the first to know! Ok, ok, so today isn’t really my birthday, but without the use of ordinal numbers, I wouldn’t be able to tell you all about it. Ordinal numbers tell us about an object’s position in relation to others. They are the numerical labels that help us arrange objects or ideas in order: first, second, third, etc. They are different from cardinal numbers, or natural numbers, that represent a quantity that we can count. When we learn about ordinal numbers in Spanish, it’s important to remember the vocabulary as well as the ways that they are used.
Ordinal Numbers 1-10
The most commonly used números ordinales in Spanish are numbers 1-10. As you will soon see, the numbers after 10 grow in complexity and length, which has undoubtedly persuaded Spanish speakers to use the cardinal numbers between 11 and a million much more frequently. Let’s start with a list of the numbers 1-10 in their ordinal form with a pronunciation cheat sheet!
It is important to take note that we do not use these ordinal numbers in Spanish exactly the same way that we use them in English. For example, unlike English, we write the days of the month with the cardinal number to specify a date. The only exception is for the first day of the month, where we use the ordinal number:
Cardinal number: El diez de agosto (August 10th)
Ordinal number for the first day of any month: El primero de abril (April 1st), el primero de agosto (August 1st)
The use of the ordinal number to denote the first of the month is a general and common rule for Spanish, but it is acceptable only in Spain to use uno instead of primero (El uno de abril).
Give it a try
Here is a quick quiz to see if you can fill in the blanks with the correct ordinal number, using the chart above to help! (See the answers at the end of the blog to check your work!)
1. el ______________ (8th) carro
2. el ______________ (1st) de noviembre
3. el ______________ (10th) suéter
4. el ______________ (5th) hermano
5. el ______________ (9th) cuadro
Ordinal Versus Cardinal
While cardinal numbers act as adjectives, ordinal numbers can be adverbs, pronouns, and adjectives. The major difference between them is that cardinal numbers do not usually change according to the gender and number of the noun, as ordinal numbers do. Here are a few examples that show how ordinal numbers change in order to adapt to the noun that they describe:
You will see that the ordinal number ending in ‘o’ comes before masculine nouns, while the ordinal number ending in ‘a’ precedes feminine nouns.
Do you notice anything strange in the chart above? Take a closer look at the ordinal number in the sentence Me dieron el primer boleto. In our example, it’s no mistake that primer is written without the final ‘o’. Ordinal numbers primero and tercero both lose the final ‘o’ when they are in front of a singular noun. This is the case even if another word is in between, as in, el primer gran día (the first big day).
El primer momento libre = the first free moment
El ganador del tercer lugar = the third place winner
Give it a try
Which ordinal or cardinal numbers do you need to fill in the following blanks? (See the answers at the end of the blog to check your work!)
6. Tengo ______________ (2) animales.
7. Tengo el ______________ (2nd) animal.
8. Hoy es la ______________ (1st) vez.
9. Lo hago solo ______________ (1) vez.
10. Comienza la ______________ (4th) entrada.
We have just learned that ordinal numbers are often adjectives. As you may know, an adjective generally comes after the noun it describes in Spanish. In the case of ordinal numbers, however, they come before the noun unless discussing a member of royalty or the pope.
El sexto libro = the sixth book
Mi primera foto = my first photo
Juan Carlos Primero = Juan Carlos the First, the former king of Spain
San Juan Pablo Segundo = Pope John Paul the Second
Numbers 11 to 100
Ordinal numbers are not ordinarily used after 10, but it is still important to expose yourself to them so that you can recognize them when they do appear. Both 11th and 12th have two acceptable forms, which the chart below shows. While there is, unfortunately, no formula to memorize for all the ordinal numbers after 11, there are a few guidelines we can follow. For numbers 13-19, we use a combination of decimo + ordinal number 3-9, as in decimocuarto (14th). For numbers in between 20-100, we use the ordinal number ending in -gésimo or -agésimo + the unique singular ordinal number 1-9, as in vigésimo primero (21st).
As you view the chart, keep in mind that all of these ordinal numbers can be written together or apart, as in decimoprimero or décimo primero. Additionally, if they describe a feminine noun, their form changes to decimaprimera or décima primera.
Similar to English, Spanish ordinal numbers can be written in long form or using superscriptions. While in English we use “st” “nd” “rd” and “th” as the superscriptions (as in 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th), Spanish uses “o” for masculine nouns or “a” for feminine nouns, as in the following examples:
Another way of abbreviating numbers is by using roman numerals, which we read as ordinal numbers. We can use roman numerals with centuries, popes, monarchs, emperors, books, volumes, chapters, and recurring events. Keep in mind that in informal speech, the use of ordinal numbers above 10 is fairly rare. Instead of saying, el quincuagésimo capítulo, one would more likely say el capítulo cincuenta.
Now that you have learned how to use ordinal numbers, be sure to keep practicing them regularly in speech and writing. Be sure to check out our blog on cardinal numbers to refresh your memory or learn new vocabulary! To enhance your language skills, schedule a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy and start speaking Spanish with a native speaker today!
Answers to Give It a Try:
Do you remember the blog about ya where we introduced you to the first of many Spanish words that have multiple meanings? Today, we’ll continue exploring the phenomenon of words that are spelled the same but don’t mean the same thing! We can categorize these words as:
- Polysemic words – words that have one single origin, but when used in different contexts have different meanings.
- Homonyms – two or more words that are spelled the same but don’t have the same linguistic roots; they, therefore, have different meanings.
The difference between these two is that a polysemic word is one single word with two or more meanings that depend on context, while homonyms are two or more words that are spelled the same but mean different things because they don’t have the same etymological background. This means that homonyms are words that are spelled the same by chance, not because they have evolved from the same word.
For all you grammar nerds, Etymology is the study of the origin of words and their evolution throughout history.
We’ll start with our first polysemic word; this one has caused the most trouble to all my English-speaking friends learning Spanish! In Mexico and Guatemala, we use the word ahorita. This is the diminutive form of ahora – we sure love our diminutives! Ahorita is a colloquial expression, which means that we use it in informal speech. There are two reasons why this word causes so much trouble:
- As a part of informal speech, we use it all the time in conversations. So, it’s really easy to misinterpret it as we really use it so often!
- The meanings of ahorita are very contradictory. It can either mean:
- Right now, like right now, now. Right this second.
- Just a little bit ago.
- In a little bit, or anytime between 5 minutes and a couple of hours.
- In an indeterminate amount of time.
In order to understand what the other person means with ahorita, I’ve often needed to ask something like, “Are you leaving the house ahorita as in right this second, or ahorita as in a couple of hours?” I’ve also had friends who live only a 5-minute drive from me tell me they’ll leave their house ahorita, only to come to my house 4 hours later! And once they arrived, I asked them, “Weren’t you leaving ahorita?” To which they would usually reply with something like, “Oh, yeah, I did. I was just finishing something.”
As you can see, the meaning of ahorita greatly varies depending on the context. This can cause a lot of frustration not only for people who are learning about a new language and culture but also to people who speak the language as a mother tongue. Don’t ever feel bad about these misinterpretations! Remember that a language is not always an exact science!
While most of these words are not as confusing as ahorita, it’s important to know them before you encounter them!
Spanish Polysemic Words
As we mentioned before, a polysemic word has one single etymological origin and multiple meanings that vary depending on the context in which we use the word. Let’s have a look at some of these words:
As we mentioned above, homonyms are two or more words that are spelled the same but do not have the same etymological background, so they have various meanings. Let’s look at some of them:
As you can see in all these examples, there are many Spanish words that we spell exactly the same way but that have more than one meaning! We understand what these words mean because of the context in which we’re saying them. If someone said puedes bajar la llama de la estufa, they could mean two different things:
- You can turn the llama down on the stove, or
- You can get the llama off the stove
What is certain is that the person is most likely referring to turning down the flame on the stove, and not telling you to get the fluffy animal off the stove!
Let’s have a look at some more examples! As you will see below, there are times when more than one sentence makes sense. This is why the context is so important! If you’re sitting at a restaurant, you’ll more likely ask for a menu than for a letter or a card. And while a baby is sure mono (cute, lovely, or adorable), he can’t wear a monkey (monkey also means mono in Spanish – the right word here would be onesies).
Me duele la muñeca
- My doll hurts
- My wrist hurts
Me puede traer la carta
- Please, bring me the card
- Please, bring me the letter
- Please, bring me the menu
Me encanta comer falda
- I love to eat foothills
- I love to eat skirts
- I love to eat brisket
Mis plantas están verdes
- My plants are green
- My factories are green
- My soles are green
Las carpas son de agua dulce
- Tents live in freshwater
- Carps live in freshwater
El mono le queda muy bien al bebé
- The monkey fits the baby well
- The cute one fits the baby well
- Onesies fit the baby well
If you have any questions regarding the use of any words, remember that you can always schedule a FREE class with us and we’ll help you solve any doubts!
Follow along with our PDF!
In English, whenever you are happy, at home, or cold, you use the verb to be (am, are, is) to refer to all three things. However, in Spanish you say estoy feliz (or in some cases soy feliz), estoy en la casa, and tengo frío! There are three different verbs for the equivalent English verb ‘to be.’ Today, we will discuss when it is most appropriate to use each verb! If you’d like to learn more about how to express your feelings in Spanish, go have a look at our feelings blog!
Ser vs. Estar
Although they express something similar (the characteristics of a person or thing), estar and ser convey distinct ideas. Pointing out this difference to an English speaker, or a speaker of any language that doesn’t differentiate between these ideas, is a little complicated. Since we use only one word to refer to both concepts, you’ll have to create an approach in your mind and learn how it works. As said above, don’t worry: the more you practice, the better you’ll get at it!
Ser expresses the attributes of a person or thing. When you use ser, you’re talking about characteristics that are a part of the essence of a person or thing: something unchangeable.
Since ser helps us express the characteristics of a person or thing, what comes after the verb is an adjective! The structure for these sentences is ser + adjective:
Another way you can remember when to use the verb ser is to completely get rid of the verb and see how the adjective matches your noun. Adding the verb ser turns this phrase into a sentence*:
*Sentences are grammatical units that include a subject (a person or thing) and a predicate (which includes a verb and whatever follows) and help us express a complete idea. On the other hand, phrases are a set of words that form part of a sentence or clause.
Think of estar as a status or condition. Estar expresses how a person or thing exists, finds itself in a place or situation, how it feels, or how it remains with stability in a place, situation or condition.
As you can see, estar refers to something that can change and that doesn’t belong to the nature of the person or thing.
Estar can help you say how you’re feeling, express a place that you’re at, or something that you’re currently doing. When forming sentences with estar, you want to use the following structures:
*Gerund: in Spanish, the gerund (verb with -ando and -iendo endings) helps us describe a continuous action that started taking place before we mentioned it and that is still taking place as we talk about it. The equivalent of this in English is the Present Continuous Tense that we form with the verb to be + another verb with the -ing ending.
Ser vs Estar Examples
Conjugation of Ser and Estar
Now that you know when you should use each verb, let’s have a look at the conjugation since they are both irregular verbs (estar only varies on the first person singular – the rest of its conjugation is regular):
Tener means to have, to own, or to possess. This verb may be a little easier to understand because it is a verb that exists in English. We can use tener to express something that we physically possess or a way we feel at a certain point in time – a feeling or need we “have.”
As we learned in our blog about expressing the way we feel, we can use tener (to have) to express needs or emotions at a specific point in time.
The construction for this is tener + a noun. Let’s have a look at some examples and what a literal translation would look like:
Tener is, like estar and ser, an irregular verb. You need to keep that in mind when building sentences with it:
Like we reviewed in our common mistakes blog, there are some things you need to keep in mind to make your Spanish even better. When it comes to expressing the way we feel, make sure you remember this list:
- Tengo calor: while in English you say ‘I’m hot’, in Spanish you say ‘I have heat’ (I experience heat). Saying ‘estoy caliente’ or ‘soy caliente’ means that you are aroused by something, so you really want to avoid making this common mistake and having people look at you funny.
- Tengo frío: in Spanish we say that we ‘have cold’ (we experience cold). To properly that that you’re cold, you need to say tengo frío. To say estoy frío or soy frío me means that you’re a cold person – a person who doesn’t show their feelings.
- Estoy mal vs. soy malo
- Estoy mal: since we’re using the verb estar, we’re referring to a condition that is not a part of the character of a person. In this case, estoy mal means that you feel physically sick or that you’re upset about something.
- Soy malo: ser expresses qualities about a person or thing that are part of them and therefore unchangeable. If we say soy malo, we’re saying that we’re a bad person, not that we’re feeling unwell. Another thing to keep in mind here is that if you want to say that you’re ‘bad at something’ like I am at playing soccer, you say soy malo para el fútbol. We use ser in this case because not being able to play soccer well is a part of me that’s not going to change because I’m not interested in soccer.
- Estoy bien vs. soy bueno: estoy bien and soy bueno work the same way as estoy mal and soy malo.
- Estoy bien: we’re using estar so we refer to a condition that we’re currently at. When you say estoy bien, it can either been that you’re physically or psychologically fine.
- Soy bueno: since we’re using ser, we’re talking about a part of our character. We’re saying that we’re a good person. Like with soy malo, if we want to say that we’re good at something – at something being the keyword here – we say soy bueno para jugar ajedrez (I’m good at playing chess). This means that being good at playing chess is a part of our skills.
I know this is a lot to take in, and the best way to learn all this is by practicing and practicing! Why don’t you jump into a FREE class with us so that you can practice even more with one of our teachers!
Continue practicing with our handy-dandy PDF!
Get ready and put on your wetsuit because today we’re going to dive into the deep ocean of Spanish idioms and explore the colorfulness of the language. Just like with English, we use idioms all the time in Spanish, which makes them so important to learn!
But first, what is an idiom? According to Meriam Webster, an idiom is “an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically (such as no, it wasn’t me) or in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as ride herd on for “supervise”).”
Just so that you know exactly what we’re looking at today, here’s a list:
- Idioms in Spanish
- The literal translation into English so you can see how important it is to keep in mind that language is a lot more than just a translation of words. It is a common mistake to translate idioms word for word, so try to avoid that!
- The actual meaning in English
- An example of each one so you can learn when to use them!
Some idioms have an equivalent in English, while others don’t.
We’ll start with my all-time favorite idiom because I’m an avid cat lover, who is unfortunately allergic to cats. Oh, the ironies of life! Maybe it’s something good; otherwise, my house would be filled with cute, furry little creatures!
Isn’t this awesome? You’ve just learned 20 new idioms in Spanish that will help you communicate even better! Now book a FREE class with us so you can practice them and learn even more!
Whenever we’re learning a new language, we come across certain aspects of it that seem to make sense and be right to us as speakers of another language. However, as I’ve mentioned before, a language is not only a translation of words. It entails a whole cultural and linguistic background, and the unique history and evolution of each language define the meaning of every word and how we use them. Today we’ll have a look at some of the most common mistakes we can make when learning Spanish! Don’t forget to check out our accompanying video.
Several of these common mistakes stem from the fact that in Spanish (like other languages) there are some concepts that do not exist in English. This means that instead of trying to understand something that doesn’t exist in our world at all, we need to accept it and learn how it works. Other mistakes arise from the vast differences in the grammatical structure of each language – these are also certain rules that we’ll have to learn by heart. Additionally, similar-sounding words that actually have distinct meanings in each language cause many mistakes.
Before we start, remember that making mistakes is totally fine! It’s a part of the learning process. We’ve all made mistakes, and we’re going to make mistakes again. We even make mistakes sometimes when we speak our mother language. So don’t feel too bad about it – learn from it! The more you practice, the easier it will get.
1. Use of Ser and Estar
While in English there’s only one verb to express qualities of a thing or person (to be), in Spanish there are three: we can use either ser and estar depending on what we want to say, and sometimes we can even use tener (to have).
We use ser when talking about characteristics that are unchangeable and part of the essence of something or someone. On the other hand, we use estar when talking about characteristics that describe a specific or current state. Furthermore, we use tener when referring to an emotion or need.
Since we know that this is a delicate topic for any person learning Spanish, we’ll soon be sharing with you an entire blog post about the differences between ser and estar and the appropriate situations to use each!
2. Use of Adjectives
In English, we always use adjectives before nouns, but in Spanish, while we can use them before or after the noun, it is most common to use them after: noun + adjective!
Using adjectives before nouns in Spanish is a lot less common, but we can use them this way when we want to emphasize a trait or when writing poetically.
Let’s see some examples:
3. Subjects in Sentences
Part of English grammar is always using a noun or pronoun as a subject in a sentence. In Spanish, because of the more detailed conjugation of the verbs that changes with each person (I, you, he/she/it, we, you all, they), the subject of the sentences can often be left out.
That means that we don’t always need to write who is performing an action. Instead of writing Yo voy al mercado (I go to the market), we only need to write Voy al mercado. Since voy is conjugated in the first person singular – yo, I – we understand that it is I who is performing the action without having to explicitly write it down.
There are cases when it is important to mention who is performing the action in order to give the sentence more clarity, but it is not needed for the sentence to be right. Keep in mind that in order for your Spanish to sound more natural, you need to avoid the excessive use of pronouns and other subjects in sentences.
4. People vs. Gente
In English, the word ‘people’ is a plural count noun and therefore takes a plural conjugation – we say people are and not
people is! In Spanish, the word gente is a collective noun so it refers to a group of people, a plural, but it keeps its singular form.
Gente has no plural because it is already a plural form for the word persona (person). Although personas is the plural of persona, we more often use gente to refer to a group of persons as a collective. In this case, we say that la gente es, instead of
la gente son or las gentes son.
Keep in mind that verbs and adjectives need to match the singular word although its meaning is plural:
5. False Cognate
False cognates, or false friends as we also call them, are words that sound or are written in a similar way but don’t have the same meaning. This can happen in one language, or in two separate languages. Always try to keep in mind that two words sounding or looking similar doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the same meaning. A very common mistake here is embarazada, which sounds a lot like embarrassed, but actually means pregnant! You certainly don’t want to say you’re pregnant when you want to express how embarrassed you already are about something. We’ll compile a list of the most common false cognates for you so you can always keep an eye on this. Stay tuned!
6. Capitalization of Words
In English, capitalization rules vary greatly from those in Spanish, as we capitalize a lot of words that are written with lowercase letters in Spanish.
When we write in English, we capitalize the days of the week, months of the year, languages, religions, nationalities, and most words in titles of books, plays, articles, etc. However, in Spanish, we don’t capitalize any of the above, and when it comes to titles, we only capitalize the first letter!
Some of the most common capitalization rules are that we only capitalize:
- Given names of people, animals, and places (Majo Grajeda, Firulais, Guatemala)
- All significant words in given names of organizations, associations, institutions, organism, newspapers, universities, schools, companies, musical groups, etc. (El Periódico, Instituto Nacional de Turismo, Universidad del Valle)
- The first word of titles in movies, books, articles (Bajo la misma estrella, El rey león, La isla del tesoro)
7. Double Negative
When in English we want to say that we haven’t written anything, we can either say that we haven’t written a thing, or that we have written nothing. What we cannot say, is that “we haven’t written nothing.” This is a double negative, and in English, a double negative creates a positive statement.
So if we said “I didn’t hear nothing” it means that “you did hear something,” and not that “you didn’t hear any noise.” In Spanish, however, we use double negatives all the time because it is the right way to say things and using them doesn’t alter the negative meaning of statements.
An important rule here is that Spanish sentences don’t usually mix positive and negative words in statements. If you start your sentence as a negative statement (no, nunca, nada, nadie, ningún/ninguna, jamás, tampoco) you need to continue your sentence, with a negative word. This also applies to sentences that start as positive statements. In those cases, you need to continue your sentence with a positive word (siempre, algo, alguien, algún/alguna, también).
8. Right Usage of Verbs
In Spanish, there are verbs that seem to have similar meanings but may subtly or completely alter what you’re trying to say. Let’s have a look at 3 of these pairs:
Ir vs. Venir
Ir means ‘to go somewhere,’ while venir means ‘to come from somewhere’:
Traer vs. Llevar
Traer means to bring something to a place where you already are or to a place that you’re already talking about. Llevar means to take something to a place different than the one you’re currently at or that isn’t part of the context of what you’re speaking at the moment.
To understand this better, let’s have a look at a little conversation:
(Backstory: Maria and Ana are at Ana’s house getting ready for a party.)
Oír vs. Escuchar
Oír means to perceive sound with your senses, while escuchar means to pay attention to what you’re listening to. While these two verbs are interchangeable at times – and everyone will understand what you mean if mix them up – it’s important to keep in mind that there are cases when using one is better than using the other one.
Mastering these common mistakes will bring your Spanish skills to a whole different level! Don’t forget to watch our video and schedule a FREE class with one of our native Spanish teachers to clarify any doubts you may still have.Read More
Building rapport with colleagues and customers in Spanish is one of the most important components of being successful at your job. Let’s face it, we want to do business with people we like and trust – therefore you need to be likable and trustworthy!
So how do you build confidence with others and get people to enjoy doing business with you in Spanish? Start with a conversation.
Show Interest and Ask Questions
One of the most important points from the book The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People is the need to be an active and empathic listener. The author says:
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
— Stephen Covey
If you want to build rapport in any language, you first need to genuinely understand what a person is saying and listen with your ears, eyes, and heart. Have an open mind. This will build mutual trust – and others will believe that you will act in their best interest – which then leads to positive problem solving and greater transparency in a business relationship. Active listening and showing real interest will help others be more willing to share concerns and achievements – and be more open and authentic.
Understand that business is done differently in Spanish-speaking countries, and this needs to be considered and respected. When listening, you want to have humility and be non-judgmental – this will give others the space and comfort to open up. Listening in this way is a strength and an attribute of a strong leader. Good listeners are savvy at acquiring information that is useful for doing business better – and knowledge is power.
For example, let’s say you are trying to understand why your customer can never deliver parts on time to meet your manufacturing schedule. As a result, this is impacting your company’s performance. You could approach your supplier and say:
¿Por qué envió el producto tarde otra vez? ¿Qué está sucediendo? No vamos a alcanzar nuestra meta financiera trimestral, lo cual es inaceptable.
“Why are you late again? What is going on?! We are going to miss our quarterly financial goal, which is unacceptable.”
This will immediately put your counterpart on the defense and likely be met with an excuse.
Let’s try something a little softer, more empathetic.
An alternate approach would be:
Bueno, si no cree cumplir con la fecha de entrega, por favor, muéstreme el proceso de la cadena de suministro – ¿Cómo se realiza el pedido? Y ¿cómo se entrega el producto? Trabajemos juntos en un plan de mitigación y desarrollemos un planteamiento alternativo para garantizar que los futuros productos se entreguen a tiempo.
“Ok, so you don’t think you’ll meet the timeline. Please, walk me through the supply chain process – how is the order placed, and how is the product delivered. Let’s work together on a mitigation plan and develop an alternative approach to ensure on-time delivery for future products.”
This shift in tone and willingness to listen to the process will give you far more results and a better working relationship – it shows that you have an interest in the mutual success of both companies.
Find Common Ground
It is important to respect cultural differences when working with a Spanish-speaking customer, and you need to find common ground to be successful.
Let’s say your customer is late to the telephone meeting AGAIN and you infer that they just don’t care about the business relationship. Take a step back and consider that this company is located in a different country and does business differently than you. Perhaps, being 10-15 minutes late is not meant to be disrespectful, but is in-line with normal business culture. Opening your mind and taking time to understand the country which you are doing business with will get you miles ahead. (Note that not ALL Latinos are late; this is just an example that some people will be consistently late, which may be cultural and is in no way meant to be disrespectful.)
If we want to accomplish our best, we must work well with other people. For example, you can be the best footballer/soccer player in the world, but if you are not surrounded by a team that works together you will never win. This is true not only in sports but also in business.
Break the Ice
When you meet your Spanish-speaking customer or counterpart for the first time (either in person or on the phone), it is good to ask icebreaker questions. Icebreakers are lighthearted easy to answer questions that help you get to know someone. You can ask about the location, local food, travel plans, etc. The most important part is to be sure and show sincere interest – this key point helps you build rapport and build a bond with the other person. Not only is sincerity key, but it is also fun and educational to learn about a new place from a local!
Some examples of ice breaker questions are:
1. Ustedes están situados en El Salvador, ¿verdad? ¿Qué platos típicos son populares allá?
You are located in El Salvador, correct? What local dishes are popular there?
2. ¿Dónde está situado el lugar idóneo para vacacionar en Argentina?
Where is the best place to go in Argentina on holiday?
3. Veo que ya se acerca un partido de fútbol. ¿A qué equipo apoya?
I see there is a soccer game coming up – what team do you root for?
4. ¿Cuál es la mejor temporada para visitar las playas de Guatemala?
When is the best time of year to visit the beaches in Guatemala?
As time goes on and you meet regularly on calls or in meetings with this person, it is acceptable to ask more personal questions about family or career.
Some ideas of more personal questions are:
1. Entonces, ¿creció aquí? ¿Su familia es originaria de aquí?
So, did you grow up here? Is your family from here?
2. ¿Tiene hijos? ¿Qué edad tienen?
Do you have children? How old are they?
3. ¿Por cuánto tiempo ha trabajado en la compañía?
How long have you worked at the company?
4. ¿Cómo ha cambiado la empresa con el tiempo?
How has the company changed over time?
Above all, if you want to build rapport you need to have sincere conversations, listen to hear and understand, remember what is important to the individual, such as a football team or daughter’s graduation, and always follow-up.
Note that depending on the country you are interfacing with, it can be more common to ask personal questions early on. Do some research before you embark on your new business journey so that you know what is an appropriate conversation topic in each specific country.
Last but not least, be sure to avoid anything political or controversial – just as with English speakers, everyone has a strong opinion and conversations about touchy subjects will not help you build rapport in the long run.
Small talk is also important when building rapport. Americans have a distinct way of doing business – we get to the point quickly and directly. This can be offensive to other cultures/countries and Americans can come across rude, impatient, blunt and untrustworthy. This is not our intention at all!! It is simply a different style of doing business.
Some international business meetings can take a half-day or an entire day of small talk alone! Americans can find this as a waste of time since we are not ‘getting down to business’ – but in actuality, building the relationship through small talk IS key to building the business relationship you want!
In Latin America, you will want to begin every conversation with a greeting and small talk.
Good Morning, How are you? ¿Buenos días, cómo está? — To my fellow Americans – Wait for a response! In the USA we ask ‘How are you?’ in lieu of saying ‘Hi.’ But in other places, this can be a sincere question that will most likely be met with some real insight into the person’s day! This will give you an opportunity to ‘ s l o w d o w n ‘ and listen.
Speaking Spanish will help you build rapport with companies who are located in Spanish-speaking countries or are located in the USA with numerous Spanish-speaking employees.
As you already know, companies are going global to attract more business, keep costs down and tap into talent abroad. Companies who work globally need to be made up of people who represent what the world looks like – diversity. They also need to retain bilingual employees – this will enhance your competitive edge. When people hear you greet them in their native language, it builds a connection and helps your counterpart envision doing business with your company. Companies want to work with businesses they can relate to – conversing in Spanish helps you succeed!
Notice a theme? Rapport is all about how we communicate! If we can communicate with a person in their native tongue it is the first step in developing strong relationships (aka rapport!). That combined with the other tips in this article will not only enhance your personal life, but it will also vastly improve your professional one.
Practice building rapport today with a Spanish-speaker at our school!
There are many perks to speaking Spanish; it can enhance your work experience by setting you apart from your colleagues and can increase your cultural competency – buzzwords that companies look for when hiring and promoting.
Now, let’s explore ways to use Spanish at work!
First Things First
You don’t have to wait until graduation to get a Spanish-speaking job!
If you are still at university, look for a part-time job that requires Spanish – such as tutoring or being a bilingual nanny. Don’t forget there are summer internship opportunities out there that will help improve your language skills as well. Another option is to combine Spanish with your main degree – this will help you when you do begin searching for a job and open your horizons for bilingual opportunities.
While at university, I tutored elementary school students whose parents didn’t speak English and were unable to assist with their child’s homework. I was able to help the child with their studies AND keep their Spanish-speaking parents apprised of their child’s progress – something that the elementary school teachers were not able to do. The children’s grades improved and the parents felt that they were finally getting an explanation of what their child was learning at school. It was a win-win for all parties and I got to use Spanish every week.
If you are already in the workforce and want to use Spanish – read on!
Practice, Practice, AND Get Over Your Fear of Talking
You are getting comfortable with the Spanish language – BUT you find that you have some reservations about speaking. Don’t let this hold you back!
- Practice with friends… or with strangers – read on for daily tips on using Spanish!
- Look here for ways to fit Spanish into your busy schedule
- Want to sound like a native speaker? Use these transition words to fit in or read here for more pointers.
Unsure when the formal or informal version of ‘you’ are appropriate? All your questions are answered here.
Put Yourself out There
Let’s see how Spanish helped Ana excel at work!
My friend, Tom, recently received an official government document in Spanish from an important international customer- and no one on his team could interpret it. However, Tom recalled that his colleague upstairs spoke Spanish! He asked for Ana’s assistance in interpreting the document, which she happily did. This official government document needed to be translated perfectly so the team could analyze it properly, or the company would have been misled and this could lead to huge consequences.
For example, one word on the document was ‘shares’ (as in shares of company stock), Google translate will give you comparte instead of acciones. Compartir is the verb ‘to share’ and is used for sharing a meal, a ride, etc. This would have been a gross misinterpretation of the official document.
Luckily, misinterpretations were avoided because Ana was able to help out. The collaboration between the two employees helped the company make an informed decision quickly – and their bosses took notice! Ana was asked to help on the sales campaign for further translation duties and she was able to shine at work because of her useful language skills. She was also exposed to a new side of the company, sales, and thus gained more business experience.
Don’t Rely on Online Translators
Language is not black and white; a word can have multiple different meanings depending on the context, and a machine cannot understand context clues. One wrong word can make a HUGE difference.
Now, here is the thing – ‘Google Translate’ is useful for a quick answer but is highly inaccurate – such as the example above. Documents need to be translated by a human to make sure the concepts are properly understood.
Make it known to the Latin American Sales Team at your company that you speak Spanish and can help with interpreting or translating. By putting yourself out there you will open doors for new opportunities within your company!
Join (or Start) a Spanish Club
Some companies offer different ‘affinity groups’ or ‘clubs’ – such as a Spanish Club! You get together with your fellow colleagues and converse in Spanish. This is a great way to have fun and meet new people. Your company doesn’t have a Spanish Club? Start one! Taking initiative to develop something new will impress your boss and build camaraderie within the company.
Raise Your Hand for the Next Business Trip
If your company is looking to expand to Latinoamérica or to Latino communities in the US, offer to make yourself available to attend the business calls and attend business meetings.
Your knowledge of the culture and language will be an asset.
Easy Ways to Use Spanish Daily
If you start to look and listen more intently, you will notice that Spanish is around us every day.
- While waiting at your doctor’s office, pick up the Spanish copy of the magazines and put your skills to the test.
- Wait in the Spanish-speaking queue! Most banks and stores have Spanish speakers on-site to assist the 41 million Spanish speakers in the US. Start using this service to ask your questions, or ‘Presione dos para comunicarse con una persona en español’ when calling the utility company, law office, cell phone company, etc.!
- Go to a Latino restaurant on your lunch-break and strike up a conversation with the waitstaff in Spanish, If you haven’t yet been to a pupusería, find one – they are amazing!
Want more suggestions on fitting Spanish into your busy schedule? Check out this blog.
If you’re a bit nervous about starting to use Spanish in the workplace, sign up for online classes with instructors located in Antigua, Guatemala. They are ready to prepare you to use Spanish on a daily basis. See how it works here!