Common Nonnative Mistakes for Writing in Spanish

At times, writing in Spanish to practice it can be frustrating because the mechanics, nuances, and terms of Spanish language do not translate perfectly to your own native language. Therefore, even learners with a high level of proficiency may still find themselves making nonnative mistakes in their writing after years of practice.

The influence of your native language on the acquisition of a second language is known as language transfer, and this influence can be either positive or negative depending on the similarities between the two languages. Although experience is the most beneficial way to avoid making second language writing mistakes, it can also be helpful to make yourself aware of the most common writing errors that individuals with your native language tend to make when learning a particular second language.

For native English speakers acquiring Spanish, one of the most frequent and noticeable types of errors is making a word order mistake. In both English and Spanish, the basic word order consists of the subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object. In sentences that have this simple structure, the transfer of English to Spanish is actually beneficial because the word order is reinforced in both languages. On the other hand, there are notable differences in the word order of the languages when we get to more complicated structures. For example, in English, the adjective precedes the noun, as in ‘the white cat.’ In Spanish, however, the adjective follows the noun, as in ‘el gato blanco.’ These types of writing errors are easy to make because the learner must think about the language in a manner that is structurally different from how he or she is used to thinking in the native language.

Additionally, another common error for English speakers learning Spanish is the failure to apply the properties of grammatical gender. Spanish has two genders: masculine and feminine. These genders are referred to as ‘grammatical’ in nature when they do not refer to the sex of a living being. For example, the word ‘casa,’ meaning ‘home,’ is a feminine noun in Spanish. The assignment of the feminine gender is completely arbitrary; thus, it is difficult for the nonnative speaker to acquire. When writing, the Spanish learner must not only remember the gender of each noun, but must also be sure to assign the appropriate gender to the article and adjective within the same phrase as the noun. If we want to write ‘the red house,’ in Spanish, we would have to write, ‘la casa roja.’ Each word in this phrase has the –a ending, which is common for feminine words in Spanish.

To make things even more complicated, the rules for marking words as either singular or plural also differ between the two languages. In English, the writer must be sure that the subject and the verb match in number, as in ‘the girl walks’ versus ‘the girls walk.’ When writing in Spanish, it is important to remember that the article, noun, verb, and adjective must match in number, as in ‘la chica camina’ versus ‘las chicas caminan.’ Luckily, the rules for making items plural in Spanish are fairly regular, so this is something that will likely become easier over time.

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