5 Gringo Mistakes You Should Stop Making in Spanish


¡Queridos amigos gringos! (Dear gringo friends!) I made a video about the most common mistakes that give away your foreigner status when speaking Spanish. Ha sido muy popular. ¡Gracias! ¡Los quiero mucho! (It’s been quite popular, thank you! I love you very much!) I’m Paulisima from Spring Spanish, and now we will see even more typical mistakes… y lo más importante, cómo evitarlos (and the most important thing, how to avoid them).

1. Vocales (Vowels)

¡Las vocales en español son muy sencillas comparadas con las vocales en inglés! (Vowels in Spanish are very simple compared to the vowels in English!) In English there are about 20 vowel sounds, with so many vowel sounds in English, it could be easy not knowing the way something should be pronounced in Spanish.

Hagamos un pequeño examen. (Let’s run a little test.) ¿Cómo pronunciarías estos chunks de español? (How would you pronounce these chunks of Spanish?)

  • Al mal paso darle prisa. (Let’s get it over with. Lit.: For the wrong move, better do it quickly.)
  • Donde hubo fuego, cenizas quedan. (Old flames die hard. Lit.. Where there was a fire, ashes remain.)
  • Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente. (Out of sight, out of mind. Lit.: Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel.)

There are only five vowel sounds in Spanish. You can trust that vowels, like chunks, phrases commonly used by native speakers, don’t change. You can download a list of useful Spanish chunks in the link in the description. And you can learn the Spanish vowels with this children rhyme that we all know in Mexico.

A, E, I, O, U, ¡la caquita te la comes tú! (A, E, I, O, U, you eat the “little poop”!)

A siempre es A. (A is always A.) E siempre es E. (E is always E.) Don’t try to make it into something else. For more examples and more practice, check out Mariana’s video about the vowels here.

2. Olvidarse de las lenguas indígenas (Forgetting about indigenous languages)

Paulísima, ¿conoces Holbox?
(Paulisima, have you been Holbox?)

¿Quieres decir Holbox?
(Do you mean Holbox?)

¿Holbox? ¡Pensé que en español la H no se pronunciaba! Y pensé que la “x” sonaba como ks.
(Holbox? I thought H wasn’t pronounced in Spanish! And I thought that the “x” was pronounced as ks.)

Pues… sí, tienes razón, pero Holbox es un nombre maya, no español.
(Well… yes, you’re right, but Holbox is a Mayan name, not a Spanish one.)

¡Ay, no! ¿Y entonces se dice Oaxaca?
(Oh, no! So then is it pronounced Oaxaca?)

De hecho… no, en ese caso sí se dice Oaxaca.
(Actually… no, in that case we do say Oaxaca.)

Esta es una conversación muy común con mis estudiantes más avanzados. (This is a very common conversation with my advanced students.) I actually had this conversation very recently again with a student in our Inner Circle at our monthly meetups. If you want to join our next meetup, check out the Inner Circle, link is in the description.

The thing is, while in Mexico the most spoken language is Spanish, it’s not the only one. Antes de continuar… (Before I continue…) have you subscribed to the channel? If not, this is the right time to do it. Bueno, como les iba a diciendo… (Well, as I was saying…)

There are actually 60 indigenous languages that while not spoken by the population at large, do influence the way we speak. Vemos seguido la influencia indígena en nombres de lugares y personas. (We often see indigenous influence in the name of places and people.) A veces ni los propios mexicanos sabemos cómo se pronuncia algo. (Sometimes not even Mexicans know how something is pronounced.) The best way to avoid making this mistake is learning the following chunk:

Disculpe, ¿cómo se pronuncia esta palabra?
(Excuse me, ¿how do you pronounce this word?)

And then you point out the word. Usemos el chunk con la palabra Wixarika. (Let’s use the chunk with the word “Wixarika”.) This is the name of an indigenous people in Nayarit, erroneously and commonly called “Huichol”.

Disculpe, ¿cómo se pronuncia esta palabra?
(Excuse me, how do you pronounce this word?)

Se pronuncia “wiRarika.

Ahora con Xel-Ha, un parque acuático natural en la Riviera Maya. (Now with Xel-Ha, a natural water park in the Mayan Riviera.) The name is in Mayan, not Spanish.

Disculpe, ¿cómo se pronuncia esta palabra?
(Excuse me, how do you pronounce this word?)

Se pronuncia Xel-Ha.
(It is pronounced “Xel-Ha.”)

3. El sonido de la D (The D sound)

How do you pronounce this?: Puerto Escondido. Did you say “Puerto Escondido”? This is a common mistake even advanced Spanish students make. It is not “Puerto Escondido” but Puerto Escondido. It’s like the sound you make when you pronounce the word father. Let’s practice with this D loaded chunks.

¿Dime, de dónde eres? (Tell me, where are you from?)
De Durango. (From Durango.)

Dile al mariachi que toque la del “niño perdido.”
(Tell the mariachi to play “niño perdido”.)

Es importante que le pongan atención a la D intermedia. (It’s important that you pay attention to the intermediate D.)  It’s the hardest one for English speakers.

Tira los dados.
(Throw the dice.)

¿Ya conociste a Diego? ¿El nuevo novio de Diana?
(Have you met Diego? Diana’s new boyfriend?)

¡Ay, sí! Dudo que duren, es que él no tiene ni dos dedos de frente.
(Oh, yes! I doubt they last, he doesn’t even have a clue. Lit.: Two fingers of forehead.)

Learn more about the correct way to pronounce each letter of the alphabet in this video.

4. Usar las interjecciones incorrectas (Using the wrong interjections)

In Mexico we don’t “oh!” we say “¡ay!”. Actually, one of the first telltale signs of a Mexican who’s spent some time living in the US is that they start saying “oh” in situations where a “regular” Mexicans would say “ay”.

No wonder why whenever someone tries to make an impression of a Mexican they would always say: “ay, ay, ay, ay, ay”.  You’re not far off! In one of our most representative songs, the chorus heavily features our “ay, ay, ay”.

¡Ay, ay, ay, ay, canta y no llores, porque cantando se alegran cielito lindo los corazones!

If you notice, you’ll see that when I play two characters in a dialogue I often use the interjection ¡ay! (oh!) Se usa exactamente como usarías “oh!” (It’s used exactly like you would use “oh!”)

5. No ser lo suficientemente cortés (Not being polite enough)

In Mexico, we’re very courteous. We don’t simply ask people we don’t know questions, we always start with “disculpa” (excuse me). Otherwise, you’re considered “maleducado” (rude). Which doesn’t mean uneducated, but ill-mannered or bad-mannered.

Disculpe, ¿aquí se toma el camión para Xel-Ha?
(Excuse me, here is where I take the bus to Xel-Ha?)

Sí, aquí es.
(Yes, it’s here.)

Disculpe, ¿dónde se toma el barco para Holbox?
(Excuse me, where do I take the boat to Holbox?)

Tiene que ir a Chiquilá y de ahí cruza.
(You have to go to Chiquilá and you cross from there.)

We’ve covered a lot of ground and I’m sure you’ll love to learn even more. Check out Mariana’s video about 100 mistakes that you want to avoid. Click on the image to continue learning.

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