Making grammar and pronunciation mistakes while speaking Spanish is not only totally normal… Spanish native speakers even expect it from you AND they make mistakes all the time themselves too!
Now we’ve taken that burden of perfectionism off your shoulders, there’s one important thing to consider: not ALL mistakes are accepted.
But there’s some slang and some pronunciation and grammar mistakes that, if YOU use them too, really make you sound like a Spanish native speaker.
And today, I, el profe Juan, will give you 8 of the most important ones you must start using yourself… and one bonus mistake you’ll hear from Venezuelans or Colombians! So, read this article y empieza a meter la pata como un profesional (and start screwing up like a professional).
1. Expressions to sound natural in Spanish
It may be translated as “you know that” and it’s a very natural way to start telling a story or an experience. In Argentina, you’ll find that Viste que… (Did you see that…) is much more common, and it serves the same purpose.
Look at these examples:
Sabes que ayer iba pasando la avenida y ¡me encontré veinte dólares en la calle!
(You know that yesterday I was crossing the avenue and I found 20 dollars on the street!)
¿Ah, sí? Viste que dicen que si te conseguís plata en la calle, tenés que invitarle una birra a un amigo, ¿no?
(Oh, yeah? Did you see that they say that if you find money on the streets, you have to buy a friend a beer, right?)
La cosa es que…
Great chunk to learn by heart… It literally means “the thing is that” and it’s a great way to build a link between the end of an idea and a new one, which could be a conclusion.
Casual or natural sometimes (it could also mean lazy), so be prepared to use contractions or short versions of some expressions. Porfa is the short version of Por favor (Please) and you’ll hear natives use it all the time when asking for favors:
- ¿Me puedes dar agua, porfa? (Can I have some water, please?)
- ¿Porfa puedes cerrar la ventana? Hay frío. (Could you close the window, please? It’s cold.)
- Llámame cuando llegues, porfa. (Call me when you get there, please.)
2. Pronunciation mistakes natives make
Aaaand this is what I meant with laziness when speaking… Sometimes, a casual conversation among natives might overlook perfect pronunciation and Castilian grammar for the sake of fluency, right?
So, here are some tips you can use to sound like you’ve lived 10 years in Caracas or you were born in Puerto Rico.
Shortening articles, like “para” and “de”
This one can be tricky to master, as it may vary from one country to another, but in most of Latin America, you’ll find examples like these:
¡Epa! ¿Pa’ dónde vas tú tan tarde, mijo?
(Hey, where are you going to this late, son?)
Este… voy pa’ la casa e’ Julio, ¡a estudiar! Mañana tenemos examen.
(Ehm… I’m going to Julio’s place to study! We have a test tomorrow.)
Ah, bueno, ‘tá bien. Pero ya va, si mañana es domingo…
(Ah ok, very well. But wait, tomorrow’s Sunday…)
Replacing R with L
Most Caribbean countries do this, it kind of comes with the beach and the sunny weather. If, for example, you listen closely to reggaeton lyrics, you’ll find expressions like bailal instead of bailar (to dance), caminal instead of caminar (to walk), yelno instead of yerno (son-in-law) and if you keep pronouncing more things like this, who knows qué pueda pasal (what could happen).
Las muletillas (Fillers) can be a great tool to sound natural and fluent, and they can buy you some time to think about what to say next. Just remember con un gran poder viene una gran responsabilidad (with great power comes great responsibility). Great speech, right? Just made that up! So, use the following wisely:
This one is pretty common to buy time to think what to say next…
- ¿Que si traje la tarea? Este… Sí, claro. Aquí la tengo, este… Deme un momento… (Did I bring the homework? Well… Yes, of course! I have it right here, erm… Give me a moment…)
Weapon of choice of posh people. O sea would mean something like “I mean” in English, and it’s also so misused. Look at this:
¡Sí, chama! O sea, le dije que… o sea, solo porque me regalaste otro mercedes en mi cumpleaños, o sea, no significa que puedes decirme qué hacer, papá. ¡O sea, no!
(Yes, dude! I mean, I told him… I mean, just because you gave me another Mercedes on my birthday, I mean, that doesn’t mean you can tell me what to do, dad. I mean, no!)
¡Qué oso! ¡O sea, no! ¡¿Qué le pasa?! Recuerdo cuando me pasó lo mismo en el departamento de la playa, wey. ¡O sea!
(What a drag! I mean, no! What’s wrong with him?! I remember when the same happened to me at the beach condo, dude. I mean!)
Eh or ah
In Spanish, when you face an awkward situation and you’re trying to fill the silence, probably an “eeeh…” or “aaah…” will come out of your mouth… haciendo la situación más incómoda (making the situation more uncomfortable).
¡Me inscribí en un curso de español! Es cien por ciento gramática y libros gigantes de vocabulario. ¡Soy seguro de que en poco muy tiempo podré hablar con fluidez!
(I signed up for a Spanish course! It’s 100% grammar and giant vocabulary books. I’m sure in little time I’ll be able to speak fluently!)
Ehh… Sí, ah… seguro que te servirá…
(Uh, yes, I’m sure it will work out…)
Spoiler alert: it won’t work out! Of course, you’re better off learning chunks, like the ones you read in this article. And to help you with that, why don’t you get our free Essential Spanish Chunking Kit with a list of the most important chunks you should master to sound fluent and natural in Spanish?
As I said at the beginning, I have a special bonus word for you: Vaina.
If you ever come across Venezuelans or Colombians, you’ll certainly hear “vaina” a lot. What is vaina, you say? Well, it’s kind of this mutant, ever-changing, ethereal entity that we use to refer to ALMOST ANYTHING!
Vaina can be a cat, the sky, a situation, a door, food, a guitar, a fight, a… I think you’ll learn better with these examples:
- ¿Me pasas esa vaina ahí, por favor? (Can you hand over that thing, please?)
- ¡Ya deja la vaina! ¿No ves que estoy estudiando? (Stop being annoying! Can’t you see I’m studying?)
- Me encantaría ir al concierto; la vaina es que ahora no tengo plata. (I’d love to go to the concert; the thing is I don’t have money right now.)
- Te digo una vaina rápido. (I'll tell you a quick thing.)
Vaina is a very, very informal expression, so make sure you’re among friends or close family when using it, as it might come across as offensive in more serious situations.
Now that you know which mistakes you must make, you obviously need to also know which mistakes in Spanish you MUST avoid, right? So, I want you to check out that video: one where I show you 6 things that Spanish natives would never say, but Spanish learners say all the time!