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English Language Institute

Tips for Spanish Speakers Learning English

Spanish has a lot of similarities to English, which can make it easier to learn than languages that are completely different.  However, there are some big differences that make it harder. Knowing what some of these things are is helpful so you can focus on them. 

Here are some of our tips for Spanish speakers learning English:

#1 VOCABULARY: Beware of false friends

embarrassed - embarazada There are many words that are the same or similar in English and Spanish.  These kinds of words are called cognates and they are your ‘friend’; they make learning English easier because the words are easy to recognize and remember.  For example, numero de teléfono is telephone number, pánico is panic and limitar is to limit

However, there are also words that you may think are cognates because they look similar, but actually they have different meanings.  These are called “false friends” because you think they are your friends, but they are not.

For example, there is a word in English, deception.  However, the Spanish word decepción does NOT mean deceptionDecepción actually means disappointment in English, whereas deception means engaño in Spanish.  And talking of ‘actually’, actually is not the same as actualmente; it means in reality, whereas actualmente means currently/ at the moment.

There are many false friends to be aware of.  Some common ones include:

  • realisar (to give an idea physical form) vs to realize (to become aware of something)
  • aprobar (pass an exam) vs. to approve (agree to something)
  • eventualmente (temporarily or conditionally) vs. eventually (finalmente)
  • carrera (studies) vs. career (job)
  • lectura (text or reading) vs lecture (a talk on a topic)

Do you want to learn more tips for learning English vocabulary?  Come to New York and join our Reading & Vocabulary course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


#2 PRONUNCIATION: Pay attention to long and short vowels

pitch-peachEnglish pronunciation can be tricky. A mistake that Spanish speakers often make is the difference between the long and short ‘i’ sounds.  Spanish speaker will often say the short /I/ sound instead of the long /i:/. 

Most of the time this doesn’t matter too much, but there are some pairs of words that are the same except for this vowel difference. 

For example:

 /I/ (short)  /i:/ (long)
ship sheep
fit  feet
pick   peak
pitch peach
lick leak

Most of the time, English speakers will be able to work out from context what word you mean, but be especially careful with bitch/ beach because ‘bitch' is not a very nice word and it can be embarrassing to mispronounce ‘beach’ when you say “I like the beach.”

Do you want to learn more tips for learning English pronunciation?  Come to New York and join our Conversation & Listening course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


#3 GRAMMAR: Don’t use the present tense to talk about the future

sign showing yesterday-today-tomorrowThis is not always true - we actually do use simple present to talk about future scheduled events, e.g. The train leaves at 8:00pm tonight.  We also use present progressive/ continuous to talk about future arrangements e.g. I’m meeting my best friend for dinner tonight.  However, these are limited situations, and most of the time we use future tenses to talk about the future in English. 

It is much more common in Spanish to use simple present for future actions e.g. "Te lo doy mañana".  The literal translation, “I give it to you tomorrow”, is not something we ever say in English.  Instead, you would need to say “I’ll give it you tomorrow.” if you decided that now or perhaps “I’m going to give it to you tomorrow.” if this is something that you have already planned to do. 

So, when speaking English, be sure to focus on future tenses and don’t use simple present tense the way you can in Spanish.

Do you want to learn more tips for learning English grammar?  Come to New York and join our Grammar & Writing course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


#4 GRAMMAR: Adjectives come before nouns

old friendsIn Spanish, it is common to say “una casa bonita” – the adjective comes after the noun.  However, in English, the adjective always goes before the noun, so we say “a beautiful house”.

Sometimes adjectives go before nouns in Spanish – and can even change the meaning, e.g. Juan es mi viejo amigo. (Juan is my old (long-time) friend.) vs. Jose es mi amigo viejo. (Jose is my old (elderly) friend.)  In both these situaitons in English, we say the same thing (old friend) and understand the meaning by the context or by additional clarification or use of a synonym. 

So, be sure to always put the adjective before the noun when speaking English.

Do you want to learn more tips for learning English grammar?  Come to New York and join our Grammar & Writing course.  Study in New York City or Westchester county (45 minutes north of NYC).


Do you want to learn these tips and more? Come to New York to study English (or study online):  visit the ELI website,  contact the ELI  or apply here.