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When translation doesn't work (slipping up...again)

In part II of common mistakes, I'm taking a look at what can sometimes happen when Spanish is translated to English.


As I mentioned in part I of slipping up mistakes are, of course, part of the learning journey and often result in great stories you can tell later (unlike at the time of making them when they are usually very, very embarrassing!). This list is not intended to discourage, but encourage. You can't learn a language overnight, but you can tweak it a little all the time and although you might not notice the improvement, believe me, it's there. 

Below are some common mistakes that some Spanish speakers make.*

*This is a generalisation. You might be a Spanish speaker and not make these mistakes, or a non-Spanish speaker who makes these mistakes!


1. Yes or yes

Perhaps you're in a meeting with colleagues and it's time to take decisive action. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done whether you like it or not. It needs to be done 'yes or yes'. Except that in English it's not 'yes or yes'. Here, take a look: "I'm buying low-fat milk for the coffee machine whether you like it or not!"

2. I wait your response

A useful phrase to learn and use at the end of your emails is the following: I look forward to hearing from you. This phrase is used where Spanish speakers might write 'Espero su respuesta.' To keep it formal, use the present tense 'I look forward to' because this phrase can also be used in informal texts to friends and family. In that case we tend to use the present continuous I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

3. or ... or 

When providing two options in English using 'or ... or' is half right. Instead try either ... or ... For example, either you can give people options or you they'll take what you give them, whether they like it or not!

4. Thanks God

While it sounds like it should be right, it's actually not. Here, we're not thanking God directly as we would people (Thanks, Anna and Thomas for all your help). Think of it as a shortened version of (I) thank God, or (we can) thank God (for that). Thanks God, just without the 's'.

That said, there is a very similar expression some people use which does require an 's': Thanks be to God. But not only have we included the 's', we've added an extra two words. 

5. depend of

In all likelihood this one isn't new to you, but you might need a quick reminder. In English the correct form is 'depend on'. Why 'on' and not 'of'? Because :) While we're on the subject, it's to be good at doing something and not good in.

... and finally ...

Pronunciation

This is a big topic, so I'm just going to point out a few important things to consider. As you've no doubt been told or have realised for yourself, not all of the letters in a word are pronounced in English. Some are just there for decoration. Let's take a look at a few of the usual suspects:

  • chocolate: this should have three syllables broken down into choc o late but we pronounce only two choc late. To make matters worse, the last syllable isn't pronounced like the word lateInstead, it's pronounced lit. So after all that, the word is pronounced choc lit.
  • comfortable: here, again, we have a middle 'o' that we don't need. You can simply ignore it when speaking. It has no business being there. In fact, you can get rid of the 'r', too, while you're at it. Hang on, there's more. The last syllable is not pronounced table, like where you put your laptop. Instead, it sounds more like tibl. Comf tibl.
  • parents: 'what's wrong with THIS one?' I can hear you ask. Well, it's the 'a'. We've written 'a', but what we actually mean is 'e'. Take 'espero' in Spanish. The 'per' in the middle is approaching what you want to achieve when you say 'parents' in English. 
If you'd like to hear these words in action, have a listen by following this link.


photo by weston-mackinnon on Unsplash


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