Apparently it was Winston Churchill who famously said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s pretty much the same for mistakes made while speaking English. Unless you know you’re making a mistake, you probably won’t do anything about it.
As a teacher, as I’m sure ALL my colleagues would agree (not just my Oxinity colleagues but any English teacher I have ever worked with in Spain, and presumably the vast majority of all non-Spanish English teachers who have ever worked in this country and quite possibly the majority of Spanish-born English teachers working outside the primary school sector), native Spanish-speakers tend to make the same mistakes time and time again when speaking English.
I’m not talking about one person making the same mistake over and over while another person makes a different mistake over and over. I’m talking about a bank of forty or so classic errors that probably every native Spanish-speaking learner of English has made at least once in their lives of learning. A 40 Principales of cock-ups, a Top 40 of fallacies, a hit-parade of horrors.
And why, pray tell, are these mistakes so common to Spanish-speakers?
So common that they are virtually endemic?
Well, the answer can be summed up in one word…
Once you understand that your mother tongue and your target language operate under different rules to reach the same result and that it isn’t that one or other is “better” or “illogical” then you are on your way to fluency, the goal of every language learner.
Let’s start by looking at the NUMBER ONE mistake made by all native Spanish speakers, the one that leads some English teachers to slap their foreheads in the manner of Homer Simpson realising he’s done something stupid yet again, and leads other teachers to question whether they have actually made the correct career decision after hearing the same mistake for the sixty zillionth time, even by presumably C1 level students.
And that mistake is… wait for it… “PEOPLE IS*”.
You probably guessed that if you saw the Star Trek meme at the beginning.
The reason for this is Spanish logic that says that “la gente” is a countable group word like the English words “TEAM”, “GANG”, “FAMILY” etc. A collection of individuals forming a singular unit. Sounds logical, and it is. But wait…
PEOPLE is the plural form of the word PERSON.
Yes, the word “persons” does exist but is only used in a formal context (such as in legal writing or signs) and is virtually never used in spoken English. Spanish uses the word “personas” as the plural of “persona”, and that is a plural too. Curiously, French has a word which is obviously semantically connected to the Spanish word “gente”, the word “gens” (more or less pronounced like “John” with a French accent). But guess what? That word is PLURAL, not singular: “les gens”. Similarly, the German word for people “die Leute” is also a plural word.
So, from today, I shall attempt to show you the most common mistakes that you, my dear native-Spanish-speaking learner of English, are making, why you are making them and how not to make them again. Excesses of unavoidable paperwork notwithstanding, I shall valiantly attempt to make this a weekly exercise.
One down, thirty-nine to go!