Problems Spanish people have speaking English – and how to improve

by Louisa / 05 January 2016 / No Comments

We have a lot of lovely Spanish people learning English  with us at Phone English and so over time we have noticed some common English speaking errors. We’ve highlighted 5 of the most common ones below. Even if you are not Spanish, you might learn something that will help you speak English more fluently…


1. Spanish people often omit the subject of the sentence:

So they might say ‘is Ok to wear jeans to work on Friday.’ In English you must use ‘it’ so the correct sentence is ‘It is OK to wear jeans on Friday.’

Tip: Try making 5 sentences starting with ‘it’ the more you hear yourself saying these, the more natural it will be for you to speak use ‘it’ correctly in the future.
2. Pronunciation: Spanish people sometimes add an ‘e’ sound before a word beginning with ‘S.’

A Spanish person may say:  ‘Christmas is a especial time.’ In English: ‘….a special time’

Tip: Try saying the sentence above but start the ‘s’ sound with your teeth closed to make a hissing sound (like a snake)

Past tense verb endings are also difficult in English (knowing when to use the ending sound /t /, /d/ or /id/  but not just for Spanish people! If you are not sure, end in /t/  or /d/ which are more common than an /id/ ending. However, a  Phone English tutor can help you with these.

3. Different stress/intonation patterns.

This is a complex area but essentially people in the UK ‘swallow’ or do not stress unimportant words and syllables. They say them more quickly, too. These unimportant words or less stressed syllables in a word often have a different sound, called a schwa. The Schwa sound ‘ugh’ (as in the vowel sound in ‘gum.’)  is the most common sound in English. In fluent speech, for example, the unimportant word ‘the’ sounds like ‘thugh’.

However, in Spain the intonation pattern is more regular meaning when a Spanish person talks, they often pronounce all words evenly.  This is strange to the ears of an English person and can make a Spanish person more difficult to understand. So, a Spanish person might say:

I can swim in the pool before 10 and after 4 Friday

In the UK we would say: Icun swim inthugh pool before 10 an’aftuh 4 Friday

Tip: Listen to an English person speaking a few sentences and write how they sound – mark the stressed words and unstressed words in a different colour. Can you hear the ‘schwa’ sound?
Tip 2: We’ve written more English pronunciation here:


4. Do/make

There is only one word for do or make in Spanish but in English, you have choose which to use. These means that sometimes Spanish people say the wrong thing. E.g: I make the housework. In English ‘we do the housework.’

As a general rule, we use ‘make’ for creative things and ‘do’ for more routine/boring things.
So we do homework, housework, the ironing, the school run. But we make time for people, make love, make cakes, make the dinner.


5. False friends (cognates)

Some Spanish words sound similar to English ones but mean something different which can lead to confusion on both sides. Here are some examples:

Spanish word:               Real English meaning:
Carpeta                                folder (carpeta doesn’t mean carpet)
Embarazada                       pregnant (embarazada doesn’t mean embarrassed)
largo                                    long (largo doesn’t mean large)

Tip: Ask phone English for a list of false friends so you can understand the real meanings of similar sounding words – and improve your vocabulary at the same time.


Enjoy learning and improving your  English. If you have a question about English learning, ask Louisa
or join in the conversation on our Phone English Facebook page.

Find out more about learning and improving your English with a qualified, native English teacher today.

About the author:

Louisa is Course Director at Phone English. She helped start Phone English after many years of teacher training and materials development at

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