If you ask a Spanish speaker what they find difficult about English language learning, they may mention false friends and different uses of verbs.

Not only have you got to get to grips with the grammar and pronunciation, but you’ve also got to remember thousands of new words. This is no walk in the park and sometimes we make mistakes – but we’re human! It’s totally normal and can actually help you learn and remember for the future.

To help, we’ve put together a list of 8 common vocabulary mistakes Spanish speakers make.


1. Advice vs. warning


When do we use the nouns ‘advice’ and ‘warning’? This is tricky for Spanish speakers as ‘advice’ is a false friend – an English word that looks the same as in Spanish, but isn’t! In Spanish ‘un aviso’ actually translates to ‘a notice’ or ‘a warning’.

Let’s clear up the confusion. In English we use ‘advice’ to offer guidance or recommendations for actions that may affect the present or future. For example:

  • His advice was that I should visit a doctor if my symptoms continue.

On the other hand, we use ‘warning’ to show caution or signal that something, usually negative, is about to happen. For example:

  • The news presenter gave a warning that a storm was about to strike.

8 Vocabulary Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make_Example 1

Remember: in English ‘advice’ is an uncountable noun, while ‘warning’ is countable.


2. To assist vs. to attend


Watch out when saying ‘I’ve assisted three meetings this week’ if you really mean you ‘have taken part in’ three meetings. Take note and say:

  • I’ve attended three meetings this week.

In English we use the verb ‘to attend’ to signify being present at an event, meeting or function. We use the verb ‘to assist’ to mean to help someone. For instance:

  • The teacher assisted him with his homework.

Check out this short video for further clarification.


3. To support vs. to cope


If you are extremely busy at work, you may think that you are carrying the weight of a lot of tasks, so you might say ‘I have so much work this week it’s hard for me to support it all.’

However, you really mean that you cannot withstand or deal with the situation. Here you should use the phrasal verb ‘to cope with’:

  • I have so much work this week it’s hard for me to cope with it all.

In English, the verb ‘to support’ has several meanings: to carry the weight of something, to promote interests or a cause, to vote for someone or something, to pay the costs of something, or to offer assistance or help. Some examples include:

  • My family is supporting me financially at the minute by paying my rent.
  • I support the new candidate who is running for mayor.

‘Cope’ focuses on dealing with and attempting to overcome problems and difficulties, as in:

  • I’m learning to cope with my new timetable.
  • A full time job, family and social life is a lot to cope with.


4. To approve vs. to pass


In Spanish, ‘aprobar un examen’ means to pass an exam in English – not to ‘approve an exam’. Another sneaky false friend!

So what does ‘to approve’ mean in English? We use this verb to accept something as satisfactory or to express a favourable opinion. For instance:

  • She approved the date of the meeting.

Here she has agreed that the date is acceptable so the meeting will go forward.

While the verb ‘to pass’ has several different uses in English, you will most likely encounter it when talking about successfully completing a test or course, such as:

  • The girl passed the entry exam and will go to university in September.

To learn the other uses of ‘to pass’ check out this video:


5. Funny vs. fun


What’s the difference between these two words? ‘Funny’ is an adjective, but ‘fun’ can be used both as an adjective and noun.

As adjectives, ‘fun’ is something pleasant and enjoyable, whereas something ‘funny’ is amusing and makes you smile or laugh. Using ‘fun’ as a noun, ‘to have fun’ means that you have a good time doing something.

Look at the different examples and compare:

8 Vocabulary Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make_Example 2

The bottom line – fun things are enjoyable, while funny things make you laugh.


6. To practise vs. to play vs. to do sport


With so many options, it’s hard to know when to use them all. So let’s clear it up once and for all.

Spanish speakers don’t think twice when saying ‘I practise sport’ when referring to their hobbies. However, in English ‘to practise a sport’ usually implies that we are in the middle of training for a competition or tournament at the moment.

There are differences between UK and US usage for the word ‘practise’ and the verbs normally used when saying if you take part in physical activities in general. Compare the differences:

8 Vocabulary Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make_Example 3

Depending on the activity, we also use specific verbs. So, you may ‘go’, ‘do’, or ‘play’ a particular sport. Here are a few examples:

8 Vocabulary Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make_Example 1

Watch this video for even more ideas:


7. To borrow vs. to lend


The difference between ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ is easy to get your head around. It just depends on whether you’re the one giving or receiving!

‘To borrow’ means that you would like to take and use something but later return it to the owner. For example:

  • Can I borrow your pen? I’ll give it back to you after class.

‘To lend’ is to allow someone to take or use something of yours with the intention that they return it. So you may say:

  • I lent him my pen for the class this morning.

Just remember: the person who is using the item is borrowing, while the person who is allowing the use of it is lending. Easy!

Watch this video for more examples:


8. Story vs. history


In Spanish, ‘historia’ can create a mix-up since it can mean ‘history’ or ‘story’. So when do we use these nouns? Let’s take a closer look.

‘History’ is the study of the past. It refers to events that have happened at different points in the past. Many of us have the option to study this subject at school where we learn about the history of Ancient Rome and Greece or the Egyptians, for example.

On the other hand, a ‘story’ is an account of people and events told, usually, for entertainment. Films and books tell stories about things that are either fictional or real. Therefore, sometimes stories may be based on historical events. Just remember, they are only a method of retelling the past.

Most of us tell stories every day about what’s been happening in our lives, such as what we did at the weekend or a new job our friend has.

Still not sure? Have a look at these examples:

8 Vocabulary Mistakes Spanish Speakers Make_Example 4

Now you know some of the most common English language mistakes that Spanish speakers make, you should be feeling much more confident about speaking. It’s okay to make mistakes, you just need to refresh and try again – it’s all part of the process!

Do you make some of these common mistakes? Our English courses can teach you to speak more fluently and help you feel more confident.

Glossary for Language Learners


Find the following words in the article and then write down any new ones you didn’t know.

to get to grips with (exp): to begin to deal with or understand something.

a walk in the park (exp): something that is easy to do.

to clear something up (pv): to solve or explain something.

to take part in something (exp): join in an activity.

to have someone in stitches (exp): make someone laugh a lot.

once and for all (exp): now and for the last time, or finally.

think twice (exp): consider carefully before deciding something.

pv = phrasal verb

exp = expression

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