By: Ana Franco, Dos con todo
Have you ever found yourself struggling to sound more like a native? Some people try to learn refined and sophisticated words or read complex books. Those are great ways of skyrocketing your vocabulary!
However, we chose to share with you four tips that are not found in texts books but that will help you sound more native-like in no time.
1. ROPA Y PELO
Collective nouns are words that appear to be singular (no -s or -es ending) but that refer to a group of things. Both ropa and pelo are collective nouns.
This is a common mistake and it gives you away. Besides, we chose these two examples because in Mexico when used in the plural form the meaning (or better yet: the intention) changes.
Ropas sounds exaggerated and ancient. Like the description of a king’s clothes found in an old book or something. It´s not such a big deal, but native speakers wouldn’t say it.
Pelos, on the other hand, could even be a dangerous word. It refers to pubic hair or to regular hair but in a despective or teasing way. Here are some expressions with pelos:
• ¡Mira qué pelos! (You´d say this if someone´s hair looks like they just woke up.)
• Jalar de los pelos (In a fight, when people pull each other´s hair.)
• Estar de pelos (To be awesome, in a very informal way.)
In any case, try to stick to using the singular form of these words unless you’re trying to be funny.
2. NO (ME) IMPORTA
Sometimes adding or removing a word from an expression could change the whole meaning.
Take these two phrases: “No importa” and “No me importa”
Spanish learners often think that they need to add the “me” pronoun to clarify that they are talking about themselves and while this is true in some circumstances, it doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes it is best to use an impersonal form rather than a personal one.
Let’s say it’s your birthday. Your best friend and her mom are there too. Then, your friend’s mom finds out it is your birthday but she doesn’t have a gift for you (yeah, gifts are important in Mexico.) She says, “Lo siento. No sabía que era tu cumpleaños. No te traje un regalo”.
You want to be nice and say that it doesn’t matter, but you end up saying, “No me importa.”
You look at the woman and notice how her smile turns into a question mark while she tries to decide whether you were being rude or just joking.
When we add the “me” word in this phrase, we are saying, “I don’t care.” If you want to say something like, “It’s OK, no problem, I don’t mind” say “No importa.”
3. HAVE + FOOD
One of the first verbs people learn is TENER. Spanish seems to be obsessed with it: tener frío, tener hambre, tener miedo… We just love “having” stuff.
However, something we don’t have is food. Yeah, you guys say things like, “Oh I already had lunch”, “I´ll have a number 2 with no onion, please” or “I had some tacos and a beer for dinner”.
In Spanish we need to be more specific. When saying things like these, we use the verbs comer, tomar or beber.
Incorrect: Yo tuve una hamburguesa ayer (a Spanish speaker would say: oh… so what happened, you lost it? To us it sounds like, “I had a hamburger in my possession yesterday.)
Correct: Yo comí una hamburguesa ayer.
4. NOT (REALLY) GUILTY
Finally, the most abstract point in this article: assuming half the responsibility of problems.
As in any language, Spanish has different ways of expressing the same idea. Some ways are more straightforward while others allow us to push away from awkward situations and make room for more explanation (yes, I broke your favorite vase, but it wasn’t really my fault. It just slipped from my hand.)
For this purpose, we use the reflexive pronouns. Some reflexive verbs imply that the action was not premeditated or done on purpose; and of course, we can use that to make it sound like it wasn’t (really) our fault.
The main verbs that follow this structure are: caerse, olvidarse, perderse and romperse.
Consider that we also use indirect object pronouns (me, te, le, nos, les) to specify to whom it happened. For example: La leche se cayó (it fell). La leche se me cayó (it happened to me).
Let´s see some examples:
STRAIGHTFORWARD vs BEATING AROUND THE BUSH
Olvidé las llaves vs Se me olvidaron las llaves
Ella tiró el vaso vs Se le cayó el vaso
Perdimos tu dinero vs Se nos perdió tu dinero
Both forms are correct, but if you master the beating-around-the-bush stuff, you´ll sound like a native!
Need more help? Want to learn more? Book a 1-1 lesson here