Transfer (Spanish-English)

Image: Folkert Gorter

The phenomenon when your mother tongue influences the learning of a foreign language is called language transfer. This could be beneficial where there is no difference between the two languages, otherwise however, the transfer won’t be correct in the foreign language, and it is said to interfere with it.

Here are the most common grammatical transfers Spanish speakers make when they speak English. This might apply to more neo-Latin languages as well and many others too:

  1. *Ask to him to do something

The mistake in this sentence is the to inserted after ask. In Spanish you would say preguntar a él, the literal translation of which is ask to him. Let’s see what options we have in English with the verb ask:

Ask somebody to do something: I’ll ask him to wash the car. 

Ask somebody for something: I asked everybody for some advice.

Ask to do something: I asked to have a day off.

Ask that somebody do something: The manager asked that the project be stopped for now.


  1. *My sister has 15 years

This is how in Spanish you express age: mi hermana tiene 15 años. In English, however, you don’t have your age, you are X years old. So, the correct sentence is: my sister is 15 years old.

This is very similar to how being cold/warm, etc. is expressed in the two languages. In Spanish you would say: *I have cold (tengo frío), but in English in this case you need to use the verb be again: I am cold.


  1. *I am photographer

In English when you say what someone’s job is, you always have to stick an indefinite article, a or an, in front of the profession: I am a photographer.


  1. *People is very nice in the south

Gente in Spanish is singular, but not people in English. Please remember that people is the plural of person: one person but two people. It is also used as gente, the general way of referring to people. In both cases, it’s always plural: People are very nice in the south.


  1. *I put myself here

You can put anything anywhere by holding it and moving it to the desired location, but you don’t put yourself anywhere. The correct way of saying me pongo aqui would be I’ll sit/stand/etc. here.


There are many more, but these are the ones I could remember now. To be continued…

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