Things that betray the non-native speaker

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by robjh22, Dec 12, 2009.

  1. robjh22 Senior Member

    U.S.A. & English
    I hope this properly belongs in culture; I didn't know where else to put it!

    What are some things that tell a Spanish speaker that a person is a native English speaker?

    For example, I tend to use the word "demasiado" when talking to my Mexican friends, but I notice that they almost never use it themselves. I also say "pauta" for "guideline" and notice that they never use it themselves. Another one is "concernir," a good word in the dictionary that no native speaker actually uses in conversation. I am also sure that I put the accent in the wrong place in longer words like "farmacia."

    I wonder what else I am saying that mark me as a foreigner!

    It works the other way, too. My Spanish speaking friends also tend to pronounce the "i" in words like "mister" and "sister" as though it were a long "e," pronouncing it as "ee."

    It seems an easy thing to correct, but I of course don't want to criticize their otherwise excellent Spanish.
  2. TitTornade

    TitTornade Senior Member

    Hi !
    :p:p:p if Spanish is like French:
    In French, the letter "i" is most of the time pronounced like as "ee". The vowel "i" pronounced as in "mister" doesn't exist in French... So it is often pronounced "ee" by French people.
    Thus, French people often mix the pronunciation of : "beach" and "bitch"...
    I suppose it is not easy at all to correct... :D
  3. robjh22 Senior Member

    U.S.A. & English
    Well, it is but you have to be conscious of your mouth shape. If you spread your mouth wide, it comes out "beach," if you relax the mouth, it comes out "bitch."

    Thanks for your input
  4. Valeria Mesalina

    Valeria Mesalina Senior Member

    Santiago de Compostela
    Spanish, Spain
    There is no difference betewen short vowels and long vowels in Spanish: our ears are not trained to differentiate both sounds. And it is very difficult for a person who can´t hear any difference between "sheet" and "shit" to pronounce them differently. For us, it´s just the same vowel sound.

    Not that easy. Otherwise my friend wouldn´t tell everyone how much she liked her fifteen days on a sheep.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  5. TitTornade

    TitTornade Senior Member

    Yes you're right, but in general, I don't concentrate on the shape of my mouth when I speak... :p
    But if I'm asked to repeat what I said in a long sentence, I can repeat word by word and distinguish "bitch" and "beach"... :p:p

    I feel Valeria indicates that the problem is the same in French and in Spanish...

    On the opposite, it is quite easy to recognize somebody that is not French when he pronounces "r", "u" ou nasal vowels in different way than ours... :p

    So let's be back to the topic... spanish-english ;);)
  6. Agró

    Agró Senior Member

    Alta Navarra
    Apart from pronunciation, false friends usually betray non-native speakers, be they Spaniards or English people.

    Actually (En realidad)/Actualmente (Now)
    Sensible (Sensato)/Sensible (Sensitive)
    Pretend (Fingir)/Pretender (Intend)
    and lots more.

    When I hear such instances I immediately think of English speakers.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  7. Valeria Mesalina

    Valeria Mesalina Senior Member

    Santiago de Compostela
    Spanish, Spain
    And don´t you forget the :eek:#€@#€#@:mad:!!!! prepositions...
  8. Agró

    Agró Senior Member

    Alta Navarra
    And gerunds and infinitives incorrectly used after other verbs.
  9. María A

    María A Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano (Argentina)
    For what I've heard, native English speakers often have trouble rolling the r for the /rr/ sound when pronouncing words like "perro" or "correr".
    It always betrays them, specially if they are in Argentina. They seem to do it from the back of their throats, so it sounds like /gue/ or /wr/.
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2009
  10. robjh22 Senior Member

    U.S.A. & English
    Wait ... we're supposed to roll double r's?
  11. María A

    María A Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Castellano (Argentina)
    Slightly, but it depends on where you're at. Here in Buenos Aires the /rr/ is pretty accentuated, but in La Rioja (another Argentine province) people pronounce the /rr/ like /sh/ - so "perro" sounds pesho.
  12. robjh22 Senior Member

    U.S.A. & English
    Thanks, María, I was making a little ironic joke, but I do love that Argentine
    "pesho" sound!
  13. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member

    I gotta tell you, though, robjh22, that being at Plano probably got you in contact with mostly Mexican people from the north of the country (norteños). So a lot of words that are in fact correct are not used by them. Ever.

    When I moved to South Texas I had to learn a whole new set of Spanish terms, even though I was born in Mexico City!

    I think another one of the things that distinguish those who are not native Spanish-speakers, especially if their first language is English, is the use of passive voice, or simple tenses when speaking. Usually native Spanish-speakers go for impersonal instead of passive voice, and for perfect or progressive tenses instead of simple ones.

  14. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    I often say things like "Creo/pienso que vamos a salir a las 9." (I believe/think we're going to leave at 9) when I want to express that I'm not sure. To Spanish speakers, that doubt doesn't seem to transfer, and they take my sentence to be a firm plan. Of course, working on Mexican time helps throw the uncertainty back into the mix, even if it's not linguistically recognized.

    I got a girl to giggle quite hard by saying "me gusta Mark" when what I meant was "me cae bien Mark." (the difference between like and like-like.)

    Also, I just throw "ya" and "se" around like nobody's business. I've yet to find any sort of logical rule/rules for when they need to be included, so I just use them like chili and lime.

    My response to "¿Cuándo sale el camión?" would be "Ya se salió". The bus leaving isn't reflexive in the question, but is in the response, and to me somehow I think that's correct...
  15. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    I have the opposite problem. I was so self-concious about not rolling r's that I just do it for every "r" I come across: Quierro verrte mañana perro hay de cumplir mi tarrea.

    You appear to have done something simmilar by saying "specially if..." The word is especially, but since spanish speakers always seem to convert "s" to "es", many more self-concious ones actually end up improperly using "specially" in the place of "especially".
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2009
  16. danielfranco

    danielfranco Senior Member


    Unless María A actually meant "in a special manner"!

    Well, I just thought about another thing. This is actually a problem for me when I do live interpretation. In English, depending how many explanations there are, and depending also how much "hedging" the speaker wants to do, phrases and clauses seem to be at the beginning of the sentence. Just like that last sentence. In Spanish it sounds rather strange to give explanations before the statement.

  17. Bigote Blanco Senior Member

    Close attention to words used is the key.

    If you hear:

    I'm washing the television. or I'm watching the deeshes. (Houston, we've got a problem). Take note as this guy may not be a native English speaker.

    As Jacob correctly noted on a post above. Native spanish speakers have a heck of a time with English words which start with "s" such as "estop". I believe I saw on WR a good explaination for the problems a while back. Spanish speakers most often say, "estop". I spent two years working on this especific issue with a fine young man from Mexico. I finally gave up. He did too. He "estopped" working and returned to Mexico. Now, after hearing it daily for two years, I say "estop"- it's easier to say!:)
  18. rusita preciosa

    rusita preciosa Modus forendi

    USA (Φιλαδέλφεια)
    Russian (Moscow)
    I think the type of mistakes natives and non-natives make could be very different. I could never confuse there and their, palate and palette, write difinately for definitely, but I would make mistakes in articles (omitting one where it should not be omitted or confuse definite and indefinite...). And, like it was noted before, there is this eternal confusion in pronunciation and hearing of bowl/ball, bed/bad, steal/still, and infamous shit/sheet...

    For some time (before I saw it written) I thought that Super Ball was the final game of American football championship :)
  19. mirx Banned

    And it made all the sense in the world, after all, it is all about a ball.

    The "r" is indeed a big problem, some don't roll it, some over pronounce it. They sound like they are putting on a German accent. Another thing is the tense conjugations, especially the use of subjunctives and correctly assigning genders to nouns. I suppose this can only be mastered with lots of time and practice.
  20. miguel64086

    miguel64086 Senior Member

    Iowa, USA
    Chile, but living in USA (Spanish/English)
    The prepositions... yes sir. The prepositions and phrasal verbs are a dead give away.

    For people speaking Spanish as a foreign tongue, it would be the simpler tenses... like a friend of mine who teaches Spanish to English speakers says,
    "the subjunctive is the hearth of the Spanish language".

    So if a person does not uses the subjunctive a lot, it ain't native.
  21. coquis14

    coquis14 Senior Member

    Entre Macrilandia/Chamamélandia
    Español ,Argentina
    There is one typical mistake regarding "pronombres demostrativos" ,at least with native English speakers:
    • Este casa.
    • Esta lugar.
    • Esto perro.
  22. Vanda

    Vanda Moderesa de Beagá

    Belo Horizonte, BRASIL
    Português/ Brasil
    Many, many details and I dare say half of them are the same for Romance languages, but I'll quote just one for Portuguese: the -ão pronunciation. Whenever you hear someone saying /Sao/ Paulo not /São = nasal pronounciation/ you know he is not native.
  23. Ayazid Senior Member

    This topic is way too broad, since there are many factors which determine the character of typical mistakes which speakers of some language make when they speak another one, especially how close or similar is their native language to the other one in grammar, vocabulary and phonetics and a list of such mistakes could be endless, depending also on the proficiency of the concrete speaker.

    In the case of Spanish, most Czech learners would find its phonetic system quite easy to reproduce, maybe with the exception of the single r/rr distinction, since a lot of Czechs would pronounce it in both cases as the short one, so "pero" instead of "perro", without realizing the importance of the correct pronunciation. But it would not be difficult to pronounce the double r for us, our r is alveolar too, it's just a certain laziness or something.

    As for the grammar, some things would be quite familiar (gender of nouns, different conjugation endings for various persons, reflexive verbs etc.) and some rather troubling (not very similar vocabulary, various verbal tenses - in Czech there are only 3, articles - there are no articles in Czech and a lot of other differences). For example, a lot of people would use indicative or conditional instead of subjunctive, since there is none in Czech and wouldn't get the articles right or just wouldn't use them etc.

    As for the typical mistakes of Spanish speakers in Czech.. well I have never heard any Spanish speaker talking in Czech, so hard to say, but I would say that they would find the case system quite difficult just as the system of verbal aspect and phonetics with all those consonant clusters and ř.
  24. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    No it's not!
    You can't just say 'this is too broad'. I think this is a really interesting thread that allows native speakers from all over the world to give their views on what sound like 'give-aways' when people are trying to speak their language, or when they speak a different language.

    I think adding bits of information for unrelated languages like that from page 1 is really good and I've enjoyed reading this, not everything has to be a strict mono-themed discussion. I even enjoyed reading your post, about how Spanish works with Czech and I am quite interesting... which brings me to my next point:

    I don't think you meant to write 'Czech' twice?? I think the first one is meant to be 'Spanish', but I just wanted to check :).

    @ Topic: When I was doing my TEFL a few months ago and giving lessons to foreign speakers probably the biggest thing that hit me that I didn't expect was Word Order of Statement / Questions and how often they got mixed up.

    I think that is a massive red flag that pops up when listening to people, some of the students had picked up a lot of colloquial slang and in passing conversation for 5-10 seconds they could have passed for a native speaker (with regard to accent / colloquial expressions) but of course any more than a few seconds or a tricky aspect of grammar would have given them away. Things like "Why it can go there?" or "I can go to the toilet?".

    Orignally I had pegged this as a Romance language thing, trying to apply logic and realise that the way of forming questions is the same syntactical structure just with a raised intonation (often accompanied with raised eyebrows :p) so I just thought it was a lack of understanding and it was a mistake triggered by their L1 (Romance languages), but it soon became clear that there were many people making this mistake (i.e. from Poland / Slovakia / Lithuania) which (I don't really know for sure) have a different worder for forming questions.
  25. TitTornade

    TitTornade Senior Member

    French "regular" word order for asking question is subject-verb inversion... But it is often a formal way of speaking (or the way to write it)...
    The oral way for asking question is different :
    He sleeps = il dort
    Does he sleep ? =
    - Dort-il ? (formal way : inversion)
    - Est-ce qu'il dort ? (less formal way : est-ce que = "do", "does"...)
    - Il dort ? (colloquial way : only intonation, and eyebrows movement :p)
    - Il dort, non ? (other colloquial way...)...

    So (French) people that say "I can go to the toilets?" may speak in a colloquial way ;)
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  26. Alxmrphi Senior Member

    Reykjavík, Ísland
    UK English
    I never thought about French really (not knowing much about it) but I know about Italian and a bit of Spanish so I sort of assumed it was the same for all Romance languages, a common trait in the language family.

    Apologies for my ignorance! (Thanks for pointing it out!)
  27. VivaReggaeton88

    VivaReggaeton88 Senior Member

    Santa Ana, Costa Rica / New York, NY
    US/EEUU; English/Inglés
    As a response to the /rr/ sound, in Costa Rica this sound is very rare to hear; the /r/ and /rr/ are pronounced the same as the /r/ in English. I think not using the subjunctive and using the wrong prepositions are mostly what make English speakers sound like non-natives in Spanish.
  28. MOMO2 Banned

    In my opinion "Ya se salió" is odd if referred to a lorry. (Or do you mean "bus" for "camión"?)
  29. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    MOMO2, The girl was 18, so perhaps in Barcelona people understood that you just meant "me cae bien". Or perhaps they assumed that you were gay, and didn't find anything weird about it.

    In Mexico, camión, autobús, and bús are all used for "bus", though "camión" can also mean "lorry".
  30. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think you could try to generalize by referring to linguistic branches, such as :
    - phonetics: has been made clear here
    - lexicography : idiomatic expressions (I notice that I can never imitate Germans because I tend to translate too literally from Dutch); language registers (is that the right word to refer to 'colloquial' vs. 'formal', etc. ? )
    - syntax: e.g., the place of certain words may point out that you are not good
    - pragmatics: there are different 'habits' as for the use of for example 'please' (in our Dutch-speaking context we generally say something when giving/ handing over something (often 'alstublieft', lit. 'please'), but in an English-speaking context you don't, or only 'here you are'.

    Those are things that are hard to learn ! But professional linguists could add more branches, like morphology, but I think grammar is often fairly easy to learn, except for certain things that are 'conditioned' by some kind of worldview, like tenses, which comes close to pragmatics, I believe.
  31. Chtipays Senior Member

    Mexico, Spanish
    I think it also depends on the Spanish that you are speaking.
    I am Mexican, but my Spanish is kind of neutral, because I have lived in the north, center and south of México and because I have friends from several Spanish speaking countries. Still, I got a Spanish train ticket seller laughing at me because I said: viaje redondo and not ida y vuelta I got Southamericans laughing at my Spanish, because I said platicar instead of conversar or charlar. And I got a comment of a Spanish person telling me to go to Spain more often to learn to speak Spanish.
    So it also depends on who is listening.
  32. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Good point: at stake is what standard language is, or 'standard' simply. Afro American English can be called deviant, but you can also consider it simply a variant! Yet, I think that we can easily distinguish between native speakers and others: we can 'feel' it, but sometimes have a hard time explaining it !
  33. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    However, I've read translations by "native speakers" who had the demonstrative pronouns wrong too - not only according to me.
  34. coquis14

    coquis14 Senior Member

    Entre Macrilandia/Chamamélandia
    Español ,Argentina
    What do you mean by "translations"? , something like this?:
    This Place has been nominated. ... ---> Esta lugar ha sido designado...
    Sorry ,but it is hard to believe that kind of mistake, even an illiterate person knows that.


  35. gurseal Senior Member

    USA Southeast
    English - USA
    Some speakers of English as a foreign language use the simple present where a native, at least in US, will use the future:
    I get it for you now instead of I'll get it for you now.
    Here. I do it instead of Here. I'll do it.
  36. ordira

    ordira Senior Member

    En el Valle de las Fortalezas
    Mexico - Spanish, English, Albures
    Many Americans and Canadians I know say "como esto" instead of "así" for "like this" and don't forget the "oh, mi Dios" for "oh, my God!"
  37. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    I've heard a bunch of my friends who're learning Spanish say "como así"...
  38. miguel89

    miguel89 Senior Member

    That doesn't sound foreign...
  39. Jacobtm Senior Member

    English - New York
    Well then that just betrayed my lack of knowledge, I just thought así didn't need a como in front of it ever. Guess not...
  40. mirx Banned

    It doesn't. I am not sure if "ever" but certainly not when you mean like this, or in this way. In some countries people use the expression "¿cómo así?" as an equivalent of "what was that?". Most us would simply say "¿cómo? or ¿qué?".
  41. Mate

    Mate Senior Member

    Castellano - Argentina
    We were talking --post #36-- about "like this" (así). In this case, to translate it as como así is certainly wrong and you can tell that that person is not a native Spanish speaker.
  42. gurseal Senior Member

    USA Southeast
    English - USA
    Adjectives are tricky for nonnatives. If when cleaning a countertop you use a powdered cleaner, such as Comet or Ajax, and fail to rinse the cleaned surface well, the countertop will be covered in a powdery film. If the cleaning product is grainier, the resulting film may be gritty. An English-speaking nonnative (who happened to be Chinese) mistakenly used the term sandy to describe a residue that, for me, was powdery.
  43. elirlandes

    elirlandes Senior Member

    Dublin & Málaga
    Ireland English
    Even if you can get all of these linguistic things right, then you have to get over the cultural stuff... The two things that I always notice are:
    1) lack of knowledge of children's programmes from their age group... a 50 year old guy in London who does not know "Bill and Ben the flowerpot men" (from the 1960's) was not brought up in the UK...
    2) lack of knowledge of music and music groups from their youth... someone in their late 30's who doesn't know "la unión" or "duncan dhu" was not brought up in Spain...
  44. mirx Banned

    These things are relative, El Irlandés. Although they may be related to the speaking abilities of a person, they do not dictate or determine his "passing off as a native". Not even do they say whether someone is a local or not.

    People brought up in X country are just as Native to Y language as people from country Z, who may have a complete different cultural setting but share the same language (E.g Cuba and Chile). Even people from the same country may not have been exposed to those things you quoted.

    For example, I have been looked at with awe for not knowing some famous cartoons of my country. The reason? Simple, I never liked cartoons. Same goes for music, TV programs, sports and other "cultural" stuff. Or the other case of Duncan Dhú, I have no idea who they are and I would never recognize one of their songs. Yet, Spanish is my mother tongue. These kind of indicators can serve, to an extent, to pinpoint whether someone is from around or not; but they are certainly not tests to know if someone is native to X language.
  45. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    I think we have to distinguish between command of language and knowledge of culture indeed. The latter might come close to pragmatics (due to the 'thin line' between concepts and words), but I think indeed that culture will allow one to distinguish between learned, modern, postmodern and other native speakers, but I would focus on the linguistic aspects of 'native speaker'-dom/ ship...
  46. mirx Banned

    Please excuse my ignorance but, what is a modern and a postmodern native speaker? And yes, cultural accumen does not equal linguistic abilities. Two different things.
  47. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Those are just two of the immense number of categories of people, all having their own cultural background...
  48. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi modus borealis

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Yes, but what are they?
  49. ThomasK Senior Member

    (near) Kortrijk, Belgium
    Belgium, Dutch
    Well, there are Canadians, French Canadians, Belgians, French workers, Flemish people, Walloons, Flemish intellectuals, ... ;-) and all of those have different cultural backgrounds, and more or less extended 'vocabularies' and a different degree of command of their language, as far as grammar is concerned. But they will all be native speakers of one or other language !

    You see ?
  50. Chaska Ñawi

    Chaska Ñawi modus borealis

    an old Ontario farmhouse
    Canadian English
    Not really ... how do the terms modern and post-modern apply to this?

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