Transference Errors

Spanish transference errors

A transference error is a certain type of mistake, common to foreign language learners, which can be particularly difficult to stop making. The hardest part is becoming aware of the error; once you’ve done that, it’s just a matter of figuring out the correction and practicing your way to perfection.

Transference errors occur when students assume that aspects of their native language apply to the one they’re learning: they transfer the rules of one language onto another. These types of errors can be tricky to overcome because students are typically unaware that they’re making them. When you want to say "eagle," for example, and realize you don’t know how, you’re aware of this gap in your knowledge and you can look it up in the dictionary or ask someone. But transference errors are much more difficult to spot – you usually need someone to point them out to you, or you need to explore contrastive analysis (the study of structural differences between two languages) in order to pinpoint the ones you’re making without even realizing it.

Grammar gaffes – Gazapos gramaticales

Beginning and even intermediate students often assume that they can say something in Spanish just by changing the words, without looking at the underlying grammar. But there are many structural differences between English and Spanish (indeed, between any two languages), so you definitely need more than a bilingual dictionary to communicate effectively in a new language.

Here are just a few big differences between English and Spanish:

  • Age: English uses “to be” with age, while Spanish requires tener (to have). Plus, años is required but “years old” is not.
    I’m 22 (years old). – Tengo 22 años.
     
  • Can: This is what’s known as an English modal verb, meaning that it has only one form. The Spanish equivalent, poder, has 6 conjugations, one for each grammatical person.
    I can, you can, he can … – Puedo, puedes, puede …
     
  • Reflexive verbs: Sometimes the English possessive + noun is equivalent to a Spanish reflexive verb.
    My name is Laura. – Me llamo Laura. (literally, “I call myself Laura.”)
     
  • Weather: English uses the verb “to be” for weather, while Spanish often requires hacer (to do/make).
    It’s cold. – Hace frío.

Error check: Your Kwiziq Studyplan will find these and other errors in your Spanish grammar knowledge, and our friendly A.I. KwizBot will test you until he’s sure you’ve overcome them.

False friends – Falsos amigos

English speakers learning Spanish are fortunate that so many words are spelled the same or very similarly in the two languages. However, they don’t always mean exactly the same thing; assuming that they do is a transference error.

For example,

  • actually ≠ actualmente
    actually = realmente
    right now = actualmente
     
  • embarrassed ≠ embarazada
    embarrassed = avergonzado
    pregnant = embarazada
     
  • to molest ≠ molestar
    to molest = acosar sexualmente
    to bother = molestar
     
  • to record ≠ recordar
    to record = registrar
    to remember = recordar

Error check: There are thousands of "true friends," but don’t automatically assume that similar words have similar meanings – always confirm with a teacher or dictionary.

Idioms – Modismos

Another common transference error is the word-for-word translation of idioms (idiomatic expressions) into a foreign language. Idioms are particularly tricky because they often don’t make much sense when you really look at the words, and the foreign language equivalent may be straightforward or equally non-sensical upon analysis.

A few examples:

  • like two peas in a podcomo dos gotas de agua ("like two drops of water")
     
  • to shake like a leaftemblar como un flan (literally, "to tremble like a flan")
     
  • to be brokeestar sin blanca ("to be without white")
     
  • when pigs flycuando las gallinas meen ("when hens pee")

Error check: Once again, dictionaries and native speakers are your friends.

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Author info

Laura K Lawless

Laura is Kwiziq's Language and Marketing Coordinator. Online educator since '99, Laura is passionate about language, travel, and cooking. She's American by birth and a permanent ex-pat by choice - freelancing made it possible for her to travel extensively and live in several countries before settling permanently in Guadeloupe. Laura is the author of Lawless French, Lawless Spanish, and other websites and books on French, Spanish, English, and vegetarianism. She spends most of her spare time reading, playing with food, and enjoying water sports.

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