Learning a general language is very difficult, and Spanish is no exception since it is the third most used language on the web.
With almost 493 million people, it is the second most spoken mother tongue in the world by its number of speakers and the third most spoken language globally. But if we added to this all native speakers, limited proficiency, and learners of Spanish, it exceeds 591 million!!!
Spain and most Latin American countries (with some exceptions) speak Spanish. But the thing is that they do not speak “the same Spanish,” and that is where the difficulties in learning and mastering the language begin.
The most important thing to understand is that there are no shortcuts to learning Spanish. But the benefits of learning it are enormous. It is the second most spoken language in the world and opens many doors in the work and personal world.
I interviewed a language teacher and asked her opinion about the main challenges in learning Spanish, and her professional opinion was as follows:
9 Reasons why Spanish is hard
1. The difference between the verbs “ser” and “estar”
The distinction between the verbs ser and estar is one of the biggest problems for learners of Spanish because they are often translated as a single verb in other languages.
The verb Ser describes permanent states or states that last for a long time. For example, to say where you are from, “soy de Estados Unidos”, the color of your hair “mi cabello es negro”, or the way you are “soy muy divertido”.
On the other hand, the verb Estar is used to describe temporary states. For example, when you go on a trip “estoy de vacaciones en España” or for your mood “Estoy feliz”.
This might look easy. But daily, it might be confusing for most foreigners to completely get it right since it involves an accurate understanding of the context you’re saying every sentence, and some adjectives are only used with the verb ser while there are adjectives only used with the verb estar
2. Spanish pronunciation and accents
Spanish is the official language in 21 countries worldwide, meaning that the infinite variations in pronunciations and accents of the Spanish language are endless. This is one factor that influences foreigners to find this language so challenging.
But let’s begin with the actual definition of accents, which can also be called diacritics or diacritical marks. They represent an additional symbol or glyph that is added to a letter. Spanish has three types of accents:
Where does the ‘ñ’ come from?
The so-called virgulilla we find in the “n” is born from the need to represent a new sound (non-existent in Latin). So many variations of the same sound gave rise to confusion and took up a lot of space at a time when the paper was very expensive. To save money, a notary abbreviated it to a single “n,” to which he added a thin stroke at the top.
- The acute accent (ú): The letters that can receive accents are the five vowels: a, e, i, o, u.
This accent usually indicates which part of the word has a stronger intonation when pronouncing it. It also helps to distinguish between two terms. For example:
“Ella compró chocolates” means “she bought chocolates”.
While “Yo compro chocolates” means “I buy chocolates”.
See? The same letter can change the tense of the phrase if you add or remove the acute accent.
Therefore, this is the list of accents in Spanish: á, é, í, ó, ú, ñ, ü.
3. Understanding Spanish speakers can be a challenge
The wide geographical distribution of the Spanish language in the world gives rise to different variations.
Spanish in Spain differs from that in Mexico, Colombia, or Argentina. It is usual for expressions, accents, and rhythms to sound different depending on the country or city you are in. Just as in an English-speaking country, you can identify the city or area a person comes from by their accent; the same can be said for Spanish-speaking countries.
Language and culture in Spain are linked in more ways than you might think!! Here are the related posts in case you find them helpful:
Moving on, I am going to teach you about some of the most marked differences between the different “types of Spanish speakers”:
- The use of the second-person plural
In Spain, “vosotros” is commonly used to refer to “them,” but in Latin American (Hispanic countries), this does not exist. Instead, they use “ustedes.” The difference between “vosotros” and “ustedes” in Spain is whether it is a formal or informal conversation. You can use “vosotros” when addressing your friends and “ustedes” to indicate politeness.
A quick anecdote: While speaking in an informal setting with Latinos, Spaniards often get surprised by their politeness, so they tell them: please don’t call us “ustedes,” indicating that they can use “vosotros” instead, even though in their country it is the norm.
- The use of “vos” instead of “tu”
This peculiar case happens in some places like Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay (in South America). It is used as the second person singular pronoun in Spanish but subsequently died out from the European language.
In many parts of Central America, the “s” is dropped in the same way that it is in Andalusia in Spain.
While in Argentina, Uruguay, and parts of Chile, the “ll” sound, usually pronounced like a “y,” sounds more like a “j.”
Another similarity to all Hispanic countries is the way that “c” and “z” are pronounced like an “s” and not like “th,” as is the case in Castilian Spanish.
It is probably what you’ll hear on TV and radio because it is widespread across the country. You can differentiate the accent most clearly just by listening to the way Spanish speakers pronounce “c” and “z.” If these letters appear in the middle of a word, the pronunciation changes to “th.” Pay attention, and when these letters appear in the middle of a word, you will see that their pronunciation changes to “th.” This differs from other Spanish-speaking countries where the “c” and “z” sounds are pronounced as “s.”
- The particular accent in Andalucia
In Andalucia, one of the largest regions of Spain located in the south of the peninsula, they do not pronounce all the letters as is usually the case with Spanish. If you want to speak like them, you’ll have to eat the vowels since most omit them.
In this case, Andalucian is more similar to a Latin accent from the Dominican Republic or Cuba, where they also eat the S’s at the end of the words.
Moreover, Andalucia is one of many regions with its own pronunciation in Spain, and many others even speak a different language. Find all the information here:
5. The subjunctive mood in Spanish
The subjunctive is used to express desires, commands, possibilities, opinions, and ambiguity and to describe situations that have not yet occurred. The tricky part is not understanding the concept; it is applying it.
The subjunctive mood is used to understand better and express what we want to say. In Spanish, the indicative or the subjunctive is also used for the same situation in two different ways.
For example: in a situation where we cannot know the outcome, it would be used like this:
“Puede que llueva” (it might rain)
“Puede que nieve” (it might snow)
It is also used with the negative imperative,
“No comas” (don’t eat)
If you want to express the desire for another person to do an action, you use the infinitive of the verb:
“I want John to do it.”
On the other hand, a Spanish speaker expresses it by using the subjunctive “Quiero que Maria lo haga”, which means, I want John Maria to do it.
There are other reasons why people might find the Spanish language difficult to learn, some of them are:
- Spanish colloquiums
- Spanish grammatical rules
- Spanish sayings and proverbs
Still, I encourage you to learn Spanish in the following ways, which I’m sure can be very useful:
5 tips to help you learn Spanish
1. Move to a Spanish Speaking country for a few months
One of the best —and most fun ways of learning Spanish is by moving to a Spanish-speaking country for a few months.
By creating a routine in the country and doing day-to-day things like a local, you will be forced to talk to other people and put your knowledge into practice so that you include more everyday vocabulary right from the start. In addition, these will be low-pressure situations, unlike, for example, doing a speech in front of the class.
I recommend dining out at restaurants, shopping at the local market, having a coffee at the nearest coffee shop, hiking or playing a sport, participating in extracurricular activities at university/school, going out with friends, etc.
Please, don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just talk, ask questions, and resolve your doubts. Remember that learning a foreign language is something to be proud of and making mistakes is part of the journey.
2. Consume Spanish content: Music, Movies, Books
I know you may be tired of hearing this advice everywhere, but the reality is that it works a lot because it puts you in the context of the conversation and makes you understand what they are talking about. Plus, it’s fun because you can understand irony, colloquial phrases, and informal language in a more relatable way.
Here’s a super famous song in Spanish, the lyrics are easy to understand and the melody is catchy!
Keep in mind that you should start simple. You should wait until you’re more confident to read literary texts from the XX century written in old Castillian Spanish since you won’t understand anything (even if it is about your favorite subject). Instead, I recommend reading and watching movies that are easy to understand at the beginning. And when you’re ready, level up!
The best advice someone once gave me was: “You should learn Spanish by doing what you like,” which is absolutely true. This way, I feel free to dedicate an hour a day to this activity without feeling forced to do anything" It is true that it can be frustrating at first since you won’t understand anything. Still, my point is that it becomes easier to get into the habit of learning the language after I am consistent. And I achieve this with songs, movies, and books in Spanish.
I have a few lists with the best songs and movies of all kinds, so you don’t have any excuse to learn Spanish! Here you will find them:
7 Spanish Movies That Your Kids Will Absolutely Love!
7 Spanish Comedy Movies You Won’t Stop Laughing With
11 Spanish Christmas Movies to enjoy a Lovely Family Evening
11 Most Popular Spanish Songs According to Billboard and Youtube
16 Magical Spanish Christmas Songs to Jingle your Day
Joining a group or a team or taking a sports class are other excellent ways to interact with Spanish speakers. In Spain, people are very energetic, and there are a lot of activities for different price ranges and age groups, outdoors and indoors, which are perfect for improving your learning experience in the best possible way!
4. Journal in Spanish
Although people have been writing diaries and notebooks for centuries, the therapeutic potential of reflective writing is becoming increasingly popular on social media.
And if you are one of those who have yet to introduce this beneficial habit into your life, I invite you to write down your thoughts/ideas/what you do for the day in a journal at some point during the day.
But do it in Spanish!
It can be a super good way to incorporate the habit of writing Spanish regularly since you may be forced to speak or listen daily but not so much to understand unless you are taking classes to learn Spanish.
Logically, you may not know how to start at the beginning, but you can use all the translation tools you need to start journaling. Once you get started, you’ll become more confident and be able to write your phrases!
Please write down all the phrases you find curious, doubts, and new learnings, as this is an excellent way to track your progress so that you don’t get discouraged and keep the illusion of learning this language so demanded worldwide!
5. Change your phone’s default language to Spanish
Smartphones have become one of the most used devices by any person and have more presence in the digital era.
Most of us use it for almost everything - if not everything. So, what better way to introduce Spanish into your life super simply? Exactly.
Plus, you can take advantage of Siri if you have apple because, as we know, it can understand our questions as long as they are simple enough. At the same time, voice recognition helps you to improve your pronunciation.
And well, if you are not convinced, you can always change the language back to your mother tongue following the same process.
Spanish is not one of the world’s most challenging languages since other languages in the world have the same (and sometimes more) complexities. Still, it is true that for some people, it can be very complicated to learn depending on their mother tongue, their involvement with the language, and the other languages they speak.