Spanish is really easy to learn.
One of the most common questions people have when starting out with Spanish is:
“Is Spanish hard?”
Or perhaps they come with the expectation that Spanish is indeed a really difficult language.
Well, I’m here today to tell you that it’s not!
There are many reasons why the language has a reputation for being exceptionally difficult with potential students (native English speakers).
From pronunciation to grammar, the Spanish language presents a lot of initial challenges and confusion.
This post will take a look at some of these notoriously “difficult” aspects of the language from the perspective of a native speaker of English.
1. Which Spanish variety am I going to learn?
Naturally, this question always comes before you even start.
Spanish isn’t monolithic – there are geographical/regional varieties of Spanish (the two largest and most common distinctions are Latin American and European Spanish).
But then even within these larger distinctions, you have smaller varieties.
Similarly, Latin America is a large area with many countries made up of people who speak unique sub-varieties.
It may sound like a lot to take in but really it just boils down to you learning the Spanish variety of the place you are most interested in (or plan to travel to).
At the end of the day, you can always communicate with people from another place no matter which variety or dialect you learn.
It just might take some getting used to! 🙂
2. Spanish verb conjugations
It takes a while admittedly to wrap your head around Spanish verb conjugation if you’ve never learned a foreign language before.
Verbs in Spanish are affected by person, tense, aspect, and mood.
To make things harder, verbs have different conjugation patterns depending on whether they end in -ar, -er, or -ir.
Just take a look at some of the forms of the verb vivir (“to live”):
vivo, vives, vive, vivimos, vivís, viven, he vivido, ha vivido, has vivido, hemos vivido.
Mastering conjugation to the point of being able to have a grammatically correct conversation in Spanish takes a lot of practice.
There are patterns that will help you, but you’ll also need to memorize a lot of exceptions.
3. Ser, estar, haber
The Spanish language has three verbs to express “to be”:
ser, estar, and haber.
As you use the verb “to be” frequently, you need to tackle this issue right at the beginning of your learning journey.
Estar refers to locations and states, ser is used to describe inherent characteristics, haber is used like the English structures “there are” or “there is.”
Matters complicate if you try to use them in practice.
For example: you use ser not estar if you’re referring to the location of an event. You should say La reunión es en el aula 3 (“The meeting is in room 3”).
In addition, some adjectives change their meaning depending on whether they are used with ser or estar.
Estar listo means “to be prepared,” whereas ser listo means “to be clever.”
4. Past tense – ‘preterite or imperfect’?
Verbs in the past in the Spanish language have one of the two aspects:
The Preterite Perfect or the Imperfect.
The aspect conveys the structure and nature of a particular event.
For example, it can tell you if the action is a one-time occurrence or if it’s a habit in the past.
The aspect in English can be identified in sentences like “I would visit my grandma every Sunday” or “I used to visit my grandma every Sunday.”
But whereas the English language does not require a different conjugation to express the aspect, the Spanish language does.
And just think about using the verb “to be” in the past – you have six different forms to choose from!
5. The Spanish subjunctive
The subjunctive is used in certain structures if the sentence has two different subjects.
You would use the subjunctive to translate the English sentence “I want Martin to come” (Quiero que Martin venga).
The subjunctive is used to express wishes, the speaker’s attitude, and some forms of the imperative, among others.
This mood requires its own conjugation patterns in the present and past.
6. Which Spanish resources or books should I use?
The problem with finding books to learn Spanish and courses is that there are too many out there.
How do you choose?
If you haven’t already, take a look at the Spanish resource page for some recommended resources.
Here are some online options:
This has quickly become one of the all-time favorites. It has a huge library of content.
Rocket Spanish: The most comprehensive online audio course by far.
Rocket is a very structured, linear course that walks you through each lesson from start to finish. Ideal for someone brand new to Spanish or language learning in general.
Glossika Spanish: If listening is your thing, then you’ll like this.
Glossika is of the most popular and innovative courses available today.
It’s available in both European and Latin American varieties.
italki: Can’t travel to Spain or Latin America? No problem. italki is all the rage these days for people who want to learn Spanish at home.
I also highly recommend: Barron’s 501 Spanish Verbs, The Ultimate Spanish Review And Practice, and Mastering Spanish Vocabulary (also Barron’s) - (pro tip: one of the most effective starting points is a simple phrasebook that covers the absolute basics like Spanish greetings and so on to get you speaking quickly).
If you’re always on the move, there are some excellent apps to learn Spanish too.
Prepositions are difficult in any language, as in most cases you need to learn to use them in many different contexts.
The Spanish language has, for instance, the personal preposition ‘a’ that introduces a person as a direct object.
You would say quiero a Anna (“I love Anna”) but quiero una tasa de café (“I want a cup of coffee”).
8. Placing accents on Spanish vowels
Understanding Spanish accent marks is important.
When a word ends in a vowel, the letter n, or s, the stress falls on the next to last syllable.
If a word ends in a consonant which is not an n or s, the stress falls on the last syllable.
However, if a word doesn’t follow this rule, you need to mark the stress in its proper place.
In addition, you have to mark accents as part of some conjugation patterns. The Preterite Perfect in the third person singular requires you to place an accent mark on the last syllable on the word, which is important to reflect in your speech as well.
To make things harder, irregular verbs in the Preterite Perfect don’t require a different accent.
9. Pronunciation and comprehension
If you’re a native speaker of English, you probably have trouble with pronouncing the r sound, especially if you need to roll it.
Another problem is that native speakers are fast speakers (they appear so!).
To top it all, you may struggle with understanding a variety of Spanish accents from Spain and Latin America.
In some regions, people don’t pronounce the s. In others, the ll is pronounced differently.
Learning Spanish as a second language presents a lot of challenges to native speakers of English.
There are some aspects of grammar that are a lot more complex than in English.
On top of that, a native speaker of English will have a hard time learning to pronounce words correctly and understanding native speakers of the language.
10. Learning Spanish numbers
Some people find learning Spanish numbers to be incredibly challenging.
They can appear to be hard but they’re actually not!
In fact, I wrote a whole article about learning Spanish numbers just to prove them wrong.
Rather than repeat everything I wrote, make sure to check that post out.
Spanish is far easier (and more rewarding) than most people realize
Never let anyone convince you that Spanish is hard.
It isn’t! 🙂
It’s a Romance language with a shared etymology to much of English so you’re already halfway there.
Vocabulary is recognizable for many words, the alphabet is largely the same (no weird, exotic script or characters to learn) and there is a lot of grammatical overlap.
Best of all, there is a mountain of excellent material and resources to work with.
Have you found one aspect of the language really challenging? Which one?
Share it below!