10 of the hardest things about learning Spanish
There are some parts of the Spanish language that make it easy to learn. For example, the fact that it’s a phonetic language – there is a direct connection between spelling and sound; some words are almost identical to the English language. Then, there are things that make you want to rip your hair out. We’re counting down the 10 hardest things about learning Spanish – #1 being the hardest. Let’s go!
10. Slang and Regionalisms
If you are studying in a Spanish-speaking country, then you’ve probably picked up on a few slang words or expressions or things that are repeated often. These can vary depending on the city, country or even circle of friends. They might be difficult to understand at first but with more exposure, they become second nature. It can even be fun to learn slang words from different countries!
9. Gendered Words
For an English speaker, learning that nouns have a specific gender can be really hard to wrap your head around. Casa is female while sofá is masculine. Once you remember which ones use which, you have to make sure that all the other adjectives surrounding the nouns agree. For example, to say “the house is pretty and clean”, you must remember that house is feminine, therefore the adjectives also have to be feminine: la casa es bonita y limpia.
It can be really hard when you’re in a conversation and telling a story and remember to make agreements all the time. Then, there are the rules and exceptions! All feminine words end with “a“, right? Wrong! To get familiar with the basics you can check out our blog post on feminine and masculine nouns that goes over how to decipher which are which.
8. False Friends
There are so many true friends, or cognates, between Spanish and English – hotel/hotel, accident/accidente, construction/construcción, map/mapa. You get comfortable and think “OK, I’m getting this. It’s not that bad”. Then, when you want to go to the library you assume you can just say librería but that means bookstore! If you feel embarrassed about something and say estoy embarazada you’re telling someone that you’re pregnant. Get educated on false friends before you make these mistakes!
7. Por y Para
Some people simplify por and para as using it like “to” and “for”, but there are other uses for these two conjunctions, too. Just as with memorizing verbs and continual practice, they can also be mastered. Check out our blog post about por and para.
6. Irregular Verbs
Spanish irregular verbs are like revenge for English’s impossible spellings. There are so many to remember it can be quite overwhelming. Again, the more you practice, the better it gets. Committing to memorizing some of the more common ones – especially in the pretérito indefinido – will help a lot.
5. All The Tenses
Sometimes it feels like so many tenses can make you tense! Trying to remember the correct vocabulary, making sure all your adjectives agree with your nouns and on top of all that, choosing between pretérito indefinido and imperfecto is enough to drive you crazy. It’s a lot, and it’s one of the hardest things to get used to. If you want to sound fluent and more like a native, the use of different tenses is something you have to learn.
4. The R and J and G Sounds
For English speakers, the Spanish ere and erre are hard to pronounce. It’s a sound that native speakers have been perfecting all their lives and it’s the reason it sounds so effortless for them. The Spanish jota and ge are two other sounds that can’t be found in English so a lot of non-natives use the closest they have and make it sound more like an h. In this case, practice (and hard work) makes perfect.
3. Understanding Natives
In a sheltered classroom setting, everything is set up to be understood easily. The teachers speak slowly and annunciate carefully, the listening exercises are also slowed down for new learners and classmates are still taking time to think and formulate a sentence before getting it out. Throw yourself into a group of natives and all the words sound as if they’re one big long song – you have a hard time finding where one ends and the other begins! Accents from different countries also make it difficult to understand what someone is saying. Sometimes, letters and sounds are omitted or pronounced in a different way.
2. Ser and Estar
In English, there is only one verb for “to be” and that’s where the complications of ser and estar come in. It’s natural at the beginning when speaking to express yourself however you can. It might not seem like a big deal to you, but to native speakers, the misuse of ser and estar sounds really strange. Check out our post on how to choose between ser and estar.
This might be one of the hardest things to get. After being bombarded with tens of new tenses (in the indicative), you learn there’s a whole other dimension of tenses called the subjuntivo. Use it when… you want to express a desire or a doubt, when one action depends on another, or following some fixed expressions with “que“. The uses are many and understanding them is really difficult. Being able to speak naturally using the subjunctive takes time and once you realize you’re doing it, it feels amazing!