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Is Spanish Hard to Learn? [7 Common Mistakes, Grammar and Top Tips]

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Is Spanish Hard to Learn - 12 Common Mistakes Grammar and Top Tips
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Want to learn Spanish? Is Spanish hard to learn? The verdict is in. Plus you’ll learn how to avoid the 7 common Spanish mistakes students make and you’ll get my top 5 language resources for learning Spanish in record time.

One of the most common misconceptions people have about language learning is that it is hard to do and that ‘not everyone can do it. This is, however, not quite so. Granted, learning a foreign language, Spanish included, requires some effort and dedication, but is Spanish hard to learn? Definitely not as hard as most people imagine.

If you are thinking of learning Spanish and wondering how hard it is, this guide includes everything you need to know: read on to find out if Spanish is hard to learn; top tips on mastering Spanish grammar and on how to avoid common mistakes and avoid some nasty misconceptions.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Why learning Spanish is easier than you think
  • How to Master Spanish grammar 
  • 7 Common mistakes in Spanish and how to avoid them
  • 9 Misconceptions about learning Spanish that are holding you back
  • The Verdict: Is Spanish hard to learn?
  • How to learn Spanish: Top 5 Best Resources for Learning Spanish

When it comes to language learning, what does ‘hard’ really mean?

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - Everything you need to know to get startedBefore we answer the question ‘Is Spanish hard to learn?’, let’s take a quick look at what being ‘hard’ actually means for language learning.

The thing is, how hard it is to master a foreign language and how long it takes depends on many factors: your mother tongue, your goal in mastering the language (for instance, learning Spanish for academic purposes would be quite different from learning Spanish for travel), other languages you may know, and even your previous experience in learning the language.

For instance, many people who believe that mastering a foreign language is next to impossible are simply doing it the wrong way: instead of practising regularly, they take long breaks between their attempts at learning their target language, which means they forget a lot of what they have learned by the next attempt and barely make any progress.

The difficulty of learning a foreign language is heavily influenced by the mother tongue of the learner: the more similar the two languages are, the easier learning usually is.

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) has divided languages into several categories based on how fast, on average, English speakers can reach minimal professional proficiency when learning them. Spanish falls into Category 1, which makes it one of the easiest languages for English speakers to master. Compared to it, learning Russian (Category 3), Japanese, or Arabic (Category 4) would likely be much harder.

Why learning Spanish is easier than you think

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - Why learning Spanish is easier than you thinkOur expectations influence a lot of things, language learning included. If you truly believe that learning Spanish is hard and approach learning it from this point of view, it will, indeed, be hard for you.

To help you avoid this trap, let’s take a look at a few things that make Spanish a fairly easy language to master – or at least easier than you think.

1. You already know a lot of Spanish words.

Languages that are ‘related’ – that belong to the same language family or, especially, to the same group – often share quite a few similarities that are especially evident in the area of vocabulary.

English and Spanish belong to different language groups (Germanic and Romance languages, respectively) of the same language family – Indo-European languages. They share common historic routes. The countries where the two languages are spoken are also close geographically and there has been a lot of interaction between the two over the centuries which has had some influence over the languages and their vocabulary, leading to a large number of cognates in English and Spanish.

Cognates are words in two languages that have the same (or very similar) form and meaning. Take, for instance, the Spanish ‘el animal’ (the animal) – it has the same spelling and meaning as its English counterpart, and a slightly different pronunciation (the ‘l’ is palatalized, and the stress falls on the last syllable).

Cognates appear for many different reasons: one language borrowing from the other and vice versa, both languages borrowing from another source, or they share common historical roots. There are over a thousand English-Spanish cognates, which makes it over a thousand words that you already know in Spanish!

Here are some examples of common English-Spanish cognates:

  • Original (o-ri-hi-‘nal’)
  • El doctor (el’ doc-‘tor)
  • El hopsital (el’ os-pi-‘tal’)
  • La idea (la i-‘de-a)
  • Adoptar (a-dop-‘tar)
  • Controlar (con-tro-‘lar)
  • Calmar (cal’-‘mar)
  • Explorar (eks-plo-‘rar)
  • La acción (la ac-‘sion)
  • La nación (la na-‘sion)
  • El tráfico (el’ ‘tra-fi-co)
  • El banco (el’ ‘ban-co)
  • La dificultad (di-fi-cul’-‘tad)
  • Curioso (cu-ri-‘o-so)
  • La montaña (la mon-‘ta-nja)
  • Urgente (ur-‘hen-te)
  • El problema (el’ pro-‘ble-ma)
  • La ambunalncia (la am-bu-‘lan-sia)

There are a few rules to how English and Spanish cognates relate that you can observe here:

  • Many verb cognates add -ir or -ar, common to Spanish verb endings
  • The English suffix –tion becomes -ción
  • A few nouns and adjectives add -o at the end
  • The English ending -(i)ty in English becomes -(i)dad in Spanish
  • The English ending -ous becomes -oso in Spanish
  • The English ending -ance in English becomes -ancia in Spanish

When relying on cognates, though, it is very important to be aware of false cognates in Spanish. These are Spanish words that look very similar to English ones – and you will probably be tempted to just treat them as other cognates and not look up their meaning. However, their meaning is totally different.

Here are a few examples:

  • Embarazada (em-ba-ra-‘sa-da) means ‘pregnant’
  • Éxito (‘e-gzi-to) means ‘success’
  • Pie (‘pje) means ‘foot’
  • Largo (‘lar-go) means ‘long’
  • Idioma (i-di-‘o-ma) means ‘language’

There aren’t too many such words but they can lead to some misunderstandings and, well, embarrassment, so make sure to check just in case if a cognate you come across is a real and not a false one.

2. Spanish sentence structure is similar to English

Spanish sentence structure is similar to English, however, there are some exceptions, for example, in Spanish, adjectives come after nouns, not before: ‘a new bank’ becomes ‘un banco nuevo’. However, in general, Spanish uses the same Subject-Verb-Object sentence structure, which means you have one less new thing to memorize. For example:

  • The boy reads a book. — El niño (the boy) lee (reads) un libro (a book).

3. Pronunciation and spelling rules.

Spanish is a fairly phonetic language, especially compared to English. There are a few letter combinations that you need to memorize – for instance, the double l ‘ll’ in Spanish makes the same sound as y at the beginning of words. For example: llegar, to come, is pronounced ‘ye-‘gar’.

The rest is pronounced practically just as it is written. You can easily read words like ‘madre’ and cognates like ‘adoptar’ even if you haven’t learned any Spanish yet.

There are a couple of sounds in Spanish that may be tricky for English speakers to master – for example, the hard ‘h’ or the rolled ‘r’ – but they are few, and they are also quite easily mastered with a bit of practice.

How to Master Spanish Grammar

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - 9 Misconceptions about learning Spanish

Spanish grammar is not the hardest thing for English speakers to learn. There are quite a few similarities that make life easier for English-speaking Spanish learners: the general word order is similar, plurals are formed in much the same way, there are similarities in the use of articles and some of the tenses, and there are no noun cases, like in German, for instance.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that English speakers don’t need to learn Spanish grammar, and there are a few tricky topics that you need to pay special attention to. To give you an idea of what you need to learn and make things a bit easier, here are a few tips on how to master Spanish grammar.

Pay attention to genders

Spanish is a gendered language meaning each Spanish noun is either masculine or feminine, and adjectives and articles that accompany nouns must agree with them in gender as well. We still have leftovers of grammatical gender in English too!.

Gender is a purely grammatical category and has nothing to do with the physical characteristics of an object. Only nouns that describe people and animals correspond to their gender: ‘la madre’, mother, is feminine, while ‘el padre’, the father is masculine; ‘un gato’ is a male cat, and ‘una gata’ is a female cat.

To speak Spanish correctly, you need to memorize the gender of nouns. There are rules that help, of course, but there are also exceptions that you need to learn.

Learn the irregular verbs

On one hand, Spanish grammar is fairly regular. There are many rules and patterns that you can learn and follow to speak Spanish correctly. But unfortunately, not all the words follow these patterns.

A lot of the irregular verbs are verbs that are commonly used in everyday speech: like ‘ser’ (to be) or ‘haber’ (to have), for instance. They conjugate differently from regular verbs, and you need to pay special attention to them.

Since you will need to use them often, this means you’ll get lots of practice and will become second nature fairly quickly.

Study verb conjugation patterns

Is Spanish hard to learn - Va com va

Verb conjugation is the variation of verb forms based on the time the action happens (grammatical tenses) and the person performing the action (grammatical person). There are more various conjugation forms in Spanish than in English.

For instance, in the Present Simple, there are just two forms: ‘drink’ and ‘drinks’. In the equivalent Spanish tense, there are six forms:

  • Yo bebo (jo ‘be-bo) – I drink
  • Tú bebes (tu ‘be-bes) – You (informal, singular) drink
  • Él/ella/Usted bebe (el’/eja/us-‘ted ‘be-be) – He/she/you (formal, singular) drink(s)
  • Nosotros bebemos (no-‘so-tros be-‘be-mos) – We drink
  • Vosotros bebéis (vo-‘so-tros be-‘be-is) – You (informal, plural) drink
  • Ellos/ellas/Ustedes beben (ejos/ejas/us-‘ted-es ‘be-ben) – They/you (formal, plural) drink

And this is just one tense! Don’t worry too much, though – these patterns are fairly regular and with some practice are quite easily memorized. But do remember that there are many more verb forms in Spanish than in English, so make sure to devote ample time to learning them.

Practice the subjunctive mood

The subjunctive mood is used in the Spanish language to indicate some kind of subjectivity, uncertainty, or unreality in the speaker’s mind. It is used to express feelings like doubt, desire, necessity, possibility, judgement, and so on.

The subjunctive mood is notorious among Spanish learners, most of them believing it to be one of the hardest things in Spanish grammar. But even though it may take you some time to wrap your mind around the subjunctive, it is just as regular as the other Spanish moods (the indicative and the imperative). You just need to learn the rules and the patterns (with some exceptions, of course), and then spend sufficient time practicing them.

Practice, practice, and then practice some more.

This is not a tip specific to grammar, or even to the Spanish language. However, it is absolutely essential, so I can’t possibly pass it up.

One of the reasons many students struggle with mastering Spanish or any other foreign language is that they don’t do enough practice and/or take long breaks between practice sessions.

The grammatical features mentioned in the previous sections, like the conjugation system or the subjunctive mood, in particular, are not inherently harder than English grammar. What makes them seem hard is that they are different. Our brains need time to make sense of this difference, and then we need some more time to learn this grammar well enough to use it in our speech – time spent practicing, of course.

The best thing about language practice is that the more you do it the easier it gets. So, don’t waste time worrying about Spanish being difficult – start learning and practicing, and you’ll see how fun and easy it is.

Have a laugh with these hilarious Spanish expressions

7 Common Mistakes in Spanish and How to Avoid Them

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - 7 common mistakes in SpanishWhen you learn a foreign language, mistakes are totally natural. Even native speakers make mistakes, so there is nothing shameful about it. Making mistakes is a large part of how we learn: you make a mistake, correct it, learn how to say it right, and your language level gradually improves.

You shouldn’t be afraid of making mistakes. But at the same time, if you can avoid some of the most common mistakes that Spanish learners make and save some time – why not do it?

In this section, you will find 7 of the most common mistakes made by Spanish learners and tips on avoiding them.

1. Confusing the verbs ‘ser’ and ‘estar’

While the English language has only one verb for ‘to be’, Spanish has two: ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ (es-‘tar). This can get a bit confusing as the same ‘to be’ is translated differently depending on the context.

Simply put, ‘ser’ is used to describe permanent qualities or situations, while ‘estar’ is used to talk about temporary ones. Compare these two examples:

  • Él es aburrido (el’ es a-bur-‘ri-do). – He is boring (he is a boring person in general).
  • Él está aburrido (el’ es-‘ta a-bur-‘ri-do). – He is bored (he feels bored right now).

This can be quite a big difference, so make sure you read the rules for each verb thoroughly, study plenty of examples, and then practice using the verbs in sentences and texts of your own.

2. Using ‘ser’ or ‘estar’ instead of ‘tener’

A lot of common phrases in English are built with the verb ‘to be’. However, their Spanish equivalents often have a different verb: tener (te-‘ner), meaning ‘to have’.

Mistakes occur when learners assume that the Spanish expression is the same as the English one. To avoid that, don’t rely too much on the similarities between Spanish and English: take some time to study the expressions that are different, and make sure to check the new ones you come across when in doubt.

Here are a few examples of Spanish expressions with tener:

  • Tener X años (‘a-njos) – to be X years old (Literally: to have X years)
  • Tener calor (ca-‘lor) – to be hot (Literally: to have hot)
  • Tener prisa (‘pri-sa) – to be in a hurry (Literally: to have hurry)
  • Tener sueño (‘swe-njo) – to be tired, feel tired (Literally: to have sleep)

3. Using Spanish articles just like English ones

On one hand, the use of articles in English and in Spanish is fairly similar. It is the same grammatical category with the same general idea. The same rules often apply: for instance, using the indefinite article to talk about the category of an object, or using the definite article to talk about something we have mentioned before.

However, although these similarities are very helpful, and can save Spanish learners some time, you should never assume that the whole grammatical category is the same. Some uses of articles in Spanish are different from English, for instance, no article is used when talking about someone’s job. For example:

  • Él es conductor (con-dook-‘tor). – He is a driver.

You can avoid this mistake just as the previous ones: don’t rely too much on the similarities, make sure to study the rules, and double-check things when in doubt.

4. Using the wrong word order with adjectives.

One of the things that is distinctive about Spanish is that most adjectives are put after the nouns they describe. For example:

  • Un país hermoso (oon pa-‘is er-‘mo-so) – a beautiful country (Literally: a country beautiful)
  • Un arbor alto (oon ar-‘bol’ ‘al’-to) – a tall tree (Literally: a tree tall)

Make sure you remember this when describing something in Spanish!

To make things a bit more confusing, there are some adjectives that can be used both before and after the noun, but with a different meaning. For example:

  • Un viejo amigo (oon ‘vje-ho a-‘mi-go) – an old friend (someone I’ve known for a long time)
  • Un hombre viejo (con ‘om-bre ‘vje-ho) – an old man (of old age)

Although such adjectives are a minority, being aware of them will help you speak Spanish a bit better.

5. Not using the double negative

Another distinctive feature of the Spanish language, compared to English, is the double negative. Even though it is poor grammar in your mother tongue and can make you cringe, in Spanish it is natural and is actually a must.

No tengo nada (no ‘ten-go ‘na-tha), if translated literally, is ‘I don’t have nothing’. It may take some time to get used to, but don’t let your English grammar interfere with your Spanish, and make sure to use the double negative properly.

6. Overusing pronouns

In the English language, a sentence must always have a grammatical subject, even if it is just a formal ‘it’ that doesn’t point to any particular doer of the action: ‘it is raining’, ‘it is time to go’. In some situations the subject can be omitted in informal speech, but not too often.

In Spanish, if the subject is a pronoun, it can – and even should – be often omitted, especially if it is clear from the context who or what we are referring to. It is partly possible because the form of the verb still reflects the grammatical person, helping us understand the message.

Some of the examples used above can be easily used without the pronoun subject. For example:

  • Bebo. – I drink.
  • Está aburrido. – He/She is bored.

Keeping the subject pronouns in such sentences is not a mistake that could lead to misunderstanding. They are only used to add emphasis or clarification. Otherwise, using subject pronouns sounds redundant and ‘not very Spanish’.

7. Using the wrong verb with ‘gente’

Gente (‘hen-te) means ‘people’ in Spanish. In English, ‘people’ is a plural noun and it must be used with a plural verb. In Spanish, although it is also used to refer to more than one person, the word ‘gente’ is grammatically singular and must be used with verbs in the third person singular. For example:

  • La gente de este país es amable (la ‘hen-te de ‘es-te pa-‘is es a-‘ma’ble). – People in this country are friendly.

In the example above, ‘es’ is the third person singular form of the verb ‘ser’, to be. To make things easier, try to think of this word like the words ‘money’ and ‘news’ in English, which can refer to plural objects/concepts, but are grammatically singular as well.

As you have probably noticed, most of the mistakes mentioned above come from relying too much on the similarities between English and Spanish and letting the English rules interfere.

Do not hurry when you are learning Spanish: the similarities are quite helpful and do save you a lot of time, but not everything about English and Spanish is similar – otherwise, it would be one and the same language. Take some time to learn and practice the differences, and you will avoid most of the common mistakes Spanish learners make.

9 Misconceptions about learning Spanish that are holding you back

One of the things that can hold you back when learning a foreign language is having various misconceptions. For instance, why learn a language if you won’t be able to use it in the future, right? Thoughts like this can slow you down and even make you give up your learning altogether!

To prevent that, let’s dispel some of the most common misconceptions about the Spanish language.

1. ‘I won’t use Spanish in the future’.

By the number of native speakers, Spanish is second to only Chinese. By the total number of speakers, Spanish is the fourth language in the world, with over 500 million Spanish speakers from Latin America to Spain. It is the official language of 20 countries. Whether for work, travel, or entertainment, you will easily find lots of opportunities to use the Spanish language.

2. ‘I won’t be able to roll the ‘r’.

The Spanish ‘r’ is indeed different from the way it is pronounced in English, and it can be hard, if not impossible, to get it right on your first try.

However, it is not impossible to learn to pronounce it correctly after some practice. Your tongue is a muscle. Just as you can train your body to do things it couldn’t do before, you can learn to roll your ‘r’s.

3. ‘I am too old to learn Spanish’.

It is a common belief that children learn languages easier than adults and the older you get the lower your chances of successfully mastering Spanish or any other foreign language. This is, however, a myth.

Children and adults learn differently. While children’s brains are indeed more flexible (and they also usually have more free time for learning, to be honest), adults are often more motivated and can analyze things such as grammar way better.

Don’t use your age as an excuse and don’t let it prevent you from learning Spanish!

4. ‘There are no Spanish schools/teachers where I live’.

Big cities offer more opportunities in some areas compared to small towns. This is, however, not true for language learning anymore. With access to the Internet, you can get access to great schools and teachers from all over the world, no matter where you live.

You can also use various language exchange platforms, teaching services like italki (read my complete guide to italki here), and apps to chat with native speakers from all over the world, practice your Spanish skills, and meet new friends.

This, hopefully, dispels a couple of other misconceptions:

5. ‘I need to travel abroad to learn Spanish’.

6. ‘None of my friends speak Spanish, I won’t be able to practice’.

7. ‘I don’t need to learn other languages if I speak English’.

This is a big one, and it is also not true, whether we talk about Spanish or any other language. Yes, English is spoken by over a billion people, which is a lot. But it is also just about one-seventh of the world population.

Learning Spanish will give you access to many more work, travel, and educational opportunities. It will allow you to access and understand the rich cultures of many Spanish-speaking countries. It will give you access to a lot of great Spanish-language content that hasn’t been translated into English.

English is a great international language, and we are lucky to be able to use it in many situations. Nevertheless, it is still not the world’s only major language. Learning Spanish will truly expand your horizons and be extremely rewarding.

The Verdict: Is Spanish hard to learn?

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - 7 common mistakes in Spanish - The VerdictSo, is Spanish hard to learn? I’m hoping that after reading this guide you can agree with me and answer ‘no’ to this question.

Spanish is one of the easiest languages for English speakers to learn: there is a lot of similar vocabulary, the pronunciation is not too tricky, there are quite a few grammatical similarities as well.

Learning Spanish will still require some time and patience: it may be easy to learn, but there is still quite a lot to learn, and consolidating the knowledge and skills properly requires time and regular practice.

Hopefully, the tips in my guide will help you avoid the common mistakes and misconceptions, and make learning Spanish an even more enjoyable experience!

How to learn Spanish: Top 5 Best Resources for Learning Spanish

Is Spanish Hard to Learn - How to learn Spanish Top 5 Best resources for learning SpanishWhat is the easiest way to learn Spanish? By enjoying the process and having fun! Winston Churchill nailed it when he said:

Personally, I’m always ready to learn, although I do not always like being taught. 

And as Leonardo da Vinci once said:

Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”

Here are 5 ways to get started learning Spanish, today!

  1. Join an online language course – Get started with my course Intrepid Spanish or then to reach a solid intermediate-level using polyglot Olly Richards Spanish Uncovered based on his story learning method.
  2. Go on a language holiday like I did. Study abroad and make a holiday of it!
  3. Use a language app like Mondly to mix things up and keep you motivated
  4. Listen to a podcast like Coffee Break Spanish
  5. Book a lesson on italki with a qualified teacher 

Want more? Learn Spanish with me, with Intrepid Spanish!

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Is Spanish hard to learn - Everything you need to know

Over to you!

Are you learning Spanish? What other tips would you add to this guide? Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

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