Is Spanish hard to learn for English Speakers

Eugenio González

by Eugenio González

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Spanish is considered one of the easier languages to learn for English speakers according to the Foreign Service Institute (FSI). It’s not like you’ll become fluent overnight though, there are still a lot of hard aspects to the language.

But relatively speaking, when compared with other languages, Spanish is not a hard language to learn for English Speakers. 

Let’s discuss the hardest and easiest things to learn about Spanish for English speakers to really understand how it compares to English:

What is the easiest thing about learning Spanish

Good news first: Spanish has a ton of similarities to English and a lot of things that make Spanish easier to learn for English speakers.  

Spanish Alphabet and Origin

Both Spanish and English share almost the same alphabet (Latin). There’s one addition: the ñ, pronounced ‘enye’ (the squiggly line is called “tilde” or “virguililla”). That already makes it easier for someone who’s just starting out to feel some familiarity when looking at Spanish words, like “ficción”.

Spanish is a Phonetic Language

Apart from having an almost identical alphabet, Spanish is also easier to learn for English speakers because it is a phonetic language. That means that most words are pronounced as they are spelled.

So once you know how to pronounce letters in Spanish, odds are that whatever you read aloud is pronounced correctly.

Being a phonetic language, it also means that you’ll have a much easier time understanding what is being said, because it’s easier to match the sounds to the letters. 

Accents in Spanish help pronunciation

While accents don’t exist in English and they may look daunting at first for English speakers, they will actually help you pronounce words more easily. 

Spanish uses the acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú). This accent points out which part of the word you should stress. So for example, “mandó” (sent) is pointing out that you should emphasize the “dó” (pronounced like doe)  like “mandó”.

So while at first it may seem hard to know when and where to place the accents, the rules for that are fairly straightforward and will be tremendously helpful in getting the right pronunciation.  

Spanish Vocabulary is Similar

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Spanish is easier for English speakers due to shared Latin roots

Since Spanish is a Romance language, it shares a lot with Latin and therefore, English too.

You probably figured out what “ficción” meant earlier in the article. Yup, fiction. Easy, right?

That’s because English words that come from the Latin root are likely spelled very similarly in Spanish. Technically speaking, these are called cognates: words that are nearly identical in two languages. 

If you’re just starting out, you may think that you have a limited Spanish vocabulary, but in reality you will be able to piece together a lot of the words that are similar in English. Here’s just a few you’ll easily recognize:

  • Aeropuerto

  • Bar

  • Explorar

  • hotel

  • Mapa

  • Oceano

  • Universidad

  • Accidente

  • Emergencia

  • Urgente

  • Medicina

  • Dólar

  • Excelente

  • Café

  • Número

  • Opinión

  • Familia

  • Persona

It’s always surprising to me how many words are similar in English and Spanish.

This makes it much easier for English speakers to learn Spanish since you can at least piece together some of what you’re reading or listening to.

Plurals in Spanish are the same as in English 

In English, plurals are largely created by adding an ‘s’ to the end of words (“friend” and “friends”). The same is true for Spanish. Casa (house) is Casas (houses) when plural.

You may think this is normal since it happens in English, but it’s actually not always the case with all languages. Italian plurals depend on their gender. So consider it a blessing that Spanish and English words are pluralized the same way.

Spanish is widely spoken so it’s easy to practice

A lot of people speak Spanish. At least 480 million people do. And in the United States, it is estimated that at least 41 million residents speak Spanish.

With Spanish being the second-most spoken language by natives after Mandarin Chinese, you’ll find ample opportunity to practice. And since there’s so many Spanish speakers that have emigrated abroad, chances are your city has a Hispanic community where you can practice your Spanish. 

I’ll get to this later, but practicing is one of the keys to learning any language. There is nothing quite like practicing in person, so having Spanish so widely available makes it much easier for English speakers to learn Spanish.

What is the hardest thing about learning Spanish

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A market in Guatemala - Spanish is spoken by more than 450 million people

While there are many things that make Spanish easy to learn for English speakers, there’s a few things that make it hard to learn too. 

Verb Conjugation in Spanish

Verb conjugation is how a verb (like “travel”) changes based on the person doing it and the time it takes place. Verb conjugation in Spanish is hard to learn for English speakers because verbs change much more than in English. 

In English, verb conjugation is pretty simple. You travel, I travel, she travels, we travel, etc. In Spanish, it gets more complicated. For the verb viajar “travel”, here are the present tense conjugations: 

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Spanish nouns are gendered: Tequila is masculine
  • Yo viajo

  • Tú viajas

  • Ella viaja

  • Nosotros viajamos

  • Vosotros viajáis

  • Ustedes viajan

Not as easy as English, since the verb changes for each subject.

It’s more complicated than English, but the majority of Spanish verbs follow the same pattern. So once you learn the rules for conjugating the different types of verbs in Spanish, you’ll be able to apply that to new Spanish verbs you learn.  

Speed: Why do Spanish speakers talk so fast?

It’s true that Spanish speakers talk really fast. The reason for that is that Spanish is a syllable timed language and has a lower informational density than English. Simply put, it takes longer to say the same thing, so while it may sound fast, it’s the same message. 

Also, since it’s such a phonetic language, things are easier to spell and the lack of hard throat sounds make it so you say more syllables in less time. As you progress with your Spanish it will become easier and easier to pronounce words and you’ll notice yourself speaking faster and faster as time goes on. 

Genders in Spanish vs. English

Unlike English, nouns have genders in Spanish. This means that your car is masculine, the moon is feminine, and so on. This is something all Romance languages share, but it’s different from gender-neutral English nouns. Everything is either male or female and at first it may be confusing to know what gender something is.

As you learn vocab, you will invariably learn the gender of the noun. Expect to get it wrong sometimes (even as a native Spanish speaker, I thought for a time that tequila was feminine, it’s not), and learn! That’s what you’re here for. Genders in Spanish are hard to learn for English speakers and that’s okay. 

Spanish Dialects and Varieties

Another thing that makes Spanish hard to learn for English Speakers is the variety in Spanish dialects. Spanish from Spain uses different conjugations than most Spanish in Latin America. There’s also different pronunciations across regions. 

This may make it all confusing, but most schools that teach Spanish will teach you neutral Spanish. This will remove all the regional differences and focus on the 99% of the language that is shared. Don’t worry about this quite yet! 

What is the trick to learning Spanish

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Spanish Immersion is a great way for English speakers to learn Spanish

Despite the difficulties you may face in learning Spanish, there are a lot of tricks that will help you learn Spanish. Remember that for English speakers there’s a lot of things that already make Spanish one of the easier languages to learn. But as I said before, languages are invariably intricate and it takes some time to become fluent. So here are some tips that will make Spanish easier to learn:

Spanish Learning Style 

One trick to learning Spanish is finding the right style and format that works for you. That may be traveling to learn Spanish abroad, taking online group lessons, or private lessons. 

If you are into podcasts, consider Spanish language Podcasts. Some podcasts out there are fully immersive or geared towards English speakers, where they’ll explain a few things in English. 

If there’s a Hispanic community nearby where you live, go interact with them and see if there are community events you can get involved in. While you may not understand everything, it will help you immerse yourself in the language and practice speaking. 

Learn Vocabulary Early

Memorizing and learning vocab is a great trick to learning Spanish and any other language. We use vocab every day. If you set your target at learning the top 100 or 500 most used vocab words in Spanish, you will quickly be able to understand more of what you read and listen to, plus be able to form more complete sentences too. Use flashcards, or whatever learning method works best for you. 

Train your ear

Listening comprehension is essential for becoming fluent in Spanish. I already mentioned listening to podcasts, but you can also watch movies, shows, and news in Spanish. Turn on the subtitles, or even better yet, use Spanish subtitles and pause to look up a word you don’t know. 

Set Time to learn Spanish

The most important trick of all is to dedicate time to learning Spanish. It won’t come overnight, and you need to practice constantly to learn Spanish and become fluent. Consider doing Spanish immersion or get a Spanish tutor to practice with often. 

How long does it take to learn Spanish for an English Speaker

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Argentina is one of the largest countries with Spanish speakers

According to the FSI, it takes about 600 hours to learn Spanish at a basic fluent level for an English speaker. As a category one in the FSI scale, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn for English speakers. So, if you spend an hour a day, in two years you’ll be dominating a lot! 

One hour a day is enough to learn Spanish as long as you are consistent and practice often. Consistency and practice is key. Even if you’re only practicing 30 minutes a day, you can learn Spanish. Just remember that the less time you put into it, the longer it will take to be fluent. It’s perfectly fine to take 4 years or 6 months to become fluent. All that matters is finding what’s the right speed for you. 

Do Spanish Immersion or Study Spanish Abroad

One great way to get ahead with your Spanish is to do a Spanish immersion program or to study Spanish abroad. On a two week course you could be packing up to 100 hours of Spanish, setting you well on your way to becoming fluent. 

Plan a holiday vacation around a Spanish course, or go during the summer to Latin America. Not only would it be an amazing trip, it will also be a great opportunity to learn about the culture and Spanish. 

Should I get a Spanish tutor?

Having a Spanish tutor is a fantastic way to make progress with your Spanish. However, many sites promote Spanish tutors that have little experience teaching a language and don’t provide much structure around their lessons.

When looking for a Spanish tutor, it is important to find one that has a teaching method in place to get you from beginner to fluent/advanced. Simply having conversations without a clear goal of learning certain grammar or vocabulary won’t be as effective. 

One of the great things about LangAway, is that you can find online private and group lessons with Spanish schools from around the world. These Spanish schools have been years in the business and know how to take you from your level to fluent. Their courses are a great way to progress in your Spanish language journey. 

Spanish Difficulty Verdict

There’s no denying that learning any language is challenging, and it’s quite respectable whenever someone wants to learn a new language. It’s a long process, but luckily for future Spanish speakers, it’s much faster. 

Yes, Spanish has its difficulties but Spanish is not hard to learn for English speakers. The commonalities with English make Spanish an easy language to learn for English speakers:

  • Similar vocab

  • Similar alphabet

  • Same pluralization structure

Being a phonetic language also makes it so you will quickly pair what you hear to what you read, so you are more likely to get to an intermediate or advanced Spanish level in less time than another language.  

So, what are you waiting for? Start learning Spanish today! Check out these popular schools and online courses:

Top Online Spanish Courses

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