Rounding out to some 400 million people worldwide, Spanish is the second-largest language in the world in terms of native speakers (after Mandarin Chinese). Native Spanish speakers, who simply acquire the language effortlessly at a young age, have it easy. For the rest of us, however, learning Spanish involves a great deal of studying vocabulary and memorizing verb conjugations. Here are some of the most difficult challenges for Spanish language learners.
1. Conjugation overload
Learning a verb in Spanish entails much more just a single word. Verbs in Spanish are conjugated by person and number, meaning that you’ll have to memorize five (or six, if you’re speaking the Castilian variety) different endings for each verb that you learn as per subject pronoun. If that’s not enough, the conjugations can be different depending on whether the verb ends in -ar, -er, or -ir. And even further, verb tenses (e.g., past, present, future) are all conjugated differently. It’s no wonder that memorizing conjugations is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for Spanish language learners!
2. Knowing where to place the accent
Unlike English, whose syllable stress falls mostly arbitrarily, Spanish has intricate rules that govern syllable stress. In special circumstances, words require an accent to be placed over the stressed syllable. However, even to native Spanish speakers, it’s not always immediately obvious when an accent is necessary: it depends on which letter the word ends in, as well as whether or not there is another word spelled identically in the language, in addition to other factors. Articles like this one show how complex the rules regarding accent placement are in Spanish!
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3. That rolled “R”
This is an issue that causes endless grief for some, yet is no problem for others. Yes, some are born naturally with the ability to roll their ‘r’s, which comes in handy, as the sound is exceedingly common in Spanish words. For those who can’t, don’t fret: you’ll still be understood even if you can’t produce a perfect “R”. In fact, some native Spanish speakers — including famous author Julio Cortázar — can’t roll their ‘r’s, either!
4. Ser vs. Estar
“To be or not to be” takes on a whole new meaning in Spanish, when there are actually two ways of saying “to be” that mean different things. Whereas the verb ser is used for permanent traits, estar is used for transient states. However, the complexities underlying these verbs is difficult to sum up in a pithy rule, so knowing which form to use is a classic difficulty for learners.
5. Many different dialects
One of the biggest challenges about Spanish is that it varies drastically depending on where you are. For example, the Spanish spoken in Argentina is very different from that spoken in Spain. Therefore, if you travel around to different Spanish-speaking countries, you may find yourself having to un-learn and re-learn a good deal of your vocabulary!
Want to learn more about Spanish dialects? Check out our list of the top dialects in the Spanish language!
6. Keeping up with native speakers
Learning the grammatical rules of Spanish is one thing; actually talking to native speakers is another. If you feel like Spanish speakers talk really fast, you’re right: a recent study found that Spanish is spoken at a rapid-fire 7.82 syllables per second — making Spanish speakers quite hard to keep up with! In comparison, English is spoken at just 6.19 syllables per second.
Though it’s certainly a challenge, learning this beautiful language is well worth the effort. Fortunately, there are plenty of qualified native Spanish speakers who can help you navigate the language’s grammatical complexities. Send us a quick inquiry to find out more about how we can help you best learn Spanish.