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Spanish or English? Which is more difficult to learn?



This question appears from time to time among my students. Which is more difficult to learn, Spanish or English? Let's start with people who are not native to either language. Most of my students who are non-native English speakers already speak English well having learned it as children at school. Many will say that the effort they are making now to learn Spanish is greater since they are now adults, and the learning process is less natural, more conscious. Many of these people, most of them Europeans and at least bilingual, tell me: "I was very young and I hardly realized I was learning English". Evidently, these types of cases do not contribute much to answering our question. So maybe we could rephrase the question -which is more like a fun bar talk rather than a heated academic debate:

Is it more difficult for a native of English to learn Spanish, or for a native of Spanish to learn English?

Something that can help us find the answer is knowing which aspects of each of these two languages ​​are the most difficult to learn. Among the most complex subjects in

Spanish are: the subjunctive mood, the use of reflexive verbs, the great variety of conjugations,

the differentiation between direct and indirect objects pronouns ( 'lo' and 'la' vs 'le' ), the imperfect past vs. the preterite, the massive presence of genders (feminine - masculine), the verbs with indirect complement ("gustar", “encantar”, etc.), the flexibility of syntax (the order of words in a sentence), etc.

All of which are grammar topics.

On the other hand, if we ask Spanish speakers what is the most difficult thing to learn in English, they will most likely say spelling and pronunciation. In English a written letter can have several ways of being pronounced. For example, the letter 'u' has differing sounds in each of the following words: universe, luck, murder, push and cure. Also, it’s worth mentioning the presence of phonemes (some don’t exist in Spanish) that are, at the same time, similar and different from each other: 'bug' vs 'bag', 'live' vs 'leave', 'rod' vs 'rode', etc. These two facts are something that can blow the mind of native Spanish speakers when they begin to study English.

Spanish has only five vowel sounds, one for each corresponding letter, while English has twelve vowel sounds –you write the same five vowels, but you pronounce twelve different sounds.

To conclude, we can say that 1) Spanish grammar is more complicated to learn than English grammar (if your mother tongue is not a Romance language) and 2) the pronunciation and spelling in English are more complex than in Spanish. So, in addition to having a fun dinner party topic to enjoy with friends, this information can help you to know what to expect. Spanish will require from you a certain effort when it comes to learning some grammatical concepts that are probably non-existent in your language (nothing that cannot be learned with dedication and still having fun), but it will give you a break in terms of pronunciation. You may have more or less of an accent when speaking, but if you are pronouncing minimally well, it is unlikely that you cannot make yourself understood. And if a word ever seems difficult to pronounce, remember that, apart from the rolling “r” (which in fact isn’t necessary to pronounce so markedly), there is probably no sound in Spanish that your native language does not have.


~ If you enjoyed this article please share it with friends and give my page a like on Facebook! I’m a Spanish teacher based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Since 2007 I have been exclusively teaching Spanish to people from all over the world. Whether looking for an online Spanish tutor, or in person while visiting Buenos Aires, please reach out to me with any questions you might have!~
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