Tag Archives: how to speak Spanish

3 Things You Will Struggle With While Learning and writing Spanish

the most difficult aspects of Spanish learning
Proclamation Ceremony flickr photo shared by cliff1066™ under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Each language has its tricky points, and Spanish isn’t the exception. While the easy spelling and fairly straightforward pronunciation are great, you will come across some struggles that take some time to overcome when you’re learning how to speak Spanish and also when you are writing in Spanish. Among the most difficult points are:

Ser and Estar: These are two verbs that make up one in English: to be. Ser is used for permanent situations of “to be.” Estar is used for temporary situations of “to be.” It takes a while to sort out when to use each one, because in English you never make that choice. As they say, practice makes perfect, and taking the time to study the lists of examples of when to use each one eventually pays off. Lots of fill in the blank exercises are useful as well because they force you to choose between the two options, giving you the chance to practice and memorize those lists you studied. Here you have a longer explanation about SER and ESTAR.

The subjunctive: Another part of Spanish that doesn’t really quite exist in English, or at least is rarely used, is the subjunctive. It’s difficult for those who want to learn to speak Spanish to use the subjunctive correctly. Even advanced students struggle with it. The subjunctive tense, sometimes described as a mood, is used when uncertainty is expressed. For example, “I doubt he’ll go” in Spanish would use the subjunctive “vaya”, making the sentence “Dudo que vaya” rather than the indicative and incorrectly stated “Dudo que va.” To further complicate the subjunctive, it can be used with all verb tenses and also in adverbial clauses, adjectival clauses, to make requests and in various other instances. When asking native speakers how they know when to use the subjunctive, you’ll likely hear a very unhelpful answer: “it just sounds right.” Well, that just means you’ve got a lot of listening and speaking practice to do.

All those tricky phrases and expressions: Once you’ve got down the basics of Spanish, you’ll start to realize that there are many fluffy, formal phrases used for certain situations and topics. While English tends to be very direct and to the point, Spanish tends to be more flowery and nuanced. There are certain phrases that if translated literally don’t seem to make much sense, but are used in certain situations. For example, to thank someone for an email or letter, it’s normal to write “Tengo el gusto de acusar recibo de su carta” (I am happy to acknowledge receipt of your letter). At a funeral or when someone has died, you should say “Mi más sentido pésame” which is the equivalent of “I’m sorry for your loss”. These are the sorts of phrases you wouldn’t come up with on your own even if you have a fairly large vocabulary. Then of course, there are many more idiomatic expressions and slang that you’ll encounter and once you start interacting regularly in Spanish you’ll have to learn them. You’ll have to work hard to keep up with conversations between native speakers and ask when you don’t understand. Get started by learning some of these expressions.

Common Nonnative Mistakes for Writing in Spanish

At times, writing in Spanish to practice it can be frustrating because the mechanics, nuances, and terms of Spanish language do not translate perfectly to your own native language. Therefore, even learners with a high level of proficiency may still find themselves making nonnative mistakes in their writing after years of practice.

The influence of your native language on the acquisition of a second language is known as language transfer, and this influence can be either positive or negative depending on the similarities between the two languages. Although experience is the most beneficial way to avoid making second language writing mistakes, it can also be helpful to make yourself aware of the most common writing errors that individuals with your native language tend to make when learning a particular second language.

For native English speakers acquiring Spanish, one of the most frequent and noticeable types of errors is making a word order mistake. In both English and Spanish, the basic word order consists of the subject, followed by the verb, followed by the object. In sentences that have this simple structure, the transfer of English to Spanish is actually beneficial because the word order is reinforced in both languages. On the other hand, there are notable differences in the word order of the languages when we get to more complicated structures. For example, in English, the adjective precedes the noun, as in ‘the white cat.’ In Spanish, however, the adjective follows the noun, as in ‘el gato blanco.’ These types of writing errors are easy to make because the learner must think about the language in a manner that is structurally different from how he or she is used to thinking in the native language.

Additionally, another common error for English speakers learning Spanish is the failure to apply the properties of grammatical gender. Spanish has two genders: masculine and feminine. These genders are referred to as ‘grammatical’ in nature when they do not refer to the sex of a living being. For example, the word ‘casa,’ meaning ‘home,’ is a feminine noun in Spanish. The assignment of the feminine gender is completely arbitrary; thus, it is difficult for the nonnative speaker to acquire. When writing, the Spanish learner must not only remember the gender of each noun, but must also be sure to assign the appropriate gender to the article and adjective within the same phrase as the noun. If we want to write ‘the red house,’ in Spanish, we would have to write, ‘la casa roja.’ Each word in this phrase has the –a ending, which is common for feminine words in Spanish.

To make things even more complicated, the rules for marking words as either singular or plural also differ between the two languages. In English, the writer must be sure that the subject and the verb match in number, as in ‘the girl walks’ versus ‘the girls walk.’ When writing in Spanish, it is important to remember that the article, noun, verb, and adjective must match in number, as in ‘la chica camina’ versus ‘las chicas caminan.’ Luckily, the rules for making items plural in Spanish are fairly regular, so this is something that will likely become easier over time.