When a student starts learning our language for the first time, many doubts arise. Will Spanish be very difficult for me? How much time will I need to learn Spanish? How much time must devote to it daily? What are the main difficulties in learning Spanish? Can I learn Spanish being an adult?
Generally speaking, the main difficulties in learning Spanish are not related to the language itself. The native language of the learner plays a big role, depending on how close it is to the language that one wants to learn. Obviously, learning Spanish will be easier for a French student than for an English student. The same thing can be said for an Italian or Portuguese student, because they are romance languages which are closer to Spanish, while an English student will have to face concepts that do not exist in their native language.
On the other hand, a language is easier to learn depending on how many languages the student has previously learned. A person speaking different languages gains experience and learning strategies that make it easier to approach a new language.
The biggest difficulties in learning Spanish
However the initial circumstances are, there are some common difficulties in learning Spanish (or let’s better say challenges). Here are some of them:
- Gender, number, and grammar agreement. Gender and number are features that make words feminine or masculine, singular or plural. The agreement is the relationship that exists in terms of grammar between different types of words, for example, “los niños juegan” (noun and verb), “los perros negros” (noun and adjective), or “esta casa es nueva” (subject, verb, and object). Many advanced students still have problems to keep the agreement between nouns and articles, adjectives, and verbs, even after they have already overcome other big difficulties in learning Spanish, such as the subjunctive mood and the past. Gender and number agreement are basic rules in Spanish that must be strengthened from the initial levels.
- Verbal forms. In order to speak Spanish fluently, one must master the different verbal tenses in three moods: indicative, subjunctive, and imperative. Some verbal forms are regular and many others are irregular, what may drive even the most devoted student crazy. The verb is the core of the Spanish sentence, and the different forms of a verb allow us to express not only who is doing the action and when, but also whether the action is based on a real tangible fact or else on a probable, hypothetical, expected, desired, feared, or needed fact. Spanish verbs are essential to communicate properly, and they represent one of the main difficulties in learning Spanish.
- “Ser y estar”. One of the most troublesome chapters in Spanish classes for adults is related to the use of these two verbs. In Spanish, we use these two verbs for functions which other languages solve with just one verb, and this represents one of the most original features of our language.
- The subjunctive mood. Once a student has learned different verbal tenses in the present, past, and future, a new horizon stretches ahead of him, towards the unexplored land of the subjunctive mood, which teachers will strive hard to explain as the non-reality, the field of uncertainty and subjectivity. However, the students use to see it as an arid land full of lists with structures following whimsical norms which are not easy to learn. The teacher in the Spanish courses in Madrid or elsewhere faces a hard task making the student understand why and how the subjunctive mood is used in communication, and the importance of grasping this concept.
- Pronominal verbs. These are verbs that are always built with reflexive pronouns (me, te, se, nos, os, se) to change the sense of the verb, emphasize the action or indicate that the action affects the subject directly. The list of pronominal verbs is quite long, as well as the reasons behind their use, and that is why it is one of the main difficulties in learning Spanish.
- Uses of “se”. “Se lava”, “se come bien”, “no se puede fumar”, “se dice”, “se construyó”… These are different examples of the use of the pronoun “se”, with an identical form in all of them, but playing different functions and values, which the student must learn to differentiate and use.
Here are the most frequent difficulties in learning Spanish, but our students in our Spanish school in Madrid may find other obstacles with different grammatical, lexical, or phonetical aspects. Our task is to take them into account and understand why a student keeps repeating the same mistake, in order to know which aspects to emphasize during a Spanish course. This will help our students conquer all difficulties in learning Spanish and defeat frustration, which anyhow normally appears during the learning process.