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Is Spanish a Hard Language to Learn for English Speakers?

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By Dr. Karolina Kopczynski
Faculty Member, School of Arts, Education and Humanities

Many English speakers believe that Spanish is a difficult language to learn. There are currently over 20 countries where Spanish is spoken, and over 580 million people worldwide speak Spanish.

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According to Best Life, Spanish is not even on the list of the 20 most challenging languages to learn. The most difficult languages to learn include Arabic, Russian, Korean, Navajo, Finnish, Vietnamese, Mongolian, Hungarian, Thai and Icelandic. 

For example, the difficulty in learning a language such as Arabic, Russian or Korean starts with the alphabet. You have to learn new letters, and spelling might be a challenge. The sounds and pronunciation are also arduous to achieve by an English speaker as particular sounds do not exist in the English alphabet.

With the Finnish language, not only must you conjugate the verbs, but nouns also have 15 different cases. Well, Hungarian can beat that with 18 cases and 14 vowels. Now, that is a challenge!

Origin of the Spanish Language

Spanish is a Romance language derived from the Latin spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, which was introduced by Romans. The Spanish language also contains more than 4,000 words from Arabic. For example: the word “neighborhood” is “barri” in Arabic and “barrio” in Spanish.

Since over 80% of words in English come from Latin, there are many cognates, such as:

  • Restaurant/restaurante
  • Art/arte
  • Music/música
  • Politics/política

As you can tell, this use of cognates is probably why this language is not considered by some people as the most difficult foreign language to learn.

Linguistic Perspectives on Spanish

From a linguistic point of view, the difficulty of a language depends on its sound and pronunciation, grammatical concepts, writing system, and origin. As a matter of fact, Spanish is considered one of the easiest languages to learn, because it is a phonetic language.

For instance, once a learner knows the Spanish alphabet and knows how to pronounce the letters, he/she will be able to read and write. Spanish’s cognates also make learning and memorizing vocabulary much more manageable.

In addition, Spanish grammar is not very complex. It follows certain patterns, which help with learning conjugations and verbs in different present, past and future tenses, as well as conditional and subjunctive modes.

The most challenging part about learning this language would be learning colloquialisms, expressions used in the dialect of every Spanish country.

Un hombre que sabe dos lenguas vale por dos hombres. (A man who knows two languages is worth two men.) – French proverb

Many US Schools Encourage Students to Learn Spanish

In many states, learning Spanish starts in kindergarten. The majority of high schools in the U.S. expect the graduate to complete at least two years of the same language. The majority of colleges and universities require two years; however, Ivy League schools such as Harvard University or Williams College require four years.

Knowing a Second Language Is Useful in the Workplace

Since Spanish is not that difficult to learn, how can you possibly use it in your everyday life?  For many people seeking a job, knowing a second language used to be optional. Nowadays, many positions require a potential employee to be bilingual. 

According to FluentU, some jobs that require a knowledge of Spanish are:

  • Teachers
  • Medical and court interpreters
  • Sales professionals
  • Law enforcement professionals
  • Medical professionals
  • Social workers
  • Administrative and management professionals
  • Construction workers

Knowing Spanish can also be helpful if you’re searching for a job in a Spanish-speaking country, like Costa Rica, Colombia or Panamá. It is also useful if you’re preparing for an opportunity with a company that does business globally.

Los límites de mi lenguaje son los límites de mi mundo. (The limits of my language are the limits of my world.) – Ludwig Wittgenstein

The university offers four courses in Spanish and in other languages. You can only imagine how much of the language you will know after 32 weeks. I hope you challenge yourself and learn Spanish!

About the Author

Dr. Karolina Kopczynski is a native of Poland and moved to the USA as a high school student. Her passion is learning foreign languages and being able to travel and communicate with others to broaden and deepen her perspectives as a global learner.

She earned her B.A in Spanish from UMASS, Amherst, where she also studied, French, German, Italian and Russian. She completed her study abroad program in Oviedo, Spain. Dr. Kopczynski obtained her M.A.T. in Spanish and ESOL from the School for International Training, VT in 2000. She also taught herself Greek and lived in Greece.

In 2010, Dr. Kopczynski completed her Ed.D. from the University of Phoenix in Curriculum and Instruction. Her dissertation topic was “Student Proficiency in Spanish Taught by Native and Non-native Spanish instructors.” In 2015, she completed two additional master’s degrees from the University of Jaén in Spain and the University Iberoamericana in Puerto Rico in Applied Linguistics in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language and Formation of Professors of Spanish as a Foreign Language. Dr. Kopczynski has experience instructing Spanish at all levels and designing online Spanish courses.

Recently, Dr. Kopczynski presented at the Mass Foreign Language (MaFla) regarding “Reading & Listening Comprehension and Writing & Speaking Proficiency = Online Applications”; at a Canvas Network international webinar on the “Use of Technology in a Foreign Language Classroom” and at the Wyoming Innovations in Learning Conference on “Boost Engagement and Empower Struggling Learners via Digital Tools.”

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