According to the hundreds of people that took our survey… Spanish isn’t just hard to learn.
It’s the hardest language to learn.
Spanish is spoken by over 570 million people across the world. Over 480 million of these are native Spanish speakers and Spanish is the official language or official co-language of over 20 countries, including Argentina, El Salvador, Venezuela and, of course: Spain.
As a language, Spanish takes around 75% of its history from Latin, but also maintains influences from Ancient Greek and also Arabic. (For example, did you know over 8% of Spanish vocabulary is Arabic? Cool huh?) It also borrows words from other languages, such as French, Italian and Sardinian.
But it’s not the vocabulary people seem to find the hardest.
According to our survey, understanding native speakers was the number one challenge for Spanish students.
The top reason for this was the speed: over 40% of respondents to our survey said that they struggled to understand native speakers in conversation because they were perceived to speak too quickly.
This is actually supported by research conducted by TIME Magazine.
Spanish is the second fastest language, with a native speaker saying nearly 7.82 syllables per second. Japanese beats it to take the title of Fastest Spoken Language (just) with 7.84 syllables per second.
When you compare this to the much slower languages of English (6.19 syllables) and Mandarin (5.18 syllables) it’s easy to see how learners of Spanish can struggle to keep up.
You also told us you struggle to understand different Spanish accents, with over 24% of you mentioning dialects as being one of the things you’ve found the hardest.
Can you guess what came third?
The mystical uvular trill, or, in non-phonetic speech – being able to roll your R’s.
Grammar rules and grammatical structure came fourth. In fact, over 80% of people mentioned the subjunctive tense specifically.
Yep. It’s nasty.
Memorising vocabulary came fifth in what people found the hardest…
… But also came top of the list of things Spanish learners found the easiest.
Over 63% of people said the vocabulary was the easiest part to pick up (as well as idiomatic expressions)
The fact that a lot of the words are derived from a Latin foundation (same as Italian, French, Portuguese and Romanian) is the biggest reason for this, especially when people speak one of these languages natively.
Those coming from English or Mandarin as their first language found vocabulary slightly harder, because there is less crossover with English and almost none between Mandarin and Spanish.
What are the best things about learning Spanish?
Despite finding it hard, you guys had a lot of wonderful things to say about the benefits of learning Spanish.
1. “It’s the third most spoken language in the world… I can go and talk to anyone!”
Connecting with people was the top benefit cited for learning Spanish: being able to communicate with a wide community of Spanish speakers (580 million, remember!)
2. “Some things in Spanish just make more sense”
Spanish has words and phrases that other languages don’t. Over 12% of respondents said they felt like they were able to express themselves in a different way in Spanish compared to their native language, saying it was “more emotional”, “more romantic” and sometimes even “cooler sounding” than their mother tongue.
3. Getting a better insight into the culture… which opens up more doors for learners
Culture was mentioned in nearly every response we got back from Spanish. Learning the language not only helps you understand the culture better, but it also allows you to gain a broader insight into the country and its people.
When you learn a new language, it opens up a whole new world of books, movies, songs, blogs – everything that you consume in your native language you can now do in a whole new language.
Tips for people who want to learn Spanish
Our community had a wealth of tips for new learners of Spanish. Here are our favorites:
1. Ignore Grammar
Don’t trip yourself up with focusing too much grammar (especially at the beginning) just relax, accept the differences, go with the flow and do a lot of listening and you will notice how quickly you progress! – Adham
Don’t be discouraged by grammar. Verb conjugation and pronouns might both seem overwhelming if try to memorize them out of a book, but if you just jump into listening and talking, it starts to feel natural. Nothing has been more helpful for me than watching telenovelas. Just dive in and you’ll figure it out. – Bridget
2. Focus, focus, focus!
Focus on the 500 most commonly used words. – Tom
Don’t quit, keep learning everyday consistently. Ask for help, Spanish speakers are delighted to assist you with your goals. – Joan
3. Start speaking as soon as possible
Start talking right away, you can get bad habits from reading only. – Charles
Stick with it, and don’t be afraid to sound terrible! – Julie
SPEAK! SPEAK! SPEAK! It’s scary at first, but you will feel good about yourself once you’ve done it. – Oprah
4. Go for full immersion
Find someone who is willing to speak the language to you, watch tv and listen to music in Spanish, change your phone, completely immerse yourself if you truly want to acquire the language! – LaToya
Quit hiding and start speaking out loud immediately. The most fluid and natural way to learn is interacting with humans, not books. – Melissa
5. Stick to Spanish (don’t switch out into your language!)
Learn filler words like pues, tambien, como, aun etc. so you can carry a decent conversation from the get go without interjecting with fillers from your native language 🙂 – Rachel Crawford
And my personal favorite: (thanks Nicki!)
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; nobody is judging your mistakes. They just want to understand you.