This article discusses in detail the main difficulties that a typical English person encounters when trying to learn Spanish. A classic mistake made by English speakers when learning Spanish is using “SER” instead of “ESTAR” and visa-versa. Both verbs mean “to be” in English. “SER” is used when something is permanent and “ESTAR” is used when something is temporary. For example, if a man wanted to say to his girlfriend: “you look beautiful” or “you are beautiful”, he would need to employ a different verb. One of the sentences suggests that the man is talking about today; the other suggests he is speaking in general.
The subjunctive can prove troublesome for English speakers as it is hardly ever used in their language. For example, a simple phrase like: “I want you to buy me a watch” would require the subjunctive in Spanish. The subjunctive is difficult and some students may try to avoid it at all costs, however sooner or later everyone will be forced to use it in order to say what they mean! Another confusing element of the subjunctive is that it is a mood not a tense. This is because the subjunctive can be applied to all the tenses. For example, you can take the verb “sonreír” meaning “to smile” and put it in the future tense (sonreiré) and then apply the subjunctive mood (sonriere)!
Spanish like many Latin-based languages has masculine and feminine nouns. The fact that this does not occur in English can be seen as an advantage or a disadvantage for English speakers learning Spanish. This is because; the idea of masculine and feminine verbs is obviously foreign to English speakers. However, the masculine and feminine verbs in the French language for example may not agree with the masculine and feminine verbs in the Spanish language. It goes without saying that this would cause some confusion. For example, apple may be a masculine noun for a French person but a feminine noun in Spanish! Generally speaking, Spanish masculine nouns end in “o” and Spanish feminine nouns end in “a” so they are relatively easy to learn and remember for English speakers. However, as always, there are a lot of exceptions!
Like masculine and feminine noun, English speakers are not accustomed to an informal and formal form of address. For example, in Spanish, there are two different ways of saying “you”. If you are talking to someone you don’t know, or someone that demands more respect like your grandparents for example, you would employ the noun “usted”. Whereas, when talking to friends or someone you are very familiar with, you can use “tú”. This is relatively easy to get your head around. Difficulties may arise if you go to South America for example, where they use the formal form of address much more than in Spain.
A well-known problem experienced by language students in general is that they may be able to speak the foreign language well in a classroom situation, but when they go to a country where that language is spoken and speak to “real people” it is a different story. This may happen for a number of reasons. Firstly, natives tend to speak very fast. Secondly, depending on what part of the country you go to, people will speak the language with a different accent. Some accents can be easier or harder to understand.