We’ve talked at length about the hardest things to learn in Spanish. Things like our rolled rrs, for example, that most non-Spanish speakers struggle with. Or the trouble English speakers have with the differences between ser and estar, tú and usted because there are no equivalents in their language. But for all the articles that we’ve made about what you expect to be the hardest things to learn in Spanish, we’ve never written about those that are actually hard for most people. Obviously, we don’t mean to discourage anyone! We have Spanish Gurus to help you through every step of the way.
Spanish speakers are known for speaking fast and the fame is well justified. On average, a native Spanish speaker says 7.82 syllables per second - according to a study, this makes Spanish speakers the second fastest in the world, behind Japanese speakers. (If you’re wondering how the study was made, researchers had a group of 59 native speakers of 7 languages, and each read the same 20 texts in their native language. They then measured the speech rate in syllables per second.)
So we got the fame and we’re living by it. But for someone trying to learn, that means they need to process at least 7 new sounds per second (on average). Not an easy feat - and definitely something that might take some getting used to. Once you get the hang of it, though (here come the good news!) you’ll notice that Spanish only has 5 vowels and everything is pronounced exactly as it is written. As always, we recommend that you practice with native speakers - and take it slow, we won’t judge you if you can only say a meagre 5 syllables per second. We’re not judging you, really.
If your native language is multicentric - like English, Portuguese or Arabic, for example - you might expect this one. Or not, because native speakers don’t always notice how hard it can be for a second language speaker to understand different variants. In other words: British speakers will surely know that their American counterparts sound different, but they might not be aware that a foreigner has a hard time understanding someone with an accent they weren’t previously exposed to, e.g. Texan accent.
Spanning across 22 countries, you should prepare yourself for a multitude of Spanish accents - it might even change within the same country. In fact, schools often talk about Iberian Spanish (spoken in Spain) in contrast to Latin American Spanish, which is misleading in itself. Mexican Spanish will not sound like Peruvian, and someone from Caracas will not speak like someone from Montevideo. Our suggestion is that you prepare before traveling to each country and “train your ear” for the local variant beforehand. The good news is that, most definitely, a native speaker will not have problems understanding you, even if you have an accent from elsewhere.
The alphabet - and the keyboard
If you thought you knew our alphabet, think again. Spanish uses some characters that don’t exist in any other languages, like the ñ and the ll. Yes, you read that right - the two l are a letter for us. So if you think you can write regular ns and regular ls and get away with it, we have bad news for you. Spanish learners will need to master our letters and the tildes (the accents) that we use with vowels. Tú means you and tu means yours. What a difference a tilde makes!
Of course, you should be able to get around the alphabet on your first few classes. What’s not so fast? Finding the right keys on your keyboard to write correctly. Most English keywords don’t have easy shortcuts for the accents Latin languages use (we’re not alone in this! Only the ñ and the ll are exclusive to Spanish, because we’re cool like that). Plus, you’ll need to figure out how to type inverted exclamation points and inverted question marks, like ¡ or ¿. Or were you planning on copying those characters from Google every time?
Have you ever thought about any of these points? What has surprised you the most in Spanish? Which challenges did you come across that you were not expecting?