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It is not so much conceptually hard, but very time consuming. It takes thousands of hours to really acquire fluency in a new language, so be patient and in addition to your classroom experience, give yourself as much listening and reading exposure as possible. Eventually you will improve in both comprehension and production.

Yes and no. Children appear to be able to acquire languages at a much deeper level than adults. However, motivated adults often acquire languages very quickly because of the vast amount of conceptual knowledge they have built up. It is easier to learn new material when we have previous material already in our brain to which we can make connections. Of course, most adults who learn an additional language later in life will rarely sound like a native speaker but can usually function well in conversational and perhaps even academic settings.

If you are learning a new language, then whether a language is easier or harder depends on your native language(s). If you are a native speaker of Portuguese or Italian or French, then Spanish will be very easy since they are all part of the Romance language family, descended from Latin. Even if you are a speaker of German or Russian, you will notice some similarities between your native language and Spanish since they are all part of the large family of languages call Indo-European. If you are a monolingual Chinese or Turkish speaker, Spanish may be relatively hard since these two languages do not share any vocabulary nor grammatical structures.

Yes. Spanish and English are both Indo-European languages. Linguists often use the analogy of a family to describe languages. The Indo-European family is a large family of languages extending from India and Afghanistan across Europe and eventually to the Americas. The Indo-European Mother Language (Proto-Indo-European, spoken about 5,000 years ago in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of Eastern Europe) gave birth to many daughters, Albanian, Balto-Slavic, Indo-Iranian, Hellenic, Italic, Celtic and Germanic. These daughters in turn gave rise to newer languages: Russian, Lithuanian, Gujarati, Pashto, Hindi, Persian, Greek, French, Spanish, Scots Gaelic, Welsh, Dutch, Danish, English; these could be called cousin languages.

Spanish is part of the Italic branch, which includes French, Portuguese, Rumanian, Provençal, Catalan, Italian and many less commonly known languages. English is part of the Germanic branch which includes German, Dutch, Swedish, Danish and Norwegian, among others.

Spanish and English share a large vocabulary of cognates words that are similar in pronunciation and meaning across two or more languages. This is because French speaking William the Conqueror invaded and conquered England in 1066. For the next 300 years French was the language of government and prestige, while the common folk continued to speak English. So, in English we often have two words, one more formal than the other: commence (from the French commencer) and begin (from the German beginnen). The “elegant” word commence will usually have a counterpart in Spanish, comenzar, because Spanish and French are sister languages.

Spanish and English share thousands of cognate words, for example: general, estación, universidad, gubernamental, civilización, normal. Some cognates are false cognates, that is they look like the same words, but they have very different meanings: embarazada in Spanish does not mean embarrassed, but pregnant, and carpeta is not carpet, but file folder. Actual does not mean actual, but current and asistir is not assist,but attend.

In addition, the industrial revolution and the scientific boom of the 17th through 20th centuries created a need for new words in the areas of mechanics, astronomy, chemistry, medicine and electronics. Words were borrowed from Latin and Greek or root words from these languages were used to coin new terms: algae, analytic, automation, cardiovascular, cardiovascular, dinosaur, external, helium, hernia, kinetic, lateral, medial, mnemonic, photovoltaic, sonogram, synthetic, telegraph, telescope, television, toxicology and thousands more. Many of these same words from Latin and Greek were adopted into the technical terminology of most European languages and gradually have made their way into many world languages, often with modifications so that speakers of these languages can pronounce them.

Children growing up in bilingual or trilingual settings do this, but it does take them a bit longer to acquire two or more languages. Some people find taking Spanish and another language at the same time a great adventure; others find it confusing. It is probably optimal to take at least one year of Spanish and then continue to study Spanish while starting to study another new language.

Yes. The more linguistic information we hold in our brain, the easier it is for us to learn new linguistic information. It helps if the languages are related, like English and Spanish, but a student who is bilingual in Japanese and English, will have an easier time learning Spanish, than a monolingual English speaker. A student who speaks Turkish, English and Russian will find Spanish even easier.

This is a common experience. Each language we study or learn is like a track in the brain. Our native language track is very wide with nearly impenetrable walls. Our track for three years of high school German or French may be much narrower with much weaker walls. As we try to learn another language, our brain, searching for words, does not breach the strong walls of our native language, but may go into tracks of other languages and "raid" words or structures. As your Spanish gets better and better, and the track becomes wider, and the walls stronger, this will happen less and less.

Yes and no. If you head to Chile or Spain speaking no Spanish, you will have a hard time getting people to interact with you. It's better to start with two or three semesters in a protected setting, the classroom, and then travel to a Spanish-speaking country. Then you will speak and understand well enough to allow you to interact and thereby get more practice.

At Irvine Valley College our instructors teach what is called Standard Latin American Spanish. That means that it is an amalgam of the various kinds of Spanish spoken in most Spanish speaking countries in Latin America. We do not teach Mexican Spanish or Cuban Spanish or Peruvian Spanish or Argentinean Spanish, not because these are not beautiful variants of Spanish, but because we want our students to be able to communicate with speakers from many different countries.

Maybe. It depends on who is speaking. Slang in any language is that group of words and expressions that is localized and possibly stigmatized, that is, looked down upon by other speakers. Students of Spanish should avoid using slang because:

  • you may not know when it is appropriate, and you might offend people.
  • it is often very localized and not well understood outside of a particular region.

That depends upon which country you live in. If you live in Cuba, you will want to speak educated Cuban Spanish. If you live in Argentina on a farm, you will want to speak the Argentinean Spanish of your peers. If you travel often for business to Madrid, you will want to acquire the Spanish of those in the capital city of Spain. If you need Spanish for academic purposes, you will want to acquire the educated Spanish of any of the 21 Spanish speaking countries.

Like in English speaking countries, each Spanish-speaking country and each region within a country has slightly different ways of speaking. Sometimes that means different words for some foods, clothing, different colloquial expressions, different pronunciations of some sounds, and some slight differences in grammar. Educated Spanish speakers from anywhere in the Spanish speaking world have little difficulty understanding each other.

Both of these terms are used to describe the language which in English is called Spanish. The word español is used in Mexico, the Caribbean, most of Central America and Colombia, while Spain and South America prefer the term castellano. So, although the dialect of Argentina and the dialect of Northern Spain are quite different, inhabitants from both regions refer to their language as castellano.

Spaniards often use the term castellano to refer to the language they speak as opposed to other languages of Spain: Catalan (catalán), spoken on the eastern seaboard and in the Balearic Islands, Galician (gallego) spoken in the Northwestern corner of Spain above Portugal, and Basque (euskera or vasco) a language isolate (unrelated to any other European language). Basque is spoken in the Pyrenees of Spain and France as well as all along the western border of Northern Spain and Southern France.

When contrasting their language with languages in the rest of Europe, Spaniards may use the term español. For more on the Spanish language in English, visit

You will often hear that a Spanish king had a lisp and forced al his subjects to lisp. This is not true, but somehow, this folk legend has proved hard to dispel. Spaniards do not lisp any more than English speakers do when they pronounce the words think or thimble.

The standard Spanish spoken in most parts of Spain, (an exception includes some areas of Andalucía in southern Spain), distinguishes between the sound of "s" in casa (house) and the sound of "z" as in caza (hunt[s]), using an "s" sound [s] for casa (house) or tasa (rate) and a soft "th" sound θ for the pronunciation of the "z" in caza or taza (cup) and for the pronunciation of words with "ce" or "ci" like cero (zero) or cima (peak). This voiceless "th" sound, θ , is similar to the "th" in English words think or thin.

To summarize: in some areas of southern Spain, just as in Latin America, speakers use the [s] pronunciation for "s", "z" and "ce"/ "ci" while most of the rest of Spain observes the distinction between [s] (the "s" sound) for words written using the letter "s" and θ (the "th" sound) for words using the letter "z" or the letter combinations "ce" and "ci". This distinction only began to develop in the Spanish language after the colonization of Latin America, so Latin American Spanish does not make use of the θ for "z", "ce" / "ci" and pairs of words like tasa (rate) and taza (cup) or sumo (extreme, supreme) and zumo (juice) sound identical. Speakers of Latin American Spanish rely on context to distinguish between these word, just as English speakers use context to distinguish between the spoken words "eye" and "I" or "son" and "sun."

Spanish is the official language of 21 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea (on the west coast of Africa), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico [a Commonwealth (Estado Libre Asociado) of the United States], Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela.

There are 21 Spanish-speaking countries, but Brazil is not one of them. In Brazil and Portugal, people speak Portuguese. Spanish and Portuguese are both Romance languages descended from Latin and are close in both grammar and vocabulary, but the pronunciation is different.

Yes. In Spain on the Mediterranean coast there are millions of speakers of Catalan, (el catalán) and in the northwest, there are speakers of Galician,(el gallego). Both Catalan and Galician are Romance languages. There are many other Romance languages in other parts of Spain, all in decline due to the homogenization of culture and language in Spain. On the Atlantic coast of northern Spain and in the Pyrenees Mountains there are many speakers of Basque, (el euskera or el vasco). Basque is classified as a language isolate and is not related to any other European languages. Linguists think that it may be a descendant of the original language of the Iberian Peninsula long before Indo-European speakers arrived in Europe. Here is an interesting look at early Indo-European called Proto-European by linguists who have painstakingly reconstructed it.

Mexico has millions of speakers of indigenous languages like Nahuatl, (el náhuatl), Totonac, (el totonaco), Zapotec, (el zapoteco), Mixtec, (el mixteco), Purepecha (el purépecha), Raramuri (el rarámuri) and various languages of the Mayan family of languages, (el maya).

Central America also has many indigenous languages, languages from the Mayan family of languages, as well as Miskito (el misquito), Kuna (el guna), and Garifuna, (el garífuna), an indigenous Caribbean language that has adopted large numbers of loan words from both African languages, Spanish and English.

Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Paraguay also have large numbers of speakers of various indigenous languages. The most well-known of these are languages from the Quechua family of languages, (el quechua or el quichua), spoken in parts of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina, and Aymara, (el aimara), spoken in Peru, Bolivia and Chile. Paraguay is a bilingual country with both Spanish and Guarani (el guaraní), officially recognized.

Many of these indigenous languages are dying and will not outlive this century. Language extinction has been compared to species extinction. When a language dies because its speakers are no longer using it to talk to the next generation, the cultural, technical, medicinal and spiritual knowledge of that culture dies with it. This is detrimental to all of us. Very few extinct languages have been revived. A notable exception is Hebrew which died between 200 and 400 C.E. and was revived in the late 19th century and early 20th century and is now the native language of over 3,000,000 Israelis. This interactive website of the Endangered Languages Project presents many aspects of endangered languages.