Well… the (annoying) short answer is… it depends. It depends largely on what your first language is, whether or not you already speak a second language, and how connected you are to Spanish in your daily life.
And really that is (the short and) only answer. However, I can almost guarantee that, by the end of this post, you will have more reasons to think learning Spanish is easier than you thought!
If your first language is English, you might have an easier time learning Spanish:
Even though, at first glance, English and Spanish might seem and sound very different, these two languages share quite a few similarities when you look closer.
If you go back in the family history of these two languages, you will find that they both come from one mother language: the proto-Indo European.
They both use the Roman alphabet which, although not always helpful, could give you some foundation in terms of phonetics.
Also, the sentence structure (or syntax) of both languages is, in fact, very similar. With some exceptions like the adjective-noun order in a sentence (adjective before noun in English and noun before adjective in Spanish).
All these similarities are a HUGE plus for English speakers hoping to learn Spanish and vice versa.
If you are a native speaker of any of the Roman languages, you will of course have an even bigger advantage. In other words, the closer in the family tree, the better.
However, if you speak a language historically further away from Spanish do not fret, there are other positive aspects that could play in your favor. Keep on reading!
If you already speak a second language:
Research suggests that students who already speak a second language, in addition to their mother tongue, can benefit from learning a third language much quicker and with more ease.
According to Prof. Salim Abu-Rabia and Ekaterina Sanitsky from the University of Haifa, “applying language skills from one language to another is a critical cognitive function that makes it easier for an individual to go through the learning process successfully”. Not only would a bilingual brain help you learn a third language but it will also improve your brain neuroplasticity.
Ultimately, helping you perform better in several areas of your life and not only in the world of languages.
That being said, you are specifically thinking of making Spanish your third language, there are aspects to it that make it an excellent choice. We will discuss this later on.
If you are immersed (or semi-immersed) in Spanish in your daily life:
By now, it is no secret that language immersion is one of the best ways to quickly learn a language. Apart from the obvious benefit of being exposed to the language daily and being forced to learn it and speak to survive in a new environment, language immersion has shown to actually help the brain function like that of a native speaker. And therein lies the key!
Now, what do I mean by semi-immersed? You don’t have to be in a Spanish speaking country. If you have a Spanish community near you or if you live in a Spanish speaking neighborhood. If you interact with Spanish speakers daily at work or other environments, or if you intentionally immerse yourself in the language by watching shows, listening to music or attending daily classes, you can have or create an immersion-like environment for yourself.
However, if none of these apply to you or if you doubt Spanish is easy to learn. There are some characteristics specific to Spanish that make it easier to learn than other languages.
Here they are:
1. Spelling in Spanish is a walk in the park (at least compared to English):
Spelling bee contests are a thing in the US for a reason. English is not a phonetic language, in other words, it doesn’t (almost never) sound the way it’s spelled. Sounds are dropped, reduced, ignored. There are about 20 different vowel sounds (despite the fact that alphabetically there are only five vowel letters) and even a sound known as the schwa which in spelling can be represented by several letters in the alphabet.
Spanish, on the other hand, it’s (pretty much) pronounced how you would expect based on its spelling. This is because Spanish is, in fact, a phonetic language.
For this reason, regardless of what language you speak, you will be able to learn the proper Spanish pronunciation quickly as well as how to read it.
2. Spanish can (for the most part) be very consistent:
I know Spanish learners can be thrown off by irregular verbs in Spanish and its various verb tenses, but the reality is Spanish can be very regular in other aspects. For example, contrary to English, Spanish is consistent in the way singular words become plural. That is, by adding an -s or -es at the end of a word. English has irregular plurals (think person – people) that makes it much more difficult for English learners.
Also, even though Spanish words have gender (feminine-masculine) and that might be difficult to memorize, most feminine words end in -a and masculine end in -o, with some exceptions, of course! But for the most part, if you follow this rule you will often be right.
3. Spanish cognates are common:
A cognate is a word that has the same linguistic derivation as another. Spanish has been influenced by Arabic, French, Portuguese, Italian, among others. For this reason, it’s not hard to find that Spanish has cognates with your native language and that undoubtedly makes Spanish easier to learn than other languages (just watch out for false cognates!)
4. Lastly, Spanish is widely spoken:
Some common Spanish phrases have made their way into English because of the close contact these two languages have. From the expresion “Mi casa es su casa” to Tex-Mex terms like queso or tortilla, Spanish has a strong presence in other languages, especially in English. This might make it easier to familiarize yourself with it. Similarly, Spanish music and TV shows have become more mainstream (singers like Shakira and the popular shows Narcos or La Casa de Papel come to mind). This easy exposure you can have to Spanish can play in your favor when you set out to learn it!
Now, I’m not going to lie. There are some aspects of Spanish that can make it quite tricky to learn but do not (in my opinion) overshadow the easy aspects.
Let’s quickly go through some of these for the sake of unbiased discussion!
- Irregular verb conjugations: This is probably the most hated aspect of learning Spanish. My advice is try your best to find order amongst the chaos. Irregular verb conjugations can keep some regularity and you just need to find that pattern (think in the past tense of poner – puse, poder – pude, tener – tuve, etc)
- False cognates: Even though true cognates are a plus. False cognates can sometimes be embarrassing and discouraging (a good example of this: avergonzado = embarrassed vs. embarazada = pregnant). My advice is laugh it off and learn from your faux pas. It’s not the end of the world to make mistakes. Besides, you are guaranteed to not make this mistake again (the more embarrassing the situation, the better for your memory!)
As you can see, flagging a language as difficult is not that simple. Especially when it comes to Spanish. If you are trying to decide if you should learn Spanish, I hope you are convinced that you have more to your advantage than you initially thought!