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Learning Spanish: Main Differences from English

December 20th, 2010

learn-spanish.jpgSpanish, like other Romantic languages (meaning based on Latin), is not a difficult language to learn overall, but it can be frustrating in the beginning for someone who is not familiar with the basic structure of Latin tongues. A new Spanish student should be aware of certain differences in pronunciation and grammar between the Spanish and English languages.

Pronunciation - Vowels

Spanish and English vowels (a, e, i, o, u) look exactly the same. Unlike English vowels, which have two different pronunciation sounds (long and short), Spanish vowels only have one sound, regardless of how a word is spelled. Once this concept is ingrained, Spanish becomes easier to learn, as only one sound has to be remembered for each vowel.

However, these single sounds themselves are not always easy for English speakers to incorporate.

Spanish vowels sound like this:

A, sounds like ahh (what you say at the doctor’s office);
E, sounds like eh, as in “empty;”
I, sounds like eee, as in “EEK! A mouse!”
O, is tricky: make a quick, soft throaty sound while shaping your mouth in a perfect circle, but do not close it off at the end like you normally would.
U, sounds like ooo, as in an owl’s hoot.

Pronunciation - Accents

Vowels also dictate where words are naturally accented. If a Spanish word ends in a vowel, an n or an s, it is accented on the next to last syllable. If a word ends in a consonant, the accent goes on the last syllable. For example, la biblioteca (the library) ends in a vowel, and is thus accented on the e (eh), the next to the last syllable.

Spanish also utilizes written accents when the above rules do not allow for the best fluency. For example, if the word la música (the music) were pronounced according to the next to last rule, it would sound strange and be a bit awkward. Thus, the written accent “fixes” this problem by moving the emphasis to the first syllable.

Grammar - Conjugations

Although Spanish verb conjugation can seem daunting at first, once you learn the overall concept, you might see how it’s actually easier than in English. English verbs are very complex and rarely follow set rules for conjugation. Spanish verbs have more steps in conjugation, but are easier to conjugate once you learn the rules. There are regular verbs, which are (usually) conjugated the same way, and irregular verbs that have their own spelling rules, but can still be less confusing than English verbs. The English verb “to be”, for example, is made into a completely different word for each pronoun (I, he, she, it, we, they): I am, he is, they are. What happened to “be”? It would be easier to simply change the ending: I beo, he bea, they beon. This is essentially what Spanish does. You can still see the root of the original verb in each conjugation.

In Spanish, all root verbs end in -ar, -er or -ir. Here is the root verb gustar (to like) properly conjugated according to certain pronouns: “I like rabbits”: “Yo gusto conejos.” “She likes rabbits”: “Ella gusta conejos.” “We like rabbits”: “Nosotros gustamos conejos.” Since every pronoun has a specific conjugation, the pronouns themselves can be eliminated without any loss of meaning: “Gustamos conejos” still clearly means, “We like rabbits.” This cannot be done in English; “Like rabbits” could mean anyone.


Grammatical gender is a classification concept that Spanish and all Latin-based languages use, such as Italian, French, and Portuguese. English and other Germanic languages (i.e. German, Dutch) do not have gender as part of their grammar, so it is not an easy concept to learn at first. Grammatical gender pertains to nouns (objects, places, and people) and their respective verbs (action words). When learning simple words in English, children look at an object and say its name, such as “book” or “chair”. In Spanish, however, the corresponding article (the, a, an, etc.) must accompany the word. For example, instead of simply “girl” (chica), in Spanish you would say “the girl” (la chica). This applies to plural nouns, as well (la chica becomes las chicas). In English, articles are not pluralized with their nouns, so this concept can be tricky to grasp or remember at first.

Double Negatives

In English, the use of two or more negative words (no, not, never, etc.) in the same sentence is generally prohibited. Most native English speakers who have had significant amounts of formal schooling know that the utterance of such a “double negative” sentence by someone who is supposed to have learned this rule is a well-known way to make an English teacher cringe. However, in Spanish there is no such prohibition and it is permissible to use double negatives in a sentence without violating the grammar rules. For example, the English sentence “She does not like anything” translates in Spanish as, “Ella no gusta nada.” Literally, this means, “She does not like nothing.” This is grammatically incorrect in English, but correct in Spanish.

This article was supplied by Amanda Place from Constant Content.

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