Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Why spanish is hard.

Yes, I admit it: I'm a failed blogger. I had all these goals before coming about all the incredible things I would show to the hoards of people who read my blog, and basically, it hasn't exactly worked out. The thing is, when you're in another country on exchange, you only have 5 months or a year or 6 weeks in the summer or whatever it is to enjoy your time, and this time should be spent doing things besides blogging. Even so, I'll try to keep a little more updated in the next 3 weeks, because I have some fun things planned and this makes it super easy to share.

However, the theme of today is the spanish language. I feel like after 4+ months in a spanish speaking country, I am expert enough to share my feelings about the language and speaking and reading and learning and everything. So let's get started!

Coming down, a lot of people told me, "spanish, how easy! you'll learn it super fast, it's a super easy language, blah blah blah". And yes, I acknowledge (spelling?) that it's probably an easier language to learn than some (arabic, russian, thai, to name a few), but learning a new language in general is ridiculously hard, and every single exchange student has to know that before coming down. I had 4 full years in school of spanish, and upon arriving, I was basically lost. It took about a month to feel confident enough to have a one on one conversation and by about 4 months, I could participate in a group conversation of 6 people or so. But more than that, or when I'm tired, I still have trouble understanding.

On the speaking front, I've obviously improved, especially with my vocabulary, but grammar still haunts me. It's complicated! When you write a language it's a lot easier because you have the time to think and plan each sentence, but while talking you have to form the sentence super quickly and say it while it's still relevant in the conversation. Do you know how hard that is? Of course it's easier to comprehend someone else talking, because you only have to understand every word in 3 or so, but to respond coherently is way different.

The other thing I want to say is that english is DEFINITELY difficult. The verb forms are pretty straightforward but with tons of exceptions, there's some tricky prepositions and such, but I think the thing most difficult is that the pronunciation isn't straightforward. In spanish, the "a" always sounds the same, every word, every time. In english, you don't know if it's an "ehh" sound, an "ahh" sound, an "aehh" sound....I could go on forever, practically.

So now I will start my list of all the hard things about Spanish:

  • Usted/ Tu
In spanish, there's a different form of speaking when speaking with "respect". I still have trouble with it--when talking with the teachers I have to practically scream at myself in my head "don't forget to use the "usted" form!". I've embarassed myself multiple times addressing people with the "tu" form when I should have used "usted", but for the most part, people are super understanding and helpful. 
  • Generos!
In spanish, every single noun has a "genero": masculine or feminine. In general, the words that end in "a" are feminine, and the words that end in "o" are masculine, but there are billions of exceptions and what about the words that don't end in O or A? So besides remembering which "the" form to use, you have to remember which "a" form to use (i.e, I want a grape) AND with adjectives, you have to use the right form too! It get's more complicated than that too, which I'll try to explain to everyone.

If someone asks me, "which apple do you want?", apple is feminine (manzana). But if I want to say, I want the red one (i.e, not saying the subject directly), I have to say "Quiero la roja". That means I have to remember to use "la" AND "rojA", because we're talking about a manzanA. Every single time, you have to remember what you're talking about so that you use the correct form! Do you know how hard that is?
  • Subjunctive
There's this separate verb for in spanish called subjunctive that doesn't really exist in english, and you have to learn all the places to use it. This is the part of spanish that I'm just starting to approach, 4 months after arriving. I don't care what you folks at home say, but we never really learned how to use subjunctive in class. This means that complicated sentences are practically impossible to say, so I usually just say them in a simpler (is that a word) tense and my friends correct me. 

"I hoped it would rain but it didn't." Esperaba que blahblahblah some subjunctive period.

 "If I would have had a bird when I was little, I would have named him Lorenzo". No idea how to say that. Not sure if I'd ever need to say that, though... 

  • Imperfect/Preterit
Two forms of past--long term and short term. Sure, there's rules, and I learned them, but I never really know which is better, so I just use one or the other. I feel like this is something that you pick up just by hearing spanish every day, so let's hope that I've improved! 

  • Por/Para
Two forms for the word "for". WHY, SPANISH? WHY?
  • Speed
Imitate spanish: it's usually a very noise. I finally realized why we always think it's so fast: it legit has less words in each sentence! This makes it harder for two reasons: 1, comprehension needs to take place a lot faster, and 2, to respond at a "native" speed is a lot faster, because the words need to leave your mouth faster. Example:

Spanish: quiero ir al mall (4 words)
English: I want to go to the mall (7 words)

Spanish: ¿Te gustaria ir alla? (4 words)
English: Would you like to go over there? (7 words)

  • Accents
Words have very specific accents. Usually it's on the second to last sylable, but if it's not there, you have to mark it with an accent mark! But there's some crazy rules involved and I never remember what words have accents or not. One of the harder pairs:

memoria (the accent is on the O, second to last sylable, following the rule (un grave))
baterìa (the accent's the wrong way, but the accent is on the I, even though both words end in RIA!)

The truth is, I could go on forever. I adore spanish, and finally feel like it's sinking in, and I can say everything that I want to say or express (with exceptions like politics, but I'm getting better!) but with good grammar? No way. I read people saying sometimes, "Oh, I went to (insert country name here) knowing none of the language and was fluent in 3 months". I'm sorry, I can't believe it. Maybe you could carry on conversations after 3 months, but fluent? I can't believe it. Maybe I'm a wierd failure, but I'm definitely not fluent after 4 whole months including background training! Fluid, maybe. Fluent? No way.

So good luck, all of you future exhangers. Do all you can to learn the language--ask questions, write down vocabulary, and most of all, TALK. Talk to everyone. Don't be afraid of making mistakes, but don't let yourself get down if you're not progressing as fast as you'd like to be. I wanted to be practically fluent after 5 months, and now I know that's not possible, and I've accepted it. I'm going to come back obviously better than before, but I still have a long way to go.

Wow! That was a lot. I hope I didn't scare anyone. But I'm still having a great time and not ready to come back!

Hope you're all doing great, and I'll try to write again super soon,


  1. Wow, I may have though it would be easier, and come more by its self, but i guess its very individual. I am going to Chile the 28 of july for a year, with AFS, and im going to a town/city called Chillán :) Ive had Spanish for 3 years, but not at a very high level though! but im from norway and we dont have that much of a thick accent like americans (like the R´s and stuff) Enjoy the rest of your time :)
    Ps. im in america now :P

  2. it does come by itself, but you should/have to work at it just the same to improve faster. it's good about the accent--the R is the hardest thing for me (words that are super hard: verde, tarde, refrigerador). Chillan's a like 4 hours south of me, and i've only been in their bus station, but i hope you have a great time, and let me know if you have any questions!

  3. nikki!! thank you so much for this. it makes me feel so much better about myself...knowing that i'm not the only one struggling with the language learning. enjoy your last weeks. so sad, isn't it? :( :(

  4. Encontré este blog en google tratando de buscar lo dificil que es el español chileno xDDD espero que hayas aprendido bien y que te haya gustado nuestro hermoso país ajajaja