Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the world based on its number of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese. It can therefore be very useful to know, given that it is widely used in international communications, media in general, and on the Internet. For this reason, more and more people who want to learn a second language choose Spanish.
The difficulty involved in learning Spanish depends fundamentally on one’s native language. If this is a Romance language (i.e. a language that originated from Latin, from the 3rd century, after the breakup of the Roman Empire), it will be easier to learn for French, Italian or Portuguese speakers, to name a few languages of this family. Overall, these students find similarities between their native language and Spanish in terms of syntax, the use of articles, and verb conjugations (changes depending on the person and tense). Native speakers of Germanic language, such as English, German, and Danish, however, are likely to have greater difficulty. The lack of a neutral gender, for example, forces one to learn the arbitrarily assigned male and female gender of objects and animals.
In addition to one’s native language, there are other complications that have more to do with Spanish tself and cause confusion and misunderstanding even for native speakers who travel to another Spanish-speaking country (or even to a different region of their own country!). First, there are a number of dialects or variants. In Spain alone, there are at least six regional varieties that are quite different from one another. Moreover, the Spanish spoken in Latin America, which is quite different from that spoken in Spain, can vary significantly from country to country, mostly in terms of the different pronunciation, which creates difficulty in understanding speech.
Polysemy (the plurality of meanings) is probably one of the most challenging aspects of the language and can cause much confusion, although this phenomenon occurs in all languages around the world. Many Spanish words have more than one or two meanings. Let’s take the word chucho, for example. In several Latin American countries, this word is used to refer to a fish, but can also be used as a synonym for dog. In Colombia, it refers to a possum. In Cuba it refers to a switch, but in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, chucho means fear or suspicion. In the neighboring country of Chile, though, it is a slang term to refer to a prison, although there it is used to refer to a small bird of prey, as the word is an onomatopoeia of the noise the bird makes. Finally, in Venezuela and Cuba, it also means whip. To decipher its meaning, then, one must first know the place of origin of the speaker, and second, pay close attention to the context in which it is used.
Spanish may be easier or harder depending on who is studying it and how one learns it. Regardless, though, it will without a doubt be very useful in an increasingly globalized world. Additionally, the challenge it poses to students will allow them to discover very interesting aspects of this language.