The struggle is real in Spanish (for everyone, not just me!).
Spanish was the first foreign language I learned and it will always have a place near and dear to my heart. I came to the language learning table with literally zero experience except for one high school Spanish class which I got a D in.
Today I’m glad I decided to learn the language. The road was a bit bumpy at times but I kept with it. Looking back I noticed that I had lot of fear when I started out. Those fears seem laughable or at least somewhat insignificant nowadays.
The rewards of learning Spanish far outweighed the misgivings I had and any of my early struggles. In this post I’ll share 5 of those fears that are common to many Spanish learners, not just me. I’ll also shed some light on how you can and will overcome these fears.
1) The Fear That You’re Too Old to Learn Spanish
This first fear is one of the most common among all first time language learners.
There is a general assumption that unless you are super smart or learned a foreign language at a young age there isn’t much hope for you as a language learner.
Research shows that even older adults can in fact learn foreign languages. While learning a language doesn’t get easier it is always possible. Adult learners actually have some distinct advantages over younger learners.
Among the advantages that adults have are a lifetime of experience in interpersonal communication and a much larger vocabulary to start with.
2) The Fear That It Will Take Years to Learn Spanish
Before I learned Spanish I assumed it would take 2-3 years of hard and consistent study before I’d be able to have a decent conversation in Spanish.
Spanishland School posted an article on this specific question. "How long does it take to learn Spanish." The short answer and official estimate is 575-600 hours.
If you want to read the longer answer showing why you can't trust that number above and how you can make your hours most productive check out the full article.
This belief came from my friends and acquaintances who took several years of Spanish in high school yet often struggled with basic conversations.
I quickly learned that the way you learn Spanish greatly affects how long it takes you to become conversational. If your only contact with the language is a one hour class three times a week, then it probably will take a few years before you become fluent.
But if you study on a regular basis and (most importantly) practice speaking with real people you’ll find yourself having fulfilling conversations in Spanish a lot sooner than 2 or 3 years.
You’re not going to be able to discuss nuclear physics or rocket science in Spanish, but after a few months of consistent study and practice you should be able to keep a basic conversation going for twenty to thirty minutes.
While there will always be a part of the language learning process that involves studying a book, learning is best done through application of studied principles. Simply put, [most] people learn by doing.
I often compare speaking a foreign language to learning how to drive. You can learn all about how a car works, the traffic laws, and road signs. But until you actually get on the road that knowledge isn’t going to do you much good.
It works the same way with language learning. Get out on the road to fluency and start speaking some Spanish!
3) The Fear of Having Bad Spanish Pronunciation
Another common fear among Spanish students is the fear that they will be condemned for having a gringo accent for the rest of their lives. People won't take them seriously and they might laugh at them.
Many Spanish learners have trouble understanding native speakers when they talk at normal speaking speed (especially in Spain!) and certain words and sounds seem impossible to pronounce correctly. For instance, the rolled "R."
To make matters worse, most courses and apps for learning Spanish completely neglect this aspect of the language. The best you can hope for is a course with a less than stellar voice recall system. Not worth it if you ask me. This all adds to the myth that pronunciation can’t be learned or corrected.
It’s important to remember that there’s no physical difference between the mouth of an native Spanish speaker and the mouth of an native English speaker. Sorry to point out the obvious here. An accent is something you learn and develop, it’s not something you’re born with.
A great way to develop your Spanish accent is to isolate the sounds and words that bring you the most trouble. Listen carefully to the way native speakers pronounce a sound. You can use a Spanish friend, a podcast, movie, song, or other native audio. After you listen, do your best to mimic the sounds that you hear.
If you are still having trouble, do a little research on the sounds you’re stuck on. There are a ton of resources out there for Spanish pronunciation.
One of my favorite ways is watching Spanish YouTubers. Their are so many YouTube sensations out there from all over the world. Why not try and watch a few videos from a popular Spanish speaker?
4) The Fear of Spanish Verbs
Before studying Spanish I had never heard of verb conjugation. The idea of changing a verb based on who or what was performing the action blew my mind (and not in a good way).
My first couple weeks of learning the present tense was painful. It took what felt like forever to come up with the right verb conjugation. Spanish learners encounter a similar struggle when they first start speaking Spanish verbs in various tenses.
The sheer number of conjugations of irregular verbs can seem overwhelming at times.
I’m here to tell you that it's not impossible! Remember I said my first couple weeks of using the present tense was hard?
After those initial two weeks, things start to get easier.
Over time I noticed that new tenses were becoming less difficult. I had started getting used to conjugated verbs. In fact, it almost felt natural!
I don’t know that there’s any shortcut for learning Spanish verbs, but I do know that no matter how hard it feels at first it will get easier if you stick with it. That's a promise.
5) The Fear of Making Mistakes
Of all the fears on this list, the fear of making mistakes in Spanish is the most common and most detrimental to your progress. Almost every new Spanish student is afraid to start speaking (unless you are born with a rare breed of confidence).
There is something undeniably terrifying about trying to speak with someone in a language that you hardly know.
As adults we’re used to being able to effortlessly communicate in our native language. It’s normal to understand and be understood. Suddenly, we are tasked with translating words mid-sentence and attempting to express ourselves in a way that just doesn't seem natural.
Having to learn a foreign language is like going back to being a small child. It’s very uncomfortable to try your hardest and be misunderstood by people you often hardly know.
It’s also difficult when someone speaks to you and you don’t understand what they’re saying.
You awkwardly nod your head in approval or respond "si" hoping and praying that they were looking for a yes answer.
Making mistakes is an inevitable part of learning the language.
If you don't fall down you can never get back up again and it's that getting back up again over and over that will finally get you to learn. My advice to you is rather than fearing to speak simply embrace it.
I was terrified and extremely bashful when I started learning Spanish. I had to literally force myself to talk to real people.
As I did, I noticed just how silly my fear was. I made a ton of mistakes and had numerous embarrassing moments. Have you ever said "estoy embarazado" because you thought it meant embarrassed? Yeah, that's right, I did.
Looking back, all my mistakes were fixable and usually brought a more comfortable, casual conversation afterwards. My friends corrected me and we laughed about it and moved on.
Forcing myself to speak Spanish helped me make new friends who I could laugh with and not just be laughed at.
Don’t let fear hold you back from moving forward, making progress, and learning Spanish. It's true, the struggle is real in Spanish.
However, not many things are worth pursuing that come easily. Real life and enjoyment is found through the struggle.
Do your best to overcome any misgivings you have even if you have to motivate yourself with a reward like a trip abroad or a fancy restaurant meal.
Here's the honest truth. On the other side of that fear, there are some amazing discoveries, new friendships, and life changing experiences that will make it all worth it in the end.
This article was a guest post written by Jesse Reyes. Jesse is the founder and editor for Livefluent.com. He speaks Spanish and a bit of Russian. He enjoys traveling and playing blues guitar.