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Top 10 Problems of the Spanish Language (Pt. 1)

Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish

The Spanish language is a remarkable language, just like its diverse range of speakers. As you know, it’s a Romance language which evolved from Vulgar Latin, and it’s the second language in the world in terms of native speakers, surpassed only by Mandarin Chinese. You can learn tons about this language in this article. But in today’s post, I won’t be talking about how grand Spanish is, but rather about those things that can make it a true nightmare for both learners and native speakers alike. So let’s see what are the top 10 problems of Spanish. But worry not, as I will only torment you with 5 of these problems in this first part, focusing on spelling issues for now.

1. The H

Oh my…! The letter H is driving everyone crazy. The H, as you may already know, is an almost useless letter in Spanish, as it is a silent letter, representing no sound whatsoever. This, together with a couple of other problems explained in this article, makes us question one of the greatest qualities of the Spanish language: grapheme-phoneme correspondence. In Spanish, a letter almost always represents the same sound, which makes it easy to write or spell. For this reason, spelling bees aren’t popular in Spanish-speaking countries, as it’s relatively easy to spell. However, the letter H flouts this correspondence and turns up in words unexpectedly, messing up people’s writing skills, affecting especially those who aren’t keen on reading or spelling.

If you’re a native speaker of Spanish or learning Spanish, you’ll understand the H problem with the following GIF.

2. B & V

These two letters are also causing problems to both native Spanish speakers and those who are learning Spanish as a second language. B and V represent the same sound. So why do we have both? Well, in the past, there used to be a difference in pronunciation, as V was a voiced F sound, whilst B was and still is like a voiced P. However, nowadays they are pronounced exactly the same, /b/, so words like baca (roof rack) and vaca (cow) sound exactly the same (homophones). This problem becomes even worse when we encounter both letters within the same word, like in observar (observe), as it’s sometimes difficult to remember which is the B and which the V. 😤

If you’re interested in learning about the use of B and V, you can read more about it here.

3. G & J

The case of G and J is similar to B and V, but even worse. It turns out that (…catching my breath…) G and J are pronounced exactly the same, but only when G is followed by E or I. In this case, it’s a strong sound at the beginning of the throat which most English speakers find difficult to pronounce. If followed by A, O or U, it’s pronounced differently, like in gate. To make matters worse, there are verbs with a G, like coger (pick), where it’s pronounced like a J, but when conjugated in the present, we will say yo cojo (I pick), with a J, but tú coges (you pick), with a G. A real mess, right? Well, keep reading and you’ll see. What if we want to pronounce the G with an E or I like with the A in gateYou need a blinking U in the middle, as in gueto (guetto). But… shouldn’t that be pronounced /gweto/? No, because in order to pronounce gue /gwe/ or gui /gwi/ you need a diaerisis on the U, as in cigüeña (stork). This is ridiculous…

In the following GIF you have a trabalenguas (tongue twister) with which you can practise J and G.

4. Q, C y K

Check out this question: “¿Cuántos kilos de caquis hay qucomprar?” (“How many kilos of persimmon do we have to buy?“). In those 7 words, we have C, K and Q representing the same sound. Ok, so let’s see. C is pronounced like K only when followed by A, O or U. That’s why we use Q with E or I always with a U in the middle. Why? I have no idea, but remember that the U in that position is almost always silent.

And what about K? Why not use K for everything? I don’t know either, but the Real Academia de la Lengua (Royal Spanish Academy) isn’t fond of this foreign letter, and it tolerates it mainly in foreign words like karaoke or Kremlin, as for words like kilo or kiosco (kiosk), it favours the use of C or Q.

5. C y Z

As we saw earlier, C is pronounced like K with A, O and U, but not with E and I, where it sounds like a Z. This means that we use Z with A, O and U, but not with E or I, where we use C. But… wouldn’t it be easier to use Z all the time for that sound? Of course, it would make it easier for children learning to read and write, and for learners of Spanish as a foreign language. But Spanish is a rather stiff language, where changes that big would be impossible to carry out.

Check out the following tongue twister where Z and C are used. Remember that C sounds like Z only when followed by E or I.

And what about you? What problems do you have with the Spanish language? Tell us all about it in the comments and don’t forget to come back next wee for the second part of this article, where I’ll be talking about the wonderful world of the subjunctiveverb tenses, irregular verbs, written accents and noun gender.

Remember to download uTandem right now (iOS or Android) and practise your favourite language with other awesome native speakers like yourself for free. Oh, and don’t forget to review us on the App Store and Google Play! 😁

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2 Comments

  1. Luis Valdes 26 June, 2016 at 12:59 am #

    I would reword your title along the lines of common Spanish pronunciation mistakes or common Spanish pronunciation problems . The way it is titled now can come off as defensive to some people and could be countered with English examples. FYI another common pronunciation challenge English speakers have learning the Spanish language is the i and the e.

    Reply

    • Luis Porras Wadley 26 June, 2016 at 10:07 am #

      Hi Luis! First of all, thanks for reading and for your feedback. Maybe you’re right and it may seem a little defensive, but as you can see in the article itself, it isn’t. Also, this is the first part of the complete article, and the second part isn’t about pronunciation. You can read it here if you want: http://utandem.com/en/top-10-problems-of-the-spanish-language-pt-2/.
      I mean, I’m a Spaniard myself, so in this post I was just drawing people’s attention to some of the irregularities and difficulties of the Spanish language, because many Spanish speakers who are learning other languages seem to think that Spanish doesn’t have any pronunciation or grammatical inconsistencies or irregularities, so I just wanted to point out otherwise, hehe. Hope you enjoyed the read, though.

      Reply

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