Updated: 14. Feb, 2023
There are more than 500 million Spanish speakers worldwide. In the United States alone, many people are fluent Spanish speakers or know a few words and phrases. This is because the language is taught in schools and is one of the most popular languages in the world.
However, not everyone gets the opportunity to learn Spanish in a classroom. This may be because of time or other preferences, including the desire to learn at one’s pace and convenience. Whatever the case, learning Spanish can be tricky but not complicated.
That is why we have put together this comprehensive guide to Spanish for beginners and other enthusiasts interested in learning the language.
Spanish belongs to the Indo-European languages, consisting of English, French, Russian, German, Slavic, and Scandinavian languages. These languages first became prominent across Europe before spreading to other parts of the world through colonization and trade.
Furthermore, Spanish is categorized as a Romance language. Other languages in this category include Catalan, French, Italian, Portuguese, and Romanian. Spanish originated in the Castille region of Spain, which is why it is also known as Castilian. Native speakers also refer to the language as español or Castellano.
You can trace Spanish language roots back to Latin, which was introduced to the Iberian peninsula after the Roman conquest in the 2nd-3rd centuries BC. However, sometime in the 13th century, King Alfonso made the Castilian dialect the official language of the government. Castilian is the primary language in the area now known as Spain. Nonetheless, other Latin languages, including Galician, Catalan, and Basque, are still widely spoken and relevant in the region.
When Spanish colonization began in the 16th century, they carried the language along to Mexico, Western, Central, and Southern America. To date, many people in those parts speak the language. As a result, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world. More than 20 countries in the world speak Spanish. It is the official language of Spain, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Spanish comes in several varieties. With over 500 million people speaking the language across various regions, there isn’t one standard Spanish dialect. The Spanish dialect spoken in Arab-occupied Spain before the 13th century was known as Mozarabic. However, for you not to mix up the different Spanish dialects with the other languages spoken in the region, it’s a great idea to highlight the dialects known globally:
Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. However, the dialect spoken is different from those in other countries, including Spain. Mexican Spanish is commonly spoken in Mexico, Canada, and many parts of the United States. The most significant difference between this dialect and the Spanish spoken in other parts of the world is vocabulary and pronunciation.
Central American Spanish is popular in Central American countries, including Honduras, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, the US, and the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.
In many parts where this dialect is spoken, “s” isn’t always pronounced, and some syllables are omitted.
Andean Spanish is the dialect spoken in the central Andes, western Venezuela, southern Colombia, northwestern Argentina, northern Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. This dialect is usually considered the best-spoken Spanish in the Western Hemisphere. Andean Spanish is well-articulated, straightforward, and clear.
Rioplatense Spanish is widely spoken in Argentina and Uruguay. It is expressed in populated cities like Buenos Aires, Santa Fe, Rosario, La Plata, Mar del Plata, Bahia Blanca in Argentina, and Montevideo in Uruguay. Additionally, Rioplatense is spoken in other suburbs and regions in between.
Unlike other dialects, Rioplatense Spanish is deeply rooted in Italian, dating back to settlers in the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As a result, it is common for speakers’ intonation to be similar to Italian.
This dialect is native to the Caribbean region and is spoken in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Panama, and Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Caribbean Spanish has shorter words because some consonants like R, D, and S are omitted in speech. However, ‘R’ is often pronounced as ‘X’ and aspirated in a couple of Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico.
Caribbean Spanish and the European vocabulary are quite different because many words originated from indigenous languages.
Chilean Spanish is one of the varieties of Spanish spoken in Chile. This dialect has been influenced over several centuries by local languages like Quechua and Mapudungun and several European languages during immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.
This dialect has distinctive grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation, and slang quite different from standard Spanish. Hence, many foreigners find it tricky and challenging to learn and understand because of its frequently used slangs and local expressions. More so, native speakers pronounce their words very fast.
There are various Spanish dialects spoken in Colombia. So, this category encompasses all the dialects found in various Colombian regions. However, regardless of the differences between the dialects in the different areas, most Latin Americans and Spanish people can communicate well enough.
More than two million people in the Philippines speak Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole that originated in the southern Philippines. This is one of the residual effects of the Spanish colonial era on Filipino culture. As a result, Filipino languages have borrowed Spanish words.
This dialect is the only official Spanish dialect found in Africa. It has been influenced by native Guineans and immigrant Germans of Cameroon. One can observe this in some of its vocabulary and pronunciation patterns. 80% of the population in Equitorial Guinea speaks Spanish. It is overseen by the Equatoguinean Academy of the Spanish Language. Equatoguinean Spanish is more closely related to Peninsular Spanish than many other dialects.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn. However, an essential part of learning the language is understanding its grammar correctly. Here are some things you need to take note of:
There are five vowels in Spanish: a, e, i, o, and u. Also, there is the ‘y’, which is known as i griega or Greek i. Scholars often debate about whether y is a vowel or not. So, in some cases, it could be categorized as a semi-consonant.
When trying to form affirmative sentences, you need a subject and a verb. For example, if your subject is “Paul” and your verb is “escribir” (to write), you can make a simple sentence: Paul escribe. The good thing is that once you’ve mentioned the subject in a sentence, you can replace it with a pronoun by writing “Él escribe” (He writes).
This can be confusing for English speakers because nouns usually come before adjectives. However, in Spanish, placing the adjective after a noun is one of the essential rules for beginners. So, for example, if you want to say Paul has green eyes in Spanish, you need to write that he has “ojos verdes” (eyes green) instead of “verdes ojos” (green eyes).
Also, your adjectives need to agree. For example, if your noun is plural, the adjective must also be plural.
Similar to English, you can use adverbs in Spanish to describe verbs. For example, “Martinez lee rápidamente” (Martinez reads quickly) or “Martinez canta mal” (Martinez sings badly).
Furthermore, you can move Spanish adverbs around in sentences like in English. For example, you could write: Martinez escribe lentamente. (Literally: Martinez writes slowly) or Lentamente escribe Martinez. (Literally: Slowly writes Martinez).
You can create most Spanish adverbs by adding “-mente” to the end of the adjective. However, if the adjective ends in “o” to indicate masculine gender, you’ll need to ensure that the letter before the “-mente” is “a,” not “o.” For example, lento/lenta becomes “lentamente.”
Additionally, it is important to note that Spanish adverbs don’t convey gender. So, they remain the same whether you’re talking about a man or woman. Lastly, there are a couple of irregular adverbs that you don’t need to add “-mente” for. Common examples include Bueno → Bien and malo → mal.
You’ll need to make negative sentences at some point in your Spanish journey. Thankfully, Spanish negativity is a lot easier than English. All you need to do is add “no” before the verb. So, “Paul escribe” (Paul writes) becomes “Paul no escribe” (Paul doesn’t write).
Additionally, you can use double negatives in Spanish.
Asking questions in Spanish is also relatively easy, and you can do so in several ways:
1. Switch verb and subject
For example, the positive sentence “Paul cocina” (Paul cooks) becomes “¿Cocina Paul?” (Does Paul cook). Note that in Spanish, you also need an upside-down question mark at the beginning of questions.
2. Add question marks and rising intonations
A more straightforward way to make a question is to add question marks around the statement. So “Paul cocina” becomes “¿Paul cocina?”
When speaking, it’s all in the intonation. So, you’ll need to raise your voice a little at the end of your sentence so that whoever you’re talking to can tell it’s a question.
3. Add question tags
Lastly, another easy way to make a question in Spanish is to add a question tag. This comes in handy when you’re making a sentence quickly followed by a question word. Using “Paul cocina” as an example, you add “¿no?” at the end or “¿verdad?”. So, the question becomes “Paul cocina, ¿no?” or “Paul cocina, ¿es verdad?”. It is similar to saying, “Paul cooks, doesn’t he?”
Learning Spanish is a fun and exciting experience. There are countless resources and tools available for anyone interested in learning the language. Here are some tips that can help you understand the language in a faster way:
Before diving deep into learning Spanish, you need to set learning goals. It helps you figure out how far you want to go in your education and the best way to accomplish it. So, you should ask yourself questions like, do you want to learn Spanish for a holiday trip? Do you want to be proficient enough to speak and write fluently?
Whatever your answer, the resources and time required may differ. However, it is important that you set realistic goals and remain focused, motivated, and patient.
It’s the 21st century, and almost everything has become much more accessible. This includes language learning also. Regardless of your reasons for learning or the way you love to learn, language learning apps can make it a breeze to learn Spanish on your own, at your pace, and in your comfort zone.
Some of the best language learning apps for learning Spanish include Babbel, Rosetta Stone, LingoPie, Mondly, Pimsleur, Busuu, and Duolingo. These apps have immersive and interactive ways to learn Spanish quickly and are so much fun. More so, these apps are excellent for all levels of proficiency.
If you’d prefer a more coordinated and official way of learning Spanish, you can enroll in a nearby Spanish Language school or hire a private Spanish tutor. Although both options can be pretty pricey, they are efficient and great ways to hone your abilities.
With Spanish, a formal language course can go a long way to help you understand how to write and speak correctly. More so, you get to ask questions you may have.
Movies are also a great way to boost your understanding of Spanish. There are tons of incredible Spanish movies you can get your hands on, and reading the subtitles can help you understand the meaning of certain words in context.
Alternatively, if you are up for the challenge, you can watch Spanish movies without subtitles. This might seem like a lot of work initially, but it is also a great way to know the meaning of Spanish words and how to make conversations. Of course, it is easier if you already have some background knowledge, but the mannerisms in the movies can also help you understand what’s being spoken.
Conversations are practical ways you can test your Spanish and also learn to improve. If you don’t have people around you that speak Spanish, you can turn to the internet. Visit chat rooms or use chat messengers to find friends and acquaintances you can converse with in Spanish. This can be quite daunting initially for beginners, but you need to be confident and keep trying. Don’t be scared; many native speakers are usually excited to meet someone interested in learning their language, and they can go out of their way to teach you a thing or two.
We’ve highlighted all the vital things you need to know if you’re interested in learning Spanish. We hope you’ve found this article useful. Remember, you need to focus on your goals, stay motivated, and remain consistent in your learning process. In time, you may become so good that you can teach other people too!
Spanish is a beautiful language to learn. The first step is to master the basic concepts like grammar, vocabulary, etc. So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and begin your Spanish journey, amigo or amiga!