Why Is Spanish So Hard to Speak? [Tips and Resources]

Since you’re here, you must be wondering, “Why is Spanish so hard to speak!?”

In this article, we’ll cover some of this different aspects of the Spanish language that make it difficult for English speakers as well as some tips and resources that will help you overcome each obstacle.

You’ve been climbing the Duolingo tree. You study every day. You’re making progress and feel confident. 

But then it happens.

You go to speak to a native Spanish speaker and freeze entirely. You struggle to get the right words out, forgetting your tenses and vocabulary.

What’s up with that? Why does it always happen — even when we’ve been studying and feel prepared?

Why is Spanish so hard to speak?

Previously, we’ve covered “Why Is Spanish So Hard To Understand?” Today, we’re going to dive in and focus on why Spanish is so hard to speak. Here are 8 reasons why Spanish is hard to speak for native English speakers:

#1 Sentence Structure

 Sentence structure and word order can be confusing to native English speakers who are learning Spanish. Why is it “Casa Blanca” in Spanish but “White House” in English? 

This is because the adjectives and nouns are interchanged when compared to English.

For example, El DeLorean plateado – the silver DeLorean.

Practice when the adjective comes after the noun in Spanish.

When the Adjective Comes After the Noun in Spanish

In Spanish, some adjectives can come before the noun, but the majority come after. You can see this in action with other examples that involve colors, adjectives of classification, and adjectives that are modified by an adverb. 

What we saw above were a couple of examples of where the adjective comes before the noun using color, but let’s take a look at the other situations where the adjective comes first.

Adjectives of Classification (Nationalities, Religions, and Group Membership)

Here are some examples of when the adjective comes before the noun in Spanish.

Whether you’re talking about your neighbor the Republican, your teacher from Ecuador, or the Morman you met on your trip abroad, you’ll need to put the adjective first as in the following examples.

  • Mi vecino republicano. – My Republican neighbor.
  • Tu maestro ecuatoriano. – Your Ecuadorian teacher.
  • El misionero mormón. – The Mormon missionary. 
  • El chamán peruano. – The Peruvian shaman.

Adjectives Being Modified by an Adverb

You’ll also notice a peculiar change of order when an adjective is modified by an adverb or an adverbial phrase.

  • El Tesla caro. – The expensive Tesla.
  • La serie aburrida. – The boring series.
  • Unas tarjetas básicas. – Some basic cards.

When the Adjective Comes Before the Noun in Spanish

The times when adjectives come before the noun in Spanish (just like we’re used to in English) are in the following situations:

  • Non-descriptive Adjectives
    • Example: Tengo muchas cosas. – I have many things.
  • Meaning-changing Adjectives (where the adjective can be either before or after the noun)
    • Example: Mi ex-novia. – My ex-girlfriend.
  • Adjectives of Appreciation
    • Example: Él es un buen guitarrista. – He is a good guitarist.
  • Adjectives Reinforcing the Meaning of the Noun

Example: La triste historia. – The sad history.

Practice when the adjective comes before the noun in Spanish.

#2 Accents

Spanish is the second most natively spoken language in the world. It’s spoken in over 20 countries, each with its own slang and variety of accents. While studying, you’ll likely just be exposed to one or two accents. However, in the real world, you will have to interact with all kinds of different accents and dialects

The accent is a big struggle for English speakers because the difference between having an accent over a word and not having one can change the meaning of something entirely. For example, versus si. The former means “yes,” while the latter means “if.”

Additionally, accents can change tense and subject as well. For instance, llego means I arrive whereas llegó means he/she arrived.

And let’s not forget about Ñ (pronounced “eh-nyeh”). While this one isn’t an accent, it’s a letter that we don’t have in English. It makes a sound that we’re not used to in English and can change the meaning if you decide to use Ñ instead of N. 

For example, ano versus año. Without the Ñ, you’re saying anus in Spanish. You have to be careful with this one!

#3: Masculine Feminine Nouns

Another significant issue that native English speakers have with Spanish is understanding the concept of masculine and feminine nouns. Not only does this not exist in English, but it’s something that just doesn’t have much logic to it.

Approximately 25% of all languages have gendered nouns. In Spanish, masculine nouns are used with articles like “el” or “un” and generally have adjectives that end in -o. Like el gato (the cat), or un salario (a salary).

Female nouns use the articles “la” or “una” and generally have adjectives that end in -a. For example, la oficina (the office), or una criptomoneda (a cryptocurrency).

To know if a noun is masculine or feminine, it can help to look at the letter(s) the word ends with. 

This doesn’t work 100% the time as there are almost always exceptions when it comes to languages. You can find many exceptions to this rule with words that end in -ema in Spanish. They’re usually masculine, like el problema (the problem) for example. 

As you can see, it’s often difficult to remember in the moment whether the word you want to use is masculine or feminine. But you’re not alone. This is super confusing to most new Spanish students!

#4: Reflexive Verbs

A reflexive verb is a verb whose direct object is the same as its subject. For example, when I say “I wash my hands in English” I am clarifying that I’m talking about my hands. 

Where this can get confusing is when you use a form of the reflexive where in English we may omit it all together. For example, Me compré unos zapatos. – I bought myself some shoes. This often trips me up because I feel like who I bought them for is implied. But including the reflexive part, in this case me, helps clarify who you bought something for.

It can also be confusing to remember which verbs are reflexive and which ones are not.

Such is the case with comerse – to eat. Comer is also to eat, but often when you’re talking about eating, you have to specify in Spanish is eating, did eat, or will eat.

For example, in Spanish you would say “Me comí unos tacos”. – I ate some tacos. Not “Comí unos tacos.”

You can identify reflexive verbs by paying attention to the verb ending, which always includes the reflexive pronoun -se at the end of a verb when in the infinitive form . Here are a few more examples of reflexive verbs: 

levantarse – to get up

  • Me levanté a las siete de la mañana. – I got up at seven in the morning.
  • conocerse – to meet
    • Se conocieron hace un año. – They met each other a year ago.
  • afeitarse – to shave
    • Él se afeite todos los días. – He shaves (himself) everyday.
Reflexive verbs in Spanish don't have to be confusing. Study this image to get used to how and when to use them.

We have reflexive verbs with she, herself, himself in English, but just the structure is slightly different in Spanish.

#5: y para and ser y estar

 Por vs para and ser vs estar confuse English speakers to no end, mostly because the rules for using them are as clear as mud when you’re just starting to learn Spanish.

And once you think you have the rules down, you run into phrases like “estoy muerto” (I’m dead ), “estoy listo” (I’m ready ), “soy listo” (I’m smart ), but in Spanish, the verb you use can change the meaning of the sentence. There is often a lot of meaning in each word in Spanish.

#6: Biased “Corrections”

Let’s talk about corrections from biased Spanish speakers. If you put yourself out there a lot, you may run into someone who tries to correct you and say that the way you’re saying something is wrong.  However, they might just be biased towards the pronunciation from their country.

For example, words that have a double L in them are pronounced as ya or ja in most Spanish speaking countries. However, in Argentina, you’ll more commonly hear this pronounced with a “sh” sound. So lleno (full) in most countries sounds like yeh-no or jay-no. But in Argentina you’ll hear it as shay-no.

While traveling through different Spanish-speaking countries you’ll probably notice differences in word usage as well, or variations in the meaning of words you already know. 

For instance, the word coger in Spanish generally means “to take” or “to pick up.” While this is the case in most Spanish speaking countries, in Mexico it is usually used in a vulgar sense to mean “to have sex.” Essentially, coger means the same thing in Mexico as the f-word in the sexual sense in English.

There are many more examples of this, and one look at the multitude of ways there are to say “popcorn” throughout the Spanish-speaking world will show you that this is an important aspect to be aware of.

This can be really confusing because you would think you could trust a native Spanish speaker to correct you properly, but you have to watch it out. Not all native Spanish speakers are aware of the diversity of the Spanish language.

#7: Hearing Incorrect Spanish


Another thing that can trip you up is hearing incorrect Spanish from native Spanish speakers. This can make speaking exceptionally difficult because you don’t know if you should say it like they’re saying it or how you learned it. 

And if you haven’t learned that particular word or phrase yet, you might end up learning it the wrong way or using it in the wrong situation. For example, a fairly common mistake that native Spanish speakers make is to add an S to the end of a verb’s past tense form. When you don’t know the word(s) or specific grammar rules, mistakes made by native Spanish speakers can confuse you into replicating their errors. . I’ve run into this many times over the years!

You may hear this with any verb, but the two most common ones I’ve heard this extra S added two are hacer (to do) and decir (to say). So one example would be the exclamation “¡Pues, tú me dijistes!”, which means “Well, you told me!” To avoid any potential confusion around this topic, the correct way to say this when speaking informally is “¡Pues, tú me dijiste!”

#8: The Subjunctive Mood

 Let’s talk about the subjunctive. The subjunctive mood is the verb form used to explore a hypothetical situation, such as “If I were you.” It causes more problems for Spanish learners than possibly any other grammatical topic because there’s no exact equivalent in English.

An example of the subjunctive in English is “If I were you, I wouldn’t do that.” In Spanish, this would be “Si fuera tú, no haría eso.” This is an example of the imperfect subjunctive tense, but this weird linguistic “mood” also comes in present, future, and an additional imperfect tense reserved for special occasions. Ayayay!

So not only is it tricky to figure out when to use this mood, it has several tenses to boot. There are a few cues that trigger the subjunctive tense though. If you find yourself saying any of the following in Spanish, you’re going to want to use the subjunctive:

Learning when to use this mood is quite tricky. Take a look at these examples of how to use the Spanish subjunctive mood.

Espero que… / to hope

  • Espero que te sientas mejor. – I hope that you feel better.
  • Dudar que… / to doubt
    • Él duda que sea real. – He doubts that it’s real.
  • Preferir que… / to prefer
    • Prefieren que él vaya a su casa. – They prefer he goes to their house.
  • A menos que… / unless
    • A menos que sea barato, no lo voy a comprar. – Unless it’s cheap, I’m not going to buy it.
  • Es importante que… / It’s important
    • Es importante que leas todo el contrato. – It’s important that you read the whole contract.

But there’s something about the rules behind using the subjunctive in Spanish that make it really tricky for students to understand when to use it. You can find a more complete list of subjunctive tense triggers to help you remember when to activate this odd (but fairly common) tense here.

Now you can probably see why practicing with Duolingo can feel like you’re making a lot of progress, but then when you actually go to speak to a native Spanish speaker, you feel like you’re at a loss for words. When you’re just starting out, you often have to pause and think about what tense to use, which phrases might trigger it, and finally how to conjugate it correctly. I like practicing my Spanish subjunctive with this quiz. I like to revisit it periodically to help build speed and accuracy for when I have to use it in the real world.

How to Overcome These Challenges

Listening actively to learn the language.

These are just some of the most common pitfalls when it comes to speaking Spanish.

Want to avoid them?

First and foremost, you’ll need to listen to as much Spanish as possible. Watch shows on Netflix in Spanish with Spanish subtitles, Listen to Spanish podcasts, like The Learn Spanish and Go Podcast, which is all in Spanish and has many tools to make sure that you’re getting the most out of each episode. The more Spanish you can listen to, the better prepared you’ll be when you step out into the real world.

Additionally,  sign up for classes and practice with a real Spanish speaker. This can be with a platform like ”italki” where you can book single one-on-one classes. It could be with Lingoda, using something like their Sprint Promotion, where you can practice for 90 days in a row. Or it can be with another platform, like Baselang, where you pay a set amount for unlimited classes each month.

Whatever route you go, make sure you invest time in it. The more often you talk with native speakers and listen to native speakers, the more tools you’ll have in your linguistic arsenal.


Learning a new language is hard. There are bound to be bumps along the way. But don’t let those bumps discourage you! By regularly listening to native Spanish speakers and studying the concepts you’re having difficulty with you’ll be much better prepared for dealing with the challenges of real-world Spanish. 

We know book learning can only prepare you so much, which is why it’s vital that you get out there and interact with as many native speakers as you can. It might be a struggle at first, but your efforts will pay dividends down the road.

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