Spanish Students Learning English - Typical Problems



Spanish is a part of the Indo-European family, Latin based and closely related to Portuguese and Italian. It is spoken by over 400 million people, principally in Spain, Latin America and the U.S.A. It is a phonetic language.


Spanish consists of 26 letters, the same as the English alphabet. However, in addition to the 26 letters, there is an additional (ñ ) as well three digraphs, ( ll ), ( rr ) and ( ch).

(n = en-ne) ( ñ = en-ye ) ( ll = elle / ey-yay ) ( rr = erre - rolled voiced r ) ( cc ) ( ch = chay or sh ).

English has five double letter combinations, whereas Spanish, only has three and therefore, this can cause some confusion to students when learning English.

In Spanish the "v" sound does not exist and therefore Spanish students experience problems when pronouncing it. Very / Bery Vowel / Bowel

Spanish learners of the English language, encounter problems with three main English vowel sounds, namely, a/ e/ i as well as with the consonants, h, r, j and y. The latter have totally different names in Spanish.


The use and positioning of punctuation marks are different from English and quotation marks are not used in Spanish.


The phonological systems are significantly different in both languages in respect of vowel sounds and sentence stress. The differences are such that in Spanish, students have more difficulty than other European learners in mastering a native English accent.

Spanish has five pure vowel sounds and five diphthongs. English has twelve pure vowel sounds and eight diphthongs. It is the length of the vowel sounds which is very different and the most significant. As a consequence, Spanish students have great difficulty in producing English vowel sounds. They find difficulty in distinguishing sounds such as:


Sheep /Ship Cat / Cot.

However, the consonant sounds are easier for Spanish students although, not without problems. The last consonant of a word tends not to be pronounced.


Hard / Hart Think / Thing

It is not unusual for a Spanish student to prefix words with an (é) sound.


School / éschool.

Also, swallowing consonant clusters is typical.


Next / Nes Instead / I - stead.

Being a phonetic language, there is a strong correspondence between the sound of a word and its spelling in Spanish. This presents a problem for students learning English, as words are not written the way they are pronounced.


Spanish is a syllable timed language whereas, English is a stress timed language. Students tend to transfer intonation patterns from their native Spanish to English which results in native English speakers having great difficulty in understanding. In spoken English, the combination of stress, pitch and rhythm in a sentence, is often flattened by a Spanish speaker.

Many aspects of verb grammar are similar in both languages, although Spanish is more heavily inflected. There is no correspondence between the uses of Spanish and English tenses. The past tense in Spanish, modifies the noun. There is no auxiliary in Spanish and consequently, students have problems with interrogatives and negatives.


Who she saw? / I no see him.

There are several fundamental differences between English and Spanish which can present problems for native Spanish speakers. Although the word order is similar to English, Spanish is more flexible and words at the end of a sentence have more emphasis. Students tend to omit articles:


Do you have sister?

Mis-use pronouns: Where is my key?Have you seen him? Was raining today.

English and Spanish have many cognates and a large collection of false friends. Particular / Private Embarazada / Pregnant Sopa / Soup

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