Problems for learners in Spain "European spanish speakers, in particular, probably find english pronunciation harder than speakers of any other European language." (Coe, 1987)
Being an english teacher to spanish students, and having travelled to many countries around Europe, I would have to agree with Coe´s statement. In my travels, there was a distinct difference between my comprehension of an italian, french or Croatian person speaking english, and listening to and understanding a spaniard speaking english.
Prior to becoming a teacher in spain
, I couldn´t quite pinpoint the reason why. It has become more apparent now, having taught here for 12 months, what the setbacks and challenges are for spanish speakers to grasp english are. This article will identify and explain why spanish learners have problems with english in terms of;
• Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation
• Grammar, and
Alphabet, spelling and pronunciation
One of the key differences between spanish and english is with the pronunciation of letters. The spanish and english alphabets appear to be very similar, but there are some letters which take on a different sound. ´V´ is pronounced as the english letter ´B´. ´Z´, ´CE´ and ´CI´ are pronounced like the english sound ´TH´. Then, there are letters like ´R´ which, in spanish, are trilled if they appear at the beginning of a word or if there is a double ´RR´. This becomes challenging when teaching words with these letters as it is difficult to try and force learners to switch from the sounds they know to the correct english sounds.
There are also certain sounds which exist in english which don´t exist in spanish. Take vowels for example, spanish has 5 pure vowels and 5 dipthongs. english on the other hand, has 12 pure vowel sounds and 8 dipthongs!
english also has many more double letter combinations than spanish. A total of 15, which is 3 times as many as the spanish alphabet. The main problem here is when it comes to spelling, students either leave our or add an extra letter when it´s not necessary to when spelling some words.
Since spanish is a phonetic language, it is much easier to learn in terms of pronunciation; where in english sounds are much harder to distinguish and teach to someone who is beginning to learn the language. Many words can sound the same but be spelt completely differently and vice versa as per the examples below.
e.g. read (present simple) and read (past simple)
blue and blew
spanish learners also have difficulty with consonant clusters, making it hard for them to pronounce words with 2 or more consonants and the absence of a vowel in between. They tend to add the /?/ sound to words such as school = eschool and sport = esport.
Finally, the main problem I think spanish learners have with pronunciation, is that their exposure to hearing english is almost non-existent. Television programs in english are dubbed in spanish which doesn´t give learners a lot of opportunity outside of classes to be exposed to the language.
There are several obvious differences between spanish and english grammar. Students often write and say sentences without mentioning the subject which is imperative to the sentence making grammatical sense.
e.g. Is a sunny day (incorrect, missing subject)
It is a sunny (includes the subject)
spanish learners also have problems with word order and prepositions. In spanish adjectives almost always come after the noun. In english, they come before the noun.
Prepositions are also a major problem for spanish learners. ´by´ and ´for´ are often confused as are ´at´, ´in´ and ´on´.
Because many spanish and english words are derived from Latin and greek, the meanings, when directly translated can often be confused. These are called ´false friends´
e.g. ´Carrera´ in spanish refers to course/studies. This is often confused with the english word career. An example of a sentence a spanish learner might write is ´When I finish my career, I want to work as an engineer.´
Another major challenge with vocabulary for spanish learners is with phrasal verbs. They don´t exist in spanish and this has been one of the things my students have the most trouble with.
spanish learners have a plethora of problems when learning english, so it´s important for the teacher to be aware of these problems and attempt to help their students overcome these hurdles to enable them to learn effectively.
Coe, N. in Swan, M. & Smith, B. Learner english: A teacher's guide to interference and other problems. (1987) Cambridge University Press.