What Makes Spanish Different?
Despite the similarities with other languages which we have considered elsewhere on this site, there are some factors which set Spanish apart, especially from English.
PronunciationThere are obvious differences between Spanish and English pronunciation. If you want to practice speaking Spanish like a native, use the front of your tongue and mouth when articulating Spanish words. This could feel strange at first because English speakers use the backs of their mouth.
But you can practice in front of the mirror. Get a piece of paper and hold it in front of your mouth. The less air you produce, the better you become.
The other good news is that each letter in the Spanish alphabet represents a single sound, unlike English, where letters and letter combinations can represent multiple sounds.
In particular, you will need to practice Spanish ‘r’s and ‘l’s. The pronunciation of these letters really sets Spanish apart from other languages.
The letter ‘r’ has two pronunciations, neither of which exist in English. The 'soft' pronunciation sounds like American relaxed pronunciation of tt in "butter", and is written r. The 'hard' pronunciation is a multiply vibrating sound, similar to Scottish rolled r (generally written rr).
There’s no real trick to rolling your ‘r’s – you just have to practice until you get it right. It is the only sound which is likely to give you any real difficulty.
The Spanish letter ‘l’ does not have an exact English equivalent. It is similar to the English "l" in line, but shorter.
Pronounce the letters LL in Spanish with the English Y sound, so that the word ‘tortilla’ sounds like ‘tor-tee-ya.’ In Northern Spain, its pronunciation does not have an exact English equivalent, but it's somewhat similar to li in million.
Two Types of ObjectsOne of slightly confusing aspect of Spanish, especially for beginners, is distinguishing direct and indirect objects. This is because English makes no such distinction. So "him" can be both a direct object and an indirect object, so we would say “It gave him away” and “I gave him the book”, but Spanish (except in parts of Spain) uses lo and le, respectively. Also, indirect objects are frequently used in Spanish where English would use a phrase such as "for me" or "for her."
When Nothing is SomethingDouble negatives — as in a sentence such "I can't get no satisfaction" — are not considered to be ‘standard’ English. But this is not the case in Spanish, where double negatives are often expected. As a result, negative words like ‘nada’ (nothing) aren't always translated in a negative way. So "No tengo nada means "I don't have anything," not "I don't have nothing.”
AccentsIn Spanish, all vowels can take an acute accent (like é) which affects the stress, and sometimes the meaning of the word. Unlike French, there are no circumflex, or hat, accents like this: ô, and no grave accents which look this: à
The ñ is unique to Spanish – pronounce the ñ in mañana so it sounds like manyahna.
A main difference with Spanish punctuation is that question and exclamation marks are inverted at the start of questions and exclamations. ¡Like this! (¿Or maybe this as well?)