Learning a second language is usually a difficult task for most people. This is because; each language has its own conventions, which are not necessarily similar to those of the second language one is trying to acquire. For native Spanish speakers trying to learn English as a second language, numerous challenges may be present.
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In the literature review, spelling and sound system in the English language shall be addressed as the most common challenge encountered by Spanish learners of English as a second language. Problems arising from spelling and sound could be related to difficulties in pronunciation of words, learning of English vocabulary, grammar and spelling of words.
Pronunciation of English words for native Spanish speakers may be a problem because of some words which start with a certain sound for example ‘s’, being pronounced in a different way in the Spanish language. Because it is very natural for a learner to replicate the conventions of their language into the second language they are learning, it may be difficult for them to understand the pronunciation.
Again, learning of vocabulary may be difficult because of words present in both languages which appear to have the same spelling but different meaning. The grammar and the spelling of words follow different conventions in the English language.
In the methodologies section, selection of participants, data collection methods and procedure used will be addressed. The results of this report shall then be analyzed and thereafter, a discussion and conclusion shall follow.
Those who speak Spanish as their first language have some advantages when learning English as a second language. One of the advantages is that, native Spanish speakers learn English vocabulary faster because of the numerous similarities that exist among words in the two languages. Nevertheless, there are some specific difficulties that native Spanish speakers encounter while learning English as a second language.
Some of these problems are found in the area of spelling and sound while learning English. Most of the learners will encounter problems in these two areas because of the disparities that exist between the Spanish and the English language in spelling and sound pattern of words.
According to Farnen (2010), native Spanish learning English as a second language experience difficulties in learning English pronunciations. This is because, the there are numerous differences that exists in the pronunciation of words in the languages. The English language comprises of twelve vowels. There are also eight diphthongs. On the other hand, the Spanish language has only five vowels and five diphthongs.
Due this background, whereby one is familiar with only five diphthongs and vowels, it becomes hard for such a person to learn English, which has numerous vowels and diphthongs.
One challenge that native Spanish speakers encounter in the area of pronunciation is distinguishing between words in English that have similar pronunciation but different spelling, especially because of the vowels or diphthongs used. For exampled, the words ‘beat’ and ‘bit’ word be very challenging for a Spanish speaker to distinguish.
Moreover, Farnen (2010) states that confusion of consonants may arise. Some English consonants such as ‘S’ may be confused for ‘Z’. Consequently, the English word ‘Sue’ may end up being pronounced as ‘Zoo’. Again, confusion between the consonants ‘b’ and ‘v’ is very common.
The other sound that is very problematic to native Spanish speakers learning English as a second language is pronunciation of the initial sound ‘s’ in English words such as ‘solar’. This is mainly because in the Spanish language, the initial ‘S’ sound in the beginning of words is always preceded by an ‘e’ sound.
The word ‘solar’ in English would end up being pronounced as ‘esolar’ by native Spanish speakers learning English. The initial ‘S’ sound in word’s beginnings will always give them problems.
According to Farnen (2010), there is also a variation in the rhythm of syllables in words. This is because, in the Spanish language, all syllables have an equal length. However, in English, there are accented syllables, which are given more duration compared to the other syllables. This fact can be very difficult to understand for the native Spanish speakers who use an even rhythm in speaking English.
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Difficulty in learning vocabulary
Skehan (1991) observes that there are many words in both English and Spanish languages that are similar. This similarity in a vast number of vocabulary works both for and against a person learning English as a second language. Some words that appear in both the English the Spanish language may confuse the learner, because they are not the same in their meaning.
Examples of some of those words that may appear to be the same but in actual sense are not include the English ‘exit’ and Spanish ‘exito’. What is more is that some Germanic components which exist in the English language may present the Spanish learner with a lot of difficulties in mastering the language.
An example of the Germanic component found in the English language is the phrasal verb ‘look for’. Germanic derived components found in the English language are more difficult for the Spanish speaker to merge than French derived components.
Difficulties in Grammar
Learning English grammar for native speakers is one of the most difficult tasks. This is because of the confusion that always arises during learning. Particularly, there is a problem with relating the verb endings in Spanish with those in English.
According to Hinkel (2011), verbs in the Spanish language have more verb endings compared to verbs in the English language, which poses a challenge to the Spanish learners in understanding the English verbs. In the English language, a meaningful and complete sentence always comprises of a subject, verb and an object. However, a complete sentence in the Spanish language does not always need a subject to be complete.
Consequently, Spanish learners of English as a second language end up omitting the subject or subject pronouns in English sentences when writing or speaking. They are affected by the Spanish word order, which they tend to replicate in their English sentences, instead of the conventional subject-verb-object sentence structure required in an English sentence.
Swan & Smith (2001) note that: another problem arises when they are required to form negatives as well as questions using the helping verb ‘do’. This is mainly because in the Spanish language, the use of the helping verb ‘do’ is not necessary in order to form questions and negatives.
Third person singular possessive adjectives, which require the use of the correct gender in order for the sentence to be correct, are a major challenge to Spanish learners of English.
This is because in the English language, there is differentiation of the genders in the third person singular possessive adjective, while in Spanish, this is not the case. There is only one third person singular possessive adjective that can be used for the English her, his and its.
Difficulties in spelling and punctuation
According to Shatz and Wilkinson (2010), native Spanish speakers experience a lot of problems in spelling English words correctly. This is because the native Spanish speakers have knowledge of Spanish, which is a language with more system as compared to the English language.
Words in the English language which have the same sound can be spelt differently but in Spanish, the same sound is always spelt in the same way in all words. For example, the English sound /f/ can be spelt differently, for example, /gh/ as in ‘cough’, and /f/ as in ‘floor’. However, in the Spanish language, such a sound would only have a single spelling.
This makes it difficult for the native speakers to understand how the same sound can be spelt differently in English words. The many vowels and diphthongs present in the English language pose a major challenge to the Spanish learners. The use of punctuation marks in sentences and in words is also confusing for native Spanish speakers.
Difficulties in knowing where to put exclamation marks or question marks result to incorrect sentences. The Spanish learners have a tendency to put these punctuation marks at the wrong places for example at the beginning or at the end of sentences. This happens mostly in writing.
The native Spanish speakers have also a problem in connecting sentences meaningfully. This is because they tend to use commas to link independent clauses in sentences, which results to wrong sentence structures.
Twenty participants were selected randomly. The participants were chosen from Spanish native speakers who were learning English as a second language.
The content from books which handle the topic of difficulties encountered while learning English as a second language were used. Particularly, the area of spelling and sound challenges for native Spanish people learning English as a second language was the main focus.
Various data collection methods were used. One of these methods was the use of interviews. In this case, the participants were individually interviewed in order to assess their understanding on the spelling and sound challenges they encountered while learning English.
The participants were told to give their personal challenges that they encountered while learning spelling and sounds in English. The sessions lasted for an average of twenty minutes each. Group interviews were also conducted, whereby the same question was asked.
Also, the observation method was used. The participants were observed while in a natural setting. In this case, they were observed while they were learning English during the lesson. Further observations were made while they were out of the lesson and were practicing what they had learnt by trying to speak English.
While conducting both the interview and the observation, the sessions were video taped. This was done to enable the researcher look at the sessions later and make a correct analysis.
The results showed that native Spanish learners of English language experience some difficulties while learning spelling and sounds in the English language. Some of these challenges include:
- Difficulties in pronunciation of English words due to the sounds that exist in both the Spanish and the English language but the pronunciation are different.
- Difficulties for the Spanish learners to learn English vocabulary because of similarities in some words in spelling in both languages but their meanings are different.
- Disparities in grammar rules between the English and the Spanish language also pose a major challenge to Spanish learners of English language.
- Finally, spelling of words which have different spelling but the sound is the same in English is a problem to native Spanish people learning English.
Discussion and conclusion
According to Hall (1995), the spelling of words in English is dependent on two major factors namely: phonology and morphology. This means that it is possible predict the spelling of some words in English based on their pronunciation, for example the word ‘fat’. However, it is not possible apply the same in some words in English.
For example, some words retain the same root when they are changed to form words in different word classes but their pronunciation change. For instance, the second ‘c’ sound in the words electric, electricity, and electrician keep on changing as the word changes to form a different word.
Additionally, Spanish learners of the English language use the grammar rules of their native language to spell words in English, which end up complicating their process of learning. Grammar conventions such as when to use capital letters vary from one language to another. Spanish learners of the English language need to be taught the new rules in depth to enhance a deeper understanding of the English language.
Learning a second language is not an easy task for people who speak a single language. This is especially difficult because, the learners of a second language are conversant with the conventions of their first language and they may try to apply the same rules to the second language they are learning.
This may be a disadvantage to them because it may hinder their acquisition of the English language. According to Oxford (1990), those who teach native Spanish speakers English as a second language should teach the new rules in English explicitly to ensure that there is an in depth understanding of English as a second language.
Hall, D. (1995). Assessing the Needs of Bilingual Pupils: Living in Two Languages. London: Fulton.
Hinkel, E. (2011). Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning: ESL and applied linguistics professional series. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Farnen, K. (2010). Common English Difficulties for ESL Spanish Students. Santa Monica: Demand Media, Inc.
Oxford, R. (1990). Language Learning Strategies. Boston: Heinle & Heinle Publishers.
Shatz, M. and Wilkinson, L. (2010). The Education of English Language Learners: Research to Practice Challenges in language and literacy. New York: Guilford Press.
Skehan, P. (1991). Individual differences in second language learning. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 13, 188-221.
Swan, M. & Smith, B. (2001). Learner English 2nd Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.