About Learning Spanish with Berlitz
Spanish is the most widely spoken of the Romance languages, both in terms of number of speakers and the number of countries in which it is the dominant language. Besides being spoken in Spain, it is the official language of Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, of all the Central American countries except Belize, and of all of the South American countries except Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. In the United States there are now more than 25 million speakers of Spanish, living mainly in California, Arizona, Texas, Florida, and New York, but also in many other states. Spanish is also spoken in the Balearic and Canary islands (which are part of Spain), in parts of Morocco, in Western Sahara, and in Equatorial Guinea. A variety of Spanish known as Ladino is spoken in Turkey and Israel by descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. All told, there are about 375 million speakers of Spanish. It is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.
Pronunciation and usage of Spanish naturally vary between countries, but regional differences are not so great as to make the language unintelligible to speakers from different areas. The purest form of Spanish is known as Castilian, originally one of the dialects that developed from Latin after the Roman conquest of Hispania in the 3rd century AD. After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Spain was overrun by the Visigoths, and in the 8th century the Arabic-speaking Moors conquered all but the northernmost part of the peninsula. In the Christian reconquest Castile, an independent kingdom, took the initiative, and by the time of the unification of Spain in the 15th century Castilian had become the dominant dialect. In the years that followed, Castilian – now Spanish – became the language of a vast empire in the New World.
Spanish vocabulary is basically of Latin origin, though many of the words differ markedly from their counterparts in French and Italian. Many words beginning with f in the other Romance languages begin with h in Spanish (e.g., hijo – son, hilo – thread). The Moorish influence may be seen in many words beginning with al- (algodón – cotton, alfombra – rug, almohada – pillow, alfiler – pin). As in British and American English, there are differences in vocabulary on the two sides of the ocean – patata (potato) is papa in Latin America, while melocotón (peach) is durazno.
Spanish spelling is based on generally consistent phonetic principles, and reflects better than most languages the way a word is pronounced. The consonants b and v are pronounced alike, the sound falling somewhere between the two sounds in English (boca – mouth, voz – voice). The letter z, and the letter c before e and i, are pronounced as a voiceless th in Castilian, but more like s in southern Spain and Latin America (zapato – shoe, ciudad – city). The letter j, and the letter g before e and i, are pronounced like the English h ( jardín – garden, general – general), though in Spain it is more guttural than in Latin America. The hard g sound is represented by g before a, o, and u (gato – cat), but gu before e and i (seguir – to follow). The h is always silent (hombre – man), and rr is a rolled r (correr – run).
Ñ, pronounced ny as in the English “canyon” (pequeño – small), is a separate letter, alphabetized after n in Spanish dictionaries. Ch is pronounced as in English (muchacho – boy). Ll is pronounced as in the English “million” in Spain, but as y in America (calle – street). Traditionally, Spanish dictionaries treated these two digraphs as separate letters of the alphabet, and listed all words beginning with them separately, at the end of c and l respectively; since the early 1990s, however, the practice has been to alphabetize them conventionally (e.g., listing words beginning with ch between ce and ci).
The stress in Spanish likewise follows a consistent pattern, falling on the next-to-last syllable in words ending in a vowel, n, or s, and on the final syllable in words ending in other consonants. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by an acute accent (árbol – tree, corazón – heart).
English words of Spanish origin include cargo, siesta, sombrero, mesa, hacienda, patio, armada, guerrilla, junta, plaza, canyon, rodeo, pueblo, adobe, vanilla, armadillo, tornado, embargo, and bonanza.