Yesterday evening when ending the last class, one of my students asked me if I could enlighten him about his confusion when having to use specially and especially. This type of questions are asked by students now and then and I thought I should start a thread of posts under the name Words easily confused by Spanish-speaking learners of English in the hope that I will help them eradicate some common mistakes.
Well, it seems my first choice has proved to be rather awkward. After browsing different websites I have come to the conclusion that what I thought to be ¨an easy piece of cake¨, i.e. explaining the difference in a simple way, seems not to be that simple. May I risk to say that due to the fact that both words are spelt similarly, speakers of English tend even to confuse their usage so no wonder we, non-native speakers, should get more confused.
The best explanation I've found is provided by the BBC Learning English website and it's the one I've chosen as a hyper-link to the sub-heading specially vs. especially
When looking up both words in Wordreference the translation given in Spanish is rather similar: especialmente, particularmente for especially and especialmente, expresamente for specially. One of the examples given by the Concise Oxford Spanish Dictionary (OUP) is actually the same in both: Why did you choose that one especially? Why did you choose that one specially?
So my advice is that you use specially when you mean expresamente o en particular:
These shoes are specially designed for toddlers.
Estos zapatos están expresamente diseñados para bebés que empiezan a caminar.
We use especially when we mean sobre todo, excepcionalmente:
The dinner that evening was especially planned for the occasion.
La cena esa noche fue excepcionalmente planeada para la ocasión.
English plus also provides an easy explanation for this pair:
Going analogical now I will write down the definitions given by the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English of the adjectives
especial (adj) particular; exceptional: a question of especial importance; for our especial benefit. in especial, above all. especially (adv) to an exceptional degree; in particular: She likes the country, especially in spring.
special (adj) of a particular or certain sort; not common, usual or general; of or for a certain person, thing or purpose: He did it for her as a special favour. What are your special interests? Newspapers send special correspondents to places where important events take place. On holidays the railways put on special trains. Specially (adv) particulary: I came here specially (on purpose) to see you.