French and Spanish are two of the most popular second languages for English speakers to learn. If you’re trying to choose between the two, you might be wondering what is easier to learn, French or Spanish?
There’s a common misconception among English speakers that Spanish is easier to learn than French.
But is that really the case? Is French hard to learn? People often cite the fact that spelling and pronunciation in French are much more complicated than in Spanish.
It’s true that Spanish is a very phonetic language, which means that once you understand the rules for accentuation and pronunciation, it’s fairly easy to learn how to say and write new words in Spanish.
However, Spanish has more verb tenses/moods and conjugations than French, which you have to memorize and know how to use properly to be understood. From this perspective, it’s easier to become conversationally fluent in French.
The reality is that the answer to “is French or Spanish easier to learn?” is highly subjective. Both languages present their own unique challenges to English speakers trying to learn them.
From an outside perspective, either language may be easier to learn than English, which is widely regarded as one of the most complicated languages for non-native speakers to learn, particularly because of its unpredictable spelling and complex grammar and syntax.
So, you should really choose a language to learn based on your interest in it and how you plan to use it, rather than on how “easy” it is to learn.
Why would we make that comparison in the first place?
To the untrained ear, the French and Spanish languages sound totally different, so why would we even compare the two? In fact, the lexical similarity between French and Spanish is about 75%, meaning that a high percentage of the words in these languages are very similar.
For comparison, French and Spanish both share a less than 50% lexical similarity with English. Why is that, you ask?
Well, French and Spanish are both Romance languages, or languages descended from Vulgar Latin, or the colloquial Latin spoken among the lower classes of the Roman Empire.
Spanish and French evolved from local variants of Latin over hundreds of years, eventually becoming the distinct languages we know them as today.
The 5 major romance languages are:
On the other hand, English is descended from a west Germanic language, but has borrowed heavily from Latin and other European languages, including French. That’s why modern English, French, and Spanish do share some vocabulary.
However, English is actually in the same family as other Germanic languages like German and Dutch.
French and Spanish similarities
So, just how similar are French and Spanish? You already know about the shared origin and lexical similarity between French and Spanish, but the similarities don’t stop there.
Let’s start with another obvious one: the alphabet. Both Spanish and French use the 26 basic letters of the Latin alphabet, as does English, though Spanish has 1 extra letter: the “eñe.”
French and Spanish also have some pretty big grammatical similarities. They both have 2 ways to say “you” (formal and informal), 2 versions of the past tense, gendered nouns, and similar verb conjugations, including distinctive subjunctive verb forms.
Another similarity between French and Spanish that sets them apart from English is the use of accents. Both languages use accents over certain letters in words to indicate an emphasis in their pronunciation (although French has more accent marks than Spanish).
These similarities mean that learning French and Spanish at the same time would likely be much easier than learning either of the languages alongside English for the first time.
For someone who already knows French, it might not take too long to learn Spanish as a second language, or the other way around.
Can Spanish speakers understand French?
Because of the lexical similarity between French and Spanish, a Spanish speaker reading written French would likely be able to understand a large portion of it, and vice versa.
Here are some examples of similar words and phrases in Spanish and French:
● Country: país/pays
● Bad: mal/mal
● No: no/non
● Repeat: repetir/répéter
● Pardon me: perdón/pardon
However, since the pronunciation and accentuation is so different in French and Spanish, it would be very hard for a Spanish speaker to understand French in a spoken conversation.
If a native French speaker and a native Spanish speaker were trying to communicate verbally, and speaking slowly, they might be able to recognize certain similar words and understand their meanings, but it would be very difficult to go beyond that.
Which language is more useful - French or Spanish?
Like determining whether French or Spanish is easier to learn, the answer to this question is pretty subjective.
They are two of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Spanish is the 4th most spoken language in the world, while French is the 5th most spoken.
Top 5 languages worldwide (including native and non-native speakers):
- English (1,132,000,000)
- Mandarin Chinese (1,117,000,000)
- Hindi (615,000,000)
- Spanish (534,000,000)
- French (280,000,000)
While it’s true that there are far more Spanish speakers than French speakers in the world, how useful either language will be depends a lot on where you’re located or where you plan to travel to.
For example, in the Americas, Spanish is far more widely spoken than French. If you live in the United States or plan to travel throughout Latin America, Spanish is probably going to be much more useful to you.
However, if you’re in Canada, or planning to travel or do business there, knowing French is going to be more helpful — it’s an official language of the country, after all. In fact, French is the first official language spoken by more than 20% of the population, most of whom live in the eastern province of Quebec.
Another place where French is more widely spoken than Spanish is in Africa. Outside of Canada, France, and the other major French speaking countries of Europe, all of the top countries where French is an official language are in Africa.
So, if you’re trying to decide between learning French or Spanish for practical reasons, location is probably the biggest factor you should consider.
However, you may also choose to learn one or the other for cultural reasons. For example, if you really enjoy Spanish language movies or French literature, that may be the deciding factor for determining which language will be more useful to you personally.
5 reasons why neither of the languages are easier to learn
- They both have sounds that are difficult for English speakers
- Both languages have gendered nouns that affect adjectives, articles, and pronouns
- Spanish and French both use prepositions very differently than English
- There are confusing pairs of words with the same meanings in both languages
- Both Spanish and French have way more tenses and verb conjugations than English
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of why neither French or Spanish is easier to learn. The fact of the matter is that they share many similarities, and are equally different from English, so you can learn either one as a second language with relatively the same difficulty.
What is the best way to learn either French or Spanish?
The best way to learn French or Spanish can vary greatly depending on your style of learning and personal preferences. But we do think that one of the most effective ways for anyone to learn a new language is by watching TV shows and movies in that language.
Wait, you can learn a language by watching TV?! Absolutely!
Absorbing information from TV and movies is one of the ways we learn our native languages so fast growing up, so it stands to reason that you can do the same to learn a second language.
On Lingopie, we have thousands of hours of excellent international television in both French and Spanish, so you can binge on great series while you learn along the way.
Whether you’re just starting out or have been learning Spanish or French for a while, you can choose from shows for all ages to match your level in either language.
Every show is streamed with subtitles in its native language, and every word, phrase, or bit of slang is clickable, giving you real-time translations of vocabulary you don’t understand.
You can also choose to follow along with English subtitles or slow down the playback speed to make sure you catch everything.
When you finish an episode, you can instantly review everything you just learned with built-in flashcards and word lists.
So, what are you waiting for to give Lingopie a try today? Signing up is totally risk free. You can start a free trial and cancel your subscription at any time if you decide Lingopie isn’t for you — though we’re sure that won’t be the case!