Learning any European language is a wonderful thing especially if you already have the skills in a language that is said to be quite similar to the one you’re planning to study next — for instance, the Spanish and French languages. Is it easier to learn Spanish if you already know French? How are they similar to each other? Which language should I learn first? This article will help you confirm if great language skills in French is really an advantage when learning Spanish.
Fortunately, there are some instances where French is helpful for learning Spanish, but it won’t magically turn you into a fluent Spanish speaker right away. Learning any language will cost you sweat, time, effort, or even money. Yes, Spanish is easier to learn after French. But before we talk about the reasons, we will discuss first on how are they similar to one another:
How Similar Are Spanish and French?
First and foremost, let’s talk about how popular are Spanish and French languages. Spanish, with a total of 534.3 million speakers, got the 4th rank in the most widely spoken languages as of 2019. It is mainly spoken in big countries like Spain and Latin America and is also the official language of 21 countries across the globe. French, having a total of 279.8 million speakers, won the 5th rank. It is mainly spoken in countries like France, Canada, and Belgium. That being said, both languages are so popular based on the number of speakers.
2. Language Family
And this is why we’re sometimes confused between Spanish and French words — they both belong to the same language family which is called the Romance Languages (also called Romanic Languages) together with Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and many more. These languages are all derived from Vulgar Latin (or colloquial Latin) which was spoken in the Mediterranean region during and after the classical period of the Roman Empire. Vulgar Latin is also known as informal Latin of classical times.
When the Roman Empire fell apart, there have been different variations of Latin that became the languages of local areas. Spanish and French stood out between the sixth and ninth centuries and were spread to different parts of the world, mainly through Spanish and French colonialism.
2. The Alphabet
Spanish and French became best friends since, I don’t know, the sixth century? And until now, they carry their “matching pieces” which is the so-called alphabet. Sounds sweet, huh?
The Spanish and French languages use the 26 letters from the Latin alphabet. Yes, same with the English language! This is really a significant similarity between Spanish, French, and English because once you can READ THIS, then probably you’ll be able to read and write Spanish and French, too!
Spanish English French
ah A ah
bay B bay
say C say
day D day
ay E uh
ay-fay F eff
hey G zhay
ah-chay H ahsh
ee I ee
hoh-tah J zhee
kah K kah
ay-lay L ell
ay-may M emm
ay-nay N enn
oh O oh
pay P pay
koo Q kew
air-ay R air
ay-say S ess
tay T tay
oo U ew
oo-bay V vay
doh-blay-vay W doo-blah-vay
ah-kees X eeks
ee-gree-ay-gah Y ee-grek
say-tah Z zed
Amazing! Isn’t it? You can even memorize BOTH Spanish and French alphabets in twenty minutes! However, remember that these are only the alphabet. If the letters are combined, different sounds may be produced, Although there are words make Spanish or French difficult to learn, the transition of writing and reading Spanish to French or French to Spanish is easier compared to learning the non-Latin alphabet languages such as Mandarin Chinese and Arabic.
That being said, you’re lucky that both languages have the same alphabet with the English language. It’ll save you from the hardships of writing code-like syllables.
3. The Lexical Similarity
In the field of linguistics, “lexical similarity” means the similarity in word sets between two given languages. It is used to evaluate the degree of the genetic relationship between languages, as for this article, Spanish and French. Lexical similarity is expressed as a percentage. So a score of 100% means that there’s a total overlap between the two vocabularies, whereas a score of 0 means that there are no common words.
And comparing the Spanish and French languages, they are said to have a lexical similarity of 75% (Pretty high!) That proves that there’s a bigger chance for you to easily study the two of them! To demonstrate the similarity in words between Spanish and French, here is a quick list of cool words:
Spanish English French
De nada You’re welcome De rien
Mal Bad Mal
Sí Yes Oui / Si
Francés French Français
Español Spanish Espagnol
Portugués Portuguese Portugais
Perdón Pardon me Pardon
Depende It depends Ça dépend
Bienvenidos Welcome Bienvenue
Aside from these common expressions, there are so many words (mostly nouns) where Spanish and French have some sort of similarity. One example is the English word “country” which is “pais” in Spanish and “pays” in French. However, despite the high percentage of the lexical similarity between these two languages, studies have suggested that an average Spanish speaker still have a hard time understanding what a native French speaker says.
4. The Grammatical Features
One important similarity between Spanish and French is the shared grammatical features such as gendered nouns, formal and informal words for “you,” verbal conjugation, and two versions of the past tense. The best thing about this similarity is that it makes an easy transition from one language to another. However, the downside is that usually, Spanish and French words are mixed together.
5. The Accent Marks
As you read a Spanish or French word, you will notice some accent marks above some certain letters, which stands for changes to stress. These marks are commonly associated with French with a total of 5 different accent marks. Two of those marks appear in Spanish — the acute accent (´) and the trema (¨).
Spanish uses two different types of diacritic:
á, é, í, ó, ú, ý – the acute accent, over the letters a, e, i, o, u, and y
ü – the trema, over the letter u
French uses five different types of diacritic:
é – the acute accent, over the letter e
ë, ï, ü, ÿ – the trema, over the letters e, i, u, and y
â, ê, î, ô, û – the circumflex, over the letters a, e, i, o, and u
à, è, ù – the grave accent, over the letters a, e, and u
ç – the cedilla, below the letter c
As you can see, the two languages have the similarity of using the acute accent and the trema. These accent marks are really important when used in a word. If you ignore the mark, the meaning of the word will change. Here are some examples of the unaccented and accented words of Spanish and French languages.
Unaccented English Accented Word English
de of, from dé give
el the (masculine singular) él he
mas but* más more
mi my mí me (object pronoun)
se (reflexive pronoun) sé I know
si if sí yes
te you (object pronoun) té tea
tu your tú you
Unaccented English Accented Word English
sur on, sour sûr sure, certain
ou or où where
a has à to
jeune young le jeûne fasting
un mur a wall mûr ripe
To check out more similarities and differences between Spanish and French, check out this video:
How Similar Are Spanish and French?
(Please insert this video, if possible:)
Spanish or French? Which Language Should You Learn First?
If you haven’t learned Spanish and French and still deciding on which one to learn first, I can help you decide easily. Both European languages are useful to learn, and I must say, whichever you choose first, you will end up learning them both. Once you have good language skills on your first choice, it will be convenient for you to learn and master your second choice. Here are the factors that you should consider when deciding on which language should you learn first:
1. The Location
As we’ve talked about earlier in this article, Spanish and French are both Romance Languages. However, they are spoken in different places. When choosing on which language to learn first, consider the countries where the languages are spoken. If you are planning to visit or move to Central America, South America, Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, just no name a few, then you should learn Spanish first. If you’re chosen countries are France, Canada, Switzerland, Belgium, then French is the most appropriate language to learn first.
2. Your Field of Interest
This is one of the factors where you need to sit down in a quiet room and think about the language that is closer to your long-term goals. If you are into business activities or looking for jobs in the BPO/KPO sectors, communications, and media field, you might want to learn Spanish first. The Majority of the BPO/KPO comes from the US, where English is the dominant language and Spanish is the second one. In addition, having the “can speak Spanish” title on your resume is a great attraction when planning to work under American companies.
If you’re into aeronautics, telecommunications, pharmaceuticals, and energy production, then you should probably learn French. The language will help you succeed if you’re planning to have a career or do business in these fields. And as we all know, France is also one of the most popular tourist’s destinations in the world. In 2016, there were about 85 million visitors, and the number keeps rising as the years go by. If you’re also into the field of fashion, travels and tours, art and cuisine, then French is your go-to language. But again, whichever language you’ll choose to study first, I’m pretty sure that you will still succeed in the future.
3. The Difficulty Level
If I will be the one who will tell you which one is easier to learn, I will look into your eyes and say “Spanish!” Yes, you saw it right. Spanish is easier than French because it is a more phonetic language while French is not. You will read the words exactly as how they are written. Even though there are some complicated letters like the silent H, J, G, and similar sounds of B and V, Spanish is still rated as “very easy to learn” especially for English speakers. Moreover, there are thousands of cognates between Spanish and French — an advantage when learning a language. Here are some examples:
Oh boy! I’m just until letter C but we already have many examples! If you already know the English language (and I bet you probably do because you’re reading this article), then Spanish is as easy as ABC for you.
And now, it’s time to talk about the French language. To be honest with you, French has a reputation for being a difficult Romance language because it’s not a phonetic language. The pronunciations and spelling are tricky, and the words aren’t pronounced as to how they’re written. But still, you’re fortunate because there are also thousands of cognates between French and English, here are some examples:
I would like to remind you that these are just cognates — words that are similar, or even identical, in two languages. Looking at the words above might let you think that both the Spanish and French languages are VERY similar to the English language, but they’re literally not. If I point out to you the grammar rules, sentence structures, and pronunciations, then that belief will surely change. You should not depend ONLY on your English skills when learning these two languages because every language has its own twists and turns. Check out the article Spanish Versus French, Which Is Harder? to know more details on how one language is difficult to another.
4. What Experts Recommended
By “experts” means people who have the experience of learning Spanish, French, or both, whether they succeeded or not. It’s always best to ask some help when deciding on which language should you learn first, especially if you’re still a student (high school or college). You can ask recommendations from people around you or even on the internet. Try to read some research, blogs, forums, and opinions from fellow learners. But to give you a quick answer, most learners have suggested that you should learn French first before Spanish. Why? Because if you try to learn the difficult one first, then the second would be like a piece of cake. In addition, you’ll unconsciously learn Spanish while you’re learning French because of the similarities that we’ve discussed a few minutes ago.
Alas! And that is why Spanish is easier to learn after French. But of course, it differs from one person to another. If you’re more comfortable to learn Spanish without learning French (for some instance if you’re a Filipino or Portuguese) then you can go straight to learning Spanish because it’s more similar to your language. Always choose the most comfortable way of learning something — that is how you’ll succeed.
Can I learn Spanish and French at the same time?
Although it is possible to learn Spanish and French together, this is not advisable especially if you’re a beginner in both languages. Because of the significant similarities between the two languages, learning them together will make you confused, thus, ends up on mixing different words together.
But if you really are determined, then you can choose one language to learn first (preferably French) and then reach a B1/B2 level (approximately 2 years of learning) before you try to study the second one. The advantage of starting one language first and then moving onto the next one is that there are many similarities in the structure and use of words, not to mention that there are so many words that you can recognize easily because you have learned them from the first one. In addition, it is best to reach a comfortable level on one language first before moving to the next one to avoid mixing them up.) To know more about the best languages to learn together, check out this article: What Languages Are Best To Learn Together?
What language should I learn after Spanish?
Although French is the obvious number one choice, we will skip that option (since we’re literally talking about French first then Spanish then the next one.)
Being extremely similar to Spanish, Portuguese is the easiest language to learn after Spanish. There are countless Spanish speakers who can even read Portuguese newspapers without preparation. Moreover, there are 234.1 million speakers of Portuguese, making it the 9th most spoken language as of 2019. Now we’re talking!
And aside from Portuguese, there are more Romance languages that are easy to learn after Spanish. To know more, read this article: What Is The Easiest Language To Learn After Spanish?