Alongside Italian, Spanish and French are among the most widely spoken Romance languages today. They owe this name to the fact that they both evolved from the Vulgar Latin that was spoken during the Roman Empire. This shared origin story explains why Spanish and French share a number of common features, both in terms of grammar and vocabulary. If you’re already fluent in Spanish, you may even be able to read French short texts and understand their gist (and vice versa).
Though their geographical distribution is quite different, French and Spanish are also among the most spoken languages in the world. This makes them compelling languages to learn, but it also makes it difficult to choose between the two. So, French vs. Spanish: Which language is the most useful to master? Find out the answer in our guide.
- What are the similarities and differences between French and Spanish?
- What’s the level of difficulty of French vs. Spanish?
- French or Spanish: Which language is the most useful to learn?
What are the similarities and differences between French and Spanish?
As two Romance languages, French and Spanish share common Latin roots, which explains how alike they are.
The similarities between French and Spanish
In terms of vocabulary, many words look very similar in both languages, as the examples in the table below illustrate:
|Un billet||Un billete||A ticket|
|La capacité||La capacidad||The capacity|
|Un livre||Un libro||A book|
|Un problème||Un problema||A problem|
|Une réservation||Una reservación||A booking|
These similarities in vocabulary may also come with similarities in grammar. For instance, there are two different verbs that mean “to know” in French (savoir and connaître) and also two in Spanish (saber and conocer).
In both languages, these verbs follow the same general rules. Savoir and saber are used with verbs, either on their own or as part of a clause:
|Je sais conduire.||(Yo)* sé (cómo) conducir.orSé conducir.||I know how to drive.|
|Je sais que tu apprends l’anglais.||Sé que estás aprendiendo inglés.||I know that you’re learning English.|
By contrast, connaître and conocer are used with nouns to communicate that you know a person, a thing or a place.
|Je connais le professeur.||Conozco al maestro.||I know the teacher.|
|Je connais ce musée.||Conozco este museo.||I know this museum.|
|Je connais les règles.||Conozco las reglas.||I know the rules.|
You’ll also notice many similarities in the construction and conjugation of verbs.
Reflexive verbs in Spanish and French represent a good case-in-point. In both languages, these verbs involve the use of a reflexive pronoun to indicate when the subject is also the object of the action of the verb:
|Je me lave.||(Yo)* me lavo.||I wash myself.|
But these obvious similarities cannot hide the many differences that set the two languages apart.
*Note: In Spanish, subject pronouns are optional, since the necessary information about the subject of the sentence is found in the different verb endings.
The differences between French and Spanish
Though Spanish and French share the same Latin roots, they have evolved differently through the centuries. This is in large part due to the distinct foreign influences that have shaped them. The history of the French language is closely linked to both German and English, especially when it comes to vocabulary and pronunciation. Meanwhile, the Moorish invasion of Spain in 711 led to a significant Arabic influence on Spanish.
The main difference between French and Spanish is probably pronunciation. Even if their spelling is alike, words may sound extremely different between the two languages. French pronunciation is known for its difficulty, due in large part to its clusters of vowels and its silent letters (such as with the h consonant and at the end of words). In comparison, Spanish is more phonetic, and words are typically pronounced the way they are written.
What’s the level of difficulty of French vs. Spanish?
We’ve already mentioned how pronunciation is more difficult in French than in Spanish. Since the rules of pronunciation in French are not as straightforward, you’ll need to get your head around them from the start. But once you’ve passed this initial hurdle and master French sounds, your learning will become increasingly easier.
The same goes for conjugation. The present tense in French can be quite challenging for beginners, as it requires mastering both regular and irregular verbs. However, once you have these basics down, you’ll find it easier and easier to learn other tenses in French.
The progression tends to go the other way around in Spanish. For instance, when it comes to the past tense, verbs in the preterite in Spanish have different endings according to the subject. By comparison, the passé composé in French is simpler: it involves the auxiliary avoir (to have) or être (to be) in the present tense, followed by the past participle of the verb:
|J’ai chanté||Yo canté||I sang|
|Tu as chanté||Tú cantaste||You sang|
|Il/elle a chanté||Él/ella cantó||He/she sang|
|Nous avons chanté||Nosotros/nosotras cantamos||We sang|
|Vous avez chanté||Ustedes cantaron||You sang|
|Ils/elles ont chanté||Ellos/ellas cantaron||They sang|
In the end, one language is not necessarily easier than the other. Each has its own areas of difficulty that you’ll need to overcome at various stages of learning. A better factor to consider is how useful each language will be for you, depending on your own circumstances.
French or Spanish: Which language is the most useful to learn?
To answer this question, you should first consider your personal circumstances and interests.
For instance, if you live in the United States, Spanish will probably prove much more useful than French. In certain states, such as Texas and California, knowledge of Spanish is often a requirement when applying for jobs. Across the border, about 60% of Latin Americans speak Spanish as their first language. Spanish is also the official language of 21 countries. With about 500 million native speakers around the globe, it’s the second-most-spoken native language and the fourth-most-spoken language in the world.
With “only” 300 million speakers globally, French may seem to lag behind. But size is not all that matters. You’ll have much more use for French if you regularly travel to Canada or to many countries in Africa. French is spoken in several countries in Europe, such as Switzerland and Belgium. It’s also an official language for several global institutions, such as the European Union, UNESCO and the United Nations. It will prove useful if you work in industries such as tourism and hospitality, or if you are particularly interested in fashion, cinema or gastronomy.
French or Spanish: Which language should I learn?
These two Romance languages may have a lot in common, but they are clearly not identical. From their degree of difficulty to their usefulness on the global stage, they each present their advantages and their hurdles. In the end, when choosing between French and Spanish, the best path forward is to consider which one is more likely to match your own interests and goals.