Italian vs. Spanish: Which should I learn?

Italian vs. Spanish: Which should I learn?

by Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Updated June 20, 2023

Learning a new language involves a considerable investment of time and money. Thus, you probably want to choose a language that you’ll actually use on a regular basis. Can you speak the new language where you live? Do you need the language for your career? Maybe you just want to learn a new language for the fun of it. 

Though the two languages share quite a bit in common, many people struggle to decide between Italian vs. Spanish. Spanish is spoken in many parts of the world and has clear uses. Italian is sometimes stereotyped as a language spoken with gestures and other forms of non-verbal communication. 

This article will go through some linguistic facts about  Italian vs  Spanish, which one may be easier to learn and why you should commit to one of these languages. 

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Spanish vs. Italian: Which one should I choose?

Spanish is the official language of 21 countries. It is the world’s second-most-spoken native language and the fourth-most-spoken language globally. There are approximately 496 million native speakers of Spanish. If you live in the United States and are looking to practice on a daily basis, Spanish is an easy answer. The US and its close neighbor Mexico have the largest Spanish-speaking populations on Earth.

On the other hand, Italian is spoken by about 85 million people. It is the official language in Italy, Vatican City, San Marino and Switzerland. Depending on your reasons for learning Italian, you might need to work a bit harder to find people to speak with. 

Let’s look beyond the numbers. When you study a language, you are learning much more than just words. You are being introduced to a new worldview.  

Are you interested in Spanish, Mexican or Argentian culture? Do you like salsa music? Or maybe Bad Bunny? Do you like tacos or mole? Mexican cuisine is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. The Mediterranean diet found in Spain is also on the list. 

Is classical music your thing? Italian is commonly used in musical terminology and opera. Italy is similarly famous for its art and architecture. The Italians Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are two of history’s most renowned artists, while St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Mark’s Basilica are among Italy’s well-known artistic landmarks. And, if you are a cinephile, then learning Italian puts you in touch with greats such as Federico Fellini and Sophia Loren. 

Is Italian or Spanish easier to learn?

If you want to learn a language fast, which one is quicker between Italian and Spanish? Italian and Spanish are both Romance languages. They are languages that evolved from what is known as Late Latin, or Vulgar Latin. Despite their shared origins, though,  they diverge in key ways. 

 Taking a look at some grammatical similarities and differences might help you make up your mind:

Noun-adjective agreement: Spanish and Italian both use gendered nouns and adjectives that must agree in gender and number. 

Plurals: To make a word plural in Spanish, all you need to do is add –s or –es. La casa (the house) becomes las casas (the houses). La ciudad (the city) becomes las ciudades (the cities). This is not the same in Italian. Il coltello (the knife) becomes i coltelli (the knives) and la tavola (the table) becomes le tavole (the tables). There is a little bit more memorization to learn plurals in Italian.

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Vocabulary: Both Spanish and Italian use articles. Spanish has 4 regular articles and Italian has 7 with various uses. Italian has more irregular verbs to memorize. Finally, if you live in the US, you may find Spanish pronunciation a little easier and more familiar to your ear. 

Conjugation: Spanish and Italian both have a formal verb conjugation and neither one is necessarily easier than the other. 

Cultural benefits of learning Spanish or Italian

When you learn a language, you will likely consume more of the culture from countries and cultures that speak that language. It’s up to you to choose which culture is more exciting to you and offers better motivation to study.

Spanish or Italian? Paella or pasta? Rome or Madrid? Bad Bunny or Andrea Bocelli? Teotihuacan or the Colosseum? The list goes on. 

Consider these questions when choosing to study Spanish vs. Italian:

  • Which culture is most attractive to you?
  • How many countries can you visit with your language skills?
  • Do you want to move to a country where the language is spoken?
  • If you don’t have travel plans, are there native speakers near you to practice with?
  • Does the language open up any study or job opportunities for your life?
  • Do you have a personal connection or heritage that motivates you to study?

This is a personal decision. Only you can answer these questions. 

Both Spanish and Italian are somewhat easy to learn for English speakers. The grammatical structures are similar and there are many cognates or familiar words in both languages. You won’t have issues finding classes or study resources. If you live in the US, finding native Spanish speakers is easy in most areas of the country, especially in the Southwest and states like California, Texas and Florida. If you live on the East Coast in New York or New Jersey, you might have a large Italian-American community to practice with.

What are you waiting for? 

Ready to make the final decision between Italian vs. Spanish? You’ve learned some key differences and similarities between Italian and Spanish. You’ve considered the questions above and how they affect your life personally. What’s it going to be? 

Learning a new language is extremely fun. It opens a whole new world to you. It exposes you to new cultures and new people. If you still haven’t decided, you can always take a Spanish class or Italian class to test the waters. Jump in! 

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Alison Maciejewski Cortez

Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Turkish. Her consulting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.

Alison Maciejewski Cortez

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