Spanish vs. French… French vs. Spanish… That is the question!
Actually, I heard that question when my Texan fiancé moved to Spain with me. I’m French, so he was wondering which language to learn first.
French is spoken in France — really? —, parts of Belgium and Switzerland, Québec, Luxembourg, Monaco, parts of Africa, some islands in the Indian Ocean and the Caribbean, as well as parts of Asia, Lebanon and Syria. Check out our article to explore the francophone world!
Spanish, on the other hand, is spoken in Spain, most countries in Latin America, several Caribbean islands, the Philippines, parts of Africa, parts of Melanesia, and is widely spread throughout the US.
While being two different languages, French and Spanish share many similarities, which makes it challenging to learn both at the same time.
- Global reach
- Cultural enrichment
- Career opportunities
- Personal connections
- Among many others!
So, if you want to learn a new Latin language, which one should you start with? Keep reading to find out!
Key similarities between French and Spanish
As mentioned, French and Spanish share many similarities due to their common linguistic roots as Romance languages, both descending from Latin. Here are some key similarities between the two languages:
- Grammar: French and Spanish grammar share several similarities, such as the use of gendered nouns (masculine and feminine), definite and indefinite articles, and verb conjugation patterns.
- Verb conjugation: Both languages have similar verb conjugation systems, with regular and irregular verbs. They use verb endings to indicate tense, person, and number.
- Pronouns: French and Spanish both have subject pronouns, object pronouns, and possessive pronouns, and the usage of these pronouns often follows similar patterns. You’ll find lots of grammar articles on our French blog and Spanish blog.
- Cognates: Many words in French and Spanish are cognates, meaning they have a common origin and similar meanings. These similarities can make vocabulary acquisition easier for speakers of one language learning the other.
- Numerals: Numbers in French and Spanish have similar patterns and structures, making it relatively straightforward to learn and use numbers in both languages. We said “relatively”.
- Prepositions: While there are differences, French and Spanish both use prepositions to indicate relationships between words, and some prepositions have similar meanings and usages.
- Accents: Both languages use accents to indicate stress on certain syllables in words, which can affect pronunciation.
- Shared influences: French and Spanish have been influenced by other languages and cultures over the centuries. For example, both languages have some Arabic influence due to historical interactions.
- Familiar sound patterns: Due to their shared linguistic heritage, French and Spanish may sound somewhat familiar to speakers of the other language. This can sometimes aid in comprehension.
- Gendered nouns: Spanish and French use gender for nouns. While this doesn’t make sense for English speakers, at least, many nouns have the same gender in both languages.
What are the main differences between French and Spanish
Despite their similarities, French and Spanish are two distinct languages. Here are some key differences:
- Pronunciation and phonetics: French and Spanish have different vowel sounds, pronunciation and accent/stress patterns.
- False friends: While French and Spanish share many cognates (similar words), there are also "false friends" — words that look similar but have different meanings.
- Translated words from English: In Spanish, EVERYTHING is translated, while French has more English words. For example, popcorn is popcorn in French, but palomitas (small doves) in Spanish. Football — excuse me, soccer — is football in French, but fútbol in Spanish. Weekend stays the same in French, but translates to fin de semana in Spanish.
- Grammar: There are many variations between both languages, especially in conjugation, the use of articles and subject pronouns, as well as prepositions.
- Culture and idioms: Each language has its own set of idiomatic expressions and phrases that might not have direct equivalents in the other language. The same applies for etiquette.
- Pronouns of address: Spanish has distinct pronouns of address for formal and informal situations ("usted" and "tú"), while French generally uses the same pronoun ("vous") with different levels of formality. The latter is much more used than its Spanish counterpart.
Which language is easier to learn, French or Spanish?
If you’re wondering if Spanish or French is easier, we have great news for you: both are among the easiest languages to learn for English speakers!
Of course, the ease of learning a language depends on various factors, including your native language, your previous language learning experiences, your personal learning style, and your motivation.
However, for many English speakers, Spanish is often considered slightly easier to learn than French. Here's why:
- Phonetics and pronunciation: Spanish has a MUCH more straightforward phonetic system, with consistent letter-to-sound correspondence, making it easier to pronounce words correctly.
- Vocabulary and cognates: Spanish and English share many cognates (similar words), which can make vocabulary acquisition easier. This is especially true in Latin America, with the famous Spanglish!
- Verb conjugation: While both languages have verb conjugation, Spanish verbs often follow more regular patterns compared to the sometimes complex conjugations found in French.
- Grammar: Spanish grammar can be simpler in certain aspects. For example, noun-adjective agreement is more consistent in Spanish than in French.
That being said, this doesn't mean that French is significantly harder to learn. Both languages have their challenges, and what might be considered easier for one person might not be the same for another.
Which language will be more useful to learn
Now, because one language might be slightly technically easier than the other, this shouldn’t be the only argument to choose a new language. If it were, I would have learned Norwegian, Swedish, and probably Silbo Gomero.
But one has to be practical sometimes. So, what language is the most useful to learn?
Nearly 500 million people have Spanish as their native language, while fewer than 100 million are native French speakers. Check our articles on Spanish-speaking countries and French-speaking regions for more stats and a geographical breakdown.
If you plan to work in Europe, French is a very useful language to have in the business world. It’s also highly valued in industries like fashion, gastronomy, education, research and art. You’ll also need it if you work in an international organization like the EU, the UN, UNESCO or anything diplomatic — and Eurovision of course.
As one of the most spoken languages in the world, Spanish is more widespread than French. And you don’t need to travel to the 21 Spanish-speaking countries to practice your español. In the US only, there are more Spanish speakers than… in Spain!
Obviously, it all depends on where you’d like to travel.
French vs Spanish in practice
Similar words in French and Spanish
Below are a few examples of similar words in français and español — and even English for the nouns!
Differences between French and Spanish
Differences make the world — and languages — richer, right?
Words that are completely different
As seen above, false cognates, or false friends — traitor! — are words that look alike between two languages but have a different meaning.
Below are a few examples between French and Spanish, which can lead to funny faux pas!
Embarazada (Spanish) - Embarrassé(e) (French)
In Spanish, "embarazada" means pregnant, while in French "embarrassé(e)" means embarrassed.
Constipado(a) (Spanish) - Constipé(e) (French
In Spanish, “constipado(a)” means having a cold, while in French, it means constipated. When I moved to Spain, at the beginning, I thought people were being very thorough when I asked them “Qué tal?”!
Largo (Spanish) - Large (French)
In Spanish, "largo" means "long," whereas in French, "large" means "wide" or "broad."
Discutir (Spanish) - Discuter (French)
In Spanish, “discutir” means arguing, while it only means “to chat” in French.
Volar (Spanish) - Voler (French)
“Volar” means “to fly” in Spanish, while “voler” means “to steal” in French. Be careful, depending on the language, you whether fly on a plane or steal a plane!
Hombre (Spanish) - Ombre (French)
As you probably know, “hombre” means “man” in Spanish. Remove the silent “h”, and you have “shadow” in French!
Gato (Spanish) - Gâteau (French)
For your birthday, would you prefer a “gâteau” (cake) or a “gato” (cat)? Well, as long as you don’t eat the last one, that’s up to you!
Con (Spanish) - Con (French)
Be careful with this one! While it means “with” in Spanish, it’s a pretty insulting word in French. You might have heard about the play and movie “Le dîner de cons”!
Fortunately, it’s pronounced very differently!
Learning French vs Spanish - which one should you choose?
Ok, so all of this is very interesting — at least, we hope so! — but that doesn’t answer the big question: Which language should you choose between French and Spanish?
Well, first off, why choose one when you can have both? I know, easier said than done. But as an English speaker, learning one Latin language will help you learn another one faster. Ok, but which one should you learn first?
The answer depends on various factors:
If you're planning to travel or work in a specific region, consider the prevalence of each language. Spanish is widely spoken in many countries, including Spain, Mexico, Central and South America, while French is spoken in countries like France, Canada, parts of Africa, and some Caribbean nations.
As seen above, Spanish has more native speakers worldwide compared to French, making it a more commonly spoken language. If you're interested in a language with broader utility, Spanish might be a strong choice.
Ease of pronunciation and grammar
Some learners find Spanish pronunciation and grammar relatively easier to grasp compared to French. Spanish has consistent pronunciation rules, while French pronunciation can be challenging due to its numerous exceptions and silent letters.
Cultural and personal interests
Consider which culture resonates with you more. If you're interested in French literature, gastronomy, art, philosophy, or fashion, French might be appealing. Similarly, if you have a passion for Latin American music, literature, and culture, Spanish could be a better fit.
As mentioned, the demand for both languages can vary depending on your field and location. Research job markets and industries to determine which language could give you a competitive edge.
If you live in the US and are not planning to move, then Spanish would most likely be a better option.
If you are in Canada, you’ll probably want to go for French.
If you have travel plans, consider where you're likely to visit. Learning the language of your destination can greatly enhance your travel experience.
Ease of access to native speakers
If you have access to native speakers of either language for practice, it could positively impact your learning journey.
Ultimately, your personal interest and motivation play a crucial role. If you have a strong connection to one language or culture, it might make your learning experience more enjoyable and sustainable.
Are Spanish and French the same everywhere?
If you’ve made your choice, you might wonder if you should learn European French or Québécois, Castilian Spanish or Latin Spanish, etc. As if picking a language was not hard enough!
As you probably know, languages have distinct variations and dialects based on regional differences, history, and cultural influences.
That being said, the base is the same. That means you’ll be able to practice what you’ve learned and be understood no matter where you studied the language.
For example, Québécois sounds very different to me — and very funny — because I grew up in France. But I always recommend students to study French in Québec rather than in Europe. Why? Because people are friendlier, which is a key factor when learning and trying to speak a language.
So, don’t worry too much about this and just start learning. You can do it!
More than difficulty and usefulness, motivation is a key factor when learning a new language.
So, unless you need a language for a specific purpose, my advice would be to follow your heart.
If you’re dreaming about pains au chocolat and Jean Dujardin (in this order) every night, choisissez le français.
Or, if Penélope Cruz and paella de marisco float your boat, aprende español.
And if you can’t make up your mind, learn both. Remember, multilingual people are sexy!