I know that Spanish and French both belong to the Romance branch and they are very alike. But what I want to make clear is that how similar they are. I mean that if I have mastered one of them, how much easier will it be for me to learn another one?

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    As a Romanian, I have no trouble understanding Spanish and Italian, but spoken French is almost impenetrable, and its written form makes much more sense, but nowhere near the level of clarity that the former two languages convey.
    – Lucian
    May 1, 2015 at 18:49
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    I find it easy if you already.know.English and.Spanish then French becomes.very easy to learn
    – user13974
    Sep 3, 2016 at 5:20
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    Objectively speaking they are part of the same unbroken dialect continuum. If you master Castilian Spanish, then slowly move along the line from Madrid to Andorra to Paris, moving at most 100km and only when you have achieved the desired mastery, by the end you will have mastered Parisian French. ;-) Sep 3, 2016 at 9:25
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer I find that hard to swallow. There might well be a continuum (in dialectal varieties) from Sicilian to Tuscan to Ligurian to Provençal to Catalan to Spanish along the Mediterranean coast, but the leap from Provencal to French is too great.
    – Mitch
    Sep 12, 2016 at 17:18
  • @Mitch There was a dialect continuum, the issue is the lack of speakers.
    – jlliagre
    Oct 28 at 21:25

7 Answers 7


French and Spanish are indeed members of the Romance branch, but French is an oddity within it. If you speak only English, the phonetics of Spanish are probably much easier than French sounds, so you'd probably make a quicker start in Spanish. On the other hand, if you learn French first, Spanish would then be relatively easy.

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    Spanish is essentially Modern Latin with Arabic and Greek borrowings, and a lot of fairly predictable sound changes. French is Modern Latin with borrowings from all over, and far more sound changes, not all predictable, resulting in a language that's difficult to pronounce properly. Spanish is much easier to pronounce than French or English; but, since English has borrowed so many French words, with their spellings, that French is easier for an English speaker to read than Spanish. And once you learn to read Spanish, you can pronounce it; this is not true of French.
    – jlawler
    Apr 23, 2015 at 14:28
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    Spanish? For anybody; very simple syllable-timed phonology, five cardinal vowels; labial, dental, palatal, and velar consonant series with regular allophones; predictable stress, no tones, no long vowels, no central vowels, no nasal vowels. Pretty prototype. And a phonemic writing system, more or less. Confusing B and V, C and QU are the most common Mexican Spanish spelling mistakes.
    – jlawler
    Apr 23, 2015 at 16:23
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    @jlawler: Spanish seems pretty complicated to me phonetically, despite the relatively simple phonology (I learned French in high school). A monolingual English speaker needs to learn to produce an an alveolar trill and differentiate it from an alveolar flap, which in turn must be differentiated from /d/. The approximant allophones of the voiced plosives are also not found in English. The stress is only predictable from the spelling, not from the phonological structure of the word. And native spoken Spanish has extensive processes of synalepha that are never indicated in the orthography. Apr 23, 2015 at 17:35
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    @sumelic: A monolingual English speaker has a lot less to learn to pronounce Spanish properly than to pronounce French properly.
    – Flimzy
    Apr 23, 2015 at 18:14
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    So far, this discussion has concentrated on phonetics, but what about French's syntactical oddities? The way negatives are formed, all those odd contractions such as qu'est-ce que, the way 'y' and 'en' are used. By comparison, Anglophone monoglots learning Spanish just have to get past suffixed pronouns on verbs, and the rest is remarkably straightforward. Apr 23, 2015 at 22:31

The question "how similar are these two languages" can't be easily answer. There are many levels at which you could make a comparison, and it's not obvious how you want to quantify that. If we're talking just about lexical similarity then the answer is very similar, you can take a look here.


I mean that if I have mastered one of them, how much easier will it be for me to learn another one?

First, knowing two languages instead of only one already makes it easy to learn a third one. At the very least, you won't take the quirks and irregularities of your first language for granted, and will be prepared to expect something different.

Second, learning a language of a given linguistic family definitely makes it easier to learn a further language of that family. This effect is incremental: if you know two languages of a given family, it is even more easier to learn a third one. You will be acquainted to at least part of the lexical entries one needs to learn.

Third, specifically, no, French and Castillian are not particularly similar. If you master Castillian, you will probably be able to read a text in Portuguese or Catalan and understand most of it; but this is not true of French. However, English has borrowed so much lexical entries from French, that a person whose first language is English, and learns Spanish, will probably be in a better position to extract a basic comprehension from a French text than a person whose first language is another one, even another Romance language.

So, in short, learning one of them won't preclude the need of specialised classes to learn the other. Those classes will be somewhat easier, especially if you learn Spanish before French.

Think of the relation between both like the relation of English to German. There is a similarity, but the languages are far from mutually intelligible.


As mentioned by others, "similarity" of two languages is a difficult thing to define. How do we start? Using a theoretical linguistics as discrete components to compare might be a good place: Syntax, Phonology, Phonetics, Morphology, and Semantics.

Let's pretend for now I am just comparing two made up languages, Language A and Language B.


If we use a generativist model with Context-Free Grammars which are usually the ones taught in University (at least in North-America), we can look at Categorical heads and see how many have the "same configuration".

For example:

Are Noun-Phrases `NP`s head first or head last?
Are Adjectival-Phrases `AP`s head first or head last?

This is dependent on the categorical models you use and how they are defined, but each time they are the "same configuration", we can tally it up and save the results (say 10/30 categories have the same configuration).


Simple phonetic sounds such as allophones and phonemes could be compared by existence alone. If each language shares one, we tally them up and save the results (say 30/65 sounds exist in both languages compared)


We can use triphones in some preexisting speech corpus and make a set of them. We can then tally up how many are shared in each language (let's say 763/900)


One could use just the phonological example I gave and say that the triphones capture similar sound sequences. Otherwise we can just count the times certain affixes exist in both languages and tally them up (let's just say 25/55 for this one)


Well, this is probably a very difficult one, as semantic similarity can be defined in many ways. It usually entails using corpora and counts of contexts, or using a specialized metalanguage for capturing semantic concepts.

We could also just say, well, both languages have the ability to explain the same ideas so they are basically the same and their difference is negligible (i.e. tallied up similarities would be the same amount).


After we figure out how to get the similarities, we can just average the results for our made up languages Language A and Language B.

So using the examples I gave:

  1. Syntax: 10/30 = 33%
  2. Phonetics: 30/65 = 46%
  3. Phonology: 763/900 = 85%
  4. Morphology: 25/55 = 45%
  5. Semantics: 100/100 = 100% Same

Average similarity between made up languages Language A and Language B

(33+46+85+45+100)/5 = 61% the same


Basically, we would have to do the same thing for Spanish and French. We have lot's of data on the languages to we might be able to do it.

If we only care about one area, it might be easier, such as sounds (phonology, phonetics, morphology) or grammar (syntax)

This questions can be really subjective too so, depending on how people pick important features to compare. Also "same configuration" could be different for different people who study different aspect of Linguistics (physcholinguistics, syntacticians, phoneticians, computational linguists :) )


Spanish and French are similar in syntax and close in vocabulary due to their latin origin, but they are very different in sound because standard French has a celtic substrat and a germanic superstrat. Since Spanish has a fairly conservative sound system and French has a very conservative orthography, that means that written Spanish is somewhat similar to written French, the grammar will look familiar to you. However, spoken French is incomprehensible to somebody who only speaks Spanish, since the French sound system is totally alien to Spanish and much more complex.


I learned French in school, but rarely use it. I never learned Spanish officially, but have picked up quite a bit of it through necessity as I provide pony rides for kids at a flea market, and many of the Mexican kids at the age of three or four have not picked up any English. Sometimes I encounter adult speakers of Spanish who don't know English. Occasionally I need a word or a verb form in Spanish and find that when guess at it through French or Latin I might possibly be right.

Some things are very close but others not at all. French question: "Ça va bien?" Spanish answer: "Si, muy bien."


I think anybody who is fluent in English, it means that about 50 percent of work has been done for learning French. Anybody who is fluent in French, it means that 75 percent of work has been done for learning Spanish.Aliazm Mohammadbeigy

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    Do you have any evidence for this claim? This looks like just randomly thrown in numbers without a scientific backround. And what exactly are these pecentages supposed to mean - 50% of vocabulary? 50% of grammar? 50% of deeper language-specific knowledge, like preferences of certain construction over others, idioms and cultural meaning subtleties? This is way too unspecific. Sep 23, 2016 at 14:59

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