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I am often asked this question. I have wondered about it myself over many years of language learning and teaching without arriving at a definitive answer.
There is undoubtedly a perception amongst native English speakers both in the USA and the UK that Spanish, the second most widely spoken language in the world, is the easier language to learn.
It can be argued that for the first two years or so of learning Spanish is easier than French. Pronunciation is simpler; each vowel has one way of being pronounced and while consonants can have variations there are easy to follow rules to guide students. In contrast French has many silent letters, more irregular verbs and that complicated numbering system (vingt-et-un, soixante-douze). To express negatives a simple Spanish “no” is easier than French’s two part “ne…..pas”.
However, Spanish gets more complicated than French further into the learning journey; it has more tenses and moods and the dreaded subjunctive is more complex and more common in Spanish. These are just two examples.
The reality is that neither is easier than the other. Both have sounds that can be difficult for English speakers and both have the challenge of masculine and feminine words which can be very confusing initially!
Much will come down to your own motivations to learn a particular language, your affinity to a particular country or culture and your experience of language learning to date.
I have always leaned towards French and found it easier and more natural. That is because I started learning and enjoying it four years before I started any Spanish at school and my initial Spanish experience was less than inspiring! Since then I have lived, worked and played in France and had truly immersive experiences; much as I love Spanish my experience has almost all been in a classroom environment with short visits to Spain and Central America for work and holidays. Lots of them but not as immersive. You will notice that my preference has nothing to do with the grammar or issues outlined above but more to do with the experience and context of my learning.
My advice is to go for the language that interests you rather than the one you think is easier. Each will present its own challenges and satisfaction. If you are feeling ambitious then once you have a grounding in one, the second will seem easier. Good luck!
Did you know?
Over 400million people speak Spanish and over 220million speak French worldwide.
Spanish is the official language of 21 countries, French of 29.
Both are Romance languages of Latin origin.
Over the many years I have learned and taught French and Spanish I have heard no end of reasons “not to” learn another language or why someone “cannot” take up the challenge. If I had a Euro for each one, including from intelligent individuals, I would be writing this in warmer climes with a cool beer rather than caffeine!
Few, if any, have had any validity. I have just idly scribbled down a few of the many reasons “to” discover the pleasure and benefits language learning can bring.
Here are five, in no particular order:
1. Enjoy speaking, or just attempting, the local language when travelling and enrich your experience. Create more meaningful connections and stand out less as the obvious tourist!
2. Open yourself to greater job opportunities. The world continues to change fast and I am not just thinking of Brexit. An increasing companies do business globally and outward looking progressive organisations look for employees with an ability in at least one other language. Make your application stand out!
3. Boost your Brain! Study after study demonstrate the benefits learning a language brings in terms of memory improvement and concentration. It works your grey matter in the way exercise works your muscles and circulation!
4. Enjoy the satisfaction of realising you can do it! One of my greatest joys as a tutor is giving students the confidence and showing them what they are capable of.
5. Discover and enjoy new cultures. I love foreign language films and television programmes. I can’t always speak the language, take the recent Scandinavian thrillers such as The Killing and The Bridge for example, but I enjoy the insight into other countries’ writing, beyond the scenery! In the 1980s I discovered the pleasure of going to the cinema in Spain and, more often, France. Some of the films that made an impression on me then remain among my favourites today such as “Les Ripoux”, “Subway” and “Jean de Florette”.
What do you think?
I turned 50 recently, a young 50 I hope but 50 nevertheless. It didn’t bother me too much but it is a significant number nevertheless; even taking a best case scenario I am probably well over half way through this wonderful life.
This milestone and one or two other incidents have focussed my thoughts on the time I have left and more specifically the working life I have remaining with which to achieve something positive, creative and on my terms.
I have been working for other people for as good as 30 years. A lot of different people in a variety of commercial, teaching and public service environments but always within a big organisation with all that that brings, both positive and negative.
I am lucky – I have many interests in life and a lovely family. I will never be short of things to do or people to share those activities with. I have loved languages since I was about 12 and travelling from as far back as I can remember; the planning and the journey as much as the destination.
I have long talked, and bored those around me, about starting a project myself. Most of my ideas were fanciful and unrealistic. However ten minutes into 2016 I made a Cava fuelled New Year’s resolution in a village square in Spain to stop talking about it and do something.
Unusually, I have kept the resolution, taken that tentative first step and created my small but growing language tuition service. I have loved working with my new clients this year and getting to grips with the challenges of marketing, Facebook and now my own website. It has given me a refreshing sense of satisfaction and achievement! Thank you to all those who have supported and encouraged me.
This blog will contain my reflections as I move forward on this journey and my thoughts on learning languages and words and phrases that interest me. No doubt it will stray into the world of foreign language film and TV as well as my travels and the many places I have been lucky enough to visit.
A bientôt! ¡Hasta luego!