French or Spanish – which is easier to learn?


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.