Spanish and Italian are very similar languages, yet each has its own identity. From their rules to how they sound, there are several small differences between them. But if you’re smart about learning them, it doesn’t have to be an issue.
Spanish and Italian share most of their vocabulary and have very similar grammar. They’re both Romance languages, which means they’re derived from Latin. Their pronunciation features the same sounds. Spanish is slightly easier, but it’s possible to learn both simultaneously.
This article will walk you through what you should expect when learning either or both of these languages, especially if you don’t speak any Romance language.
Italian and Spanish derived from Latin, which makes them romance languages. So, you’ll find many similarities between them, and their grammar is no exception.
Like English, both languages have a subject-verb-object sentence structure. Verb tenses work similarly in Spanish and Italian, although the exact tenses differ.
Spanish and Italian are inflective languages, meaning they change words to convey grammatical information. In the case of verb conjugation, this means changing its suffix according to its tense.
Conjugation is one of the trickiest parts of romance languages. Spanish is very regular, so it gets significantly easier once you get the rules right.
Italian, however, is more irregular. You’ll have to keep track of many exceptions and tenses that work differently than the rest. On top of that, you’ll have to deal with a few more tenses than in Spanish.
This makes Italian grammar slightly harder than Spanish grammar. However, their similarities far outweigh any differences.
Listening and Speaking
Italian and Spanish can sound very similar to someone who isn’t used to them. And for good reasons! They share all their consonant sounds, with only small variations. The same goes for their 5 vowels.
Both languages are relatively easy to pronounce. You can find almost all the sounds of Spanish and Italian inside English.
If you don’t speak another romance language, you might find it hard at first to get used to the rhythm of Italian and Spanish. Unlike in English, syllables always have more or less the same length.
Overall, Spanish is perhaps slightly easier to pronounce because vowels have less variation and word stress is more predictable.
Spelling and Writing
Italian and Spanish are extremely phonetic. Things are almost always pronounced the same way. If you know how to say it, you know how to spell it, and vice versa.
This is especially true for Spanish. All its consonants are straightforward, except for s, c, and z, which may or may not change pronunciation depending on the Spanish variety you’re learning.
The Italian alphabet has fewer letters than the Spanish alphabet, but it combines some consonants to create different sounds. For example, you’ll need to learn to differentiate c from ch and cc.
These sounds are also in Spanish, but each has its own single letter, with few exceptions. Consider the tricky ñ sound. In Spanish, it’s written as “ñ,” but in Italian, it’s written as “gn.”
When it comes to vowels, both languages are equally straightforward. Italian has long versions for vowel sounds that sit at the end of some words, but they don’t count as distinct vowels.
Italian and Spanish have very similar vocabulary, with a lexical similarity of 82%. So, if you know Spanish vocabulary, many words will translate with little difference to Italian, and vice versa.
Both languages take over 70% of their words from Latin. In fact, Italian takes so many things from Latin that it could be considered its natural continuation. Spanish went through a rougher road, taking a lot of influence from Arabic and local languages.
If you’re learning both languages, be wary of false cognates. These are words that exist in both languages but mean different things.
Take the Italian aceto and the Spanish aceite. These words share the same root and sound very similar, so you would think they mean the same thing. However, aceto means vinegar, while aceite means oil.
Which One Is More Useful?
When it comes to professional usefulness, Spanish comes out winning. With 543 million speakers, it’s the 4th most spoken language globally. Meanwhile, Italian sits at 27th with 68 million speakers. However, if you’d like to work as a translator or interpreter, Italian-English is a much more valuable pair than Spanish-English.
If you like art, learning Italian will open the doors to some of the greatest western art ever made. You have literary cornerstones like Dante and modern classics like Italo Calvino. It’s also the perfect excuse to delve into Renaissance art and architecture.
If you like reading current stuff, then Spanish might be a better pick. Latin American literature is one of the strongest in the world today, and Spanish-written literature also carries a long and rich history.
The good news is that you don’t really have to choose between the two languages. Because they’re so similar, much of what you learn for one will be applicable for the other. As a result, it’s perfectly feasible to learn both at the same time!
Even if you prefer to go one by one, you’ll find it easy to learn Spanish after learning Italian or vice versa. Just make sure to keep an eye on false cognates and Italian’s extra verb tenses.