Traveling the world, learning languages, and immersing myself in new cultures.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

French vs. Spanish: Which This American Thinks Is Harder To Learn

Like any good comparative article, I'll present the pros and cons of why I think each language is harder than the other to learn. Now is a good time for me to write this, as my Spanish and French capabilities are about even (though Spanish is slowly overtaking French, due to more use). Obviously, this is from an American's point of view, so it will be loud and obnoxious, with as much ethnocentrism as possible, yet somehow still awesome. Enjoy. 

Why French is easier

1. Inversion for questions makes it easier to know when a question is being asked, like we do in English. Inversion in Spanish does not exist. 
Nous allons à la maison = We are going home 
Allons-nous à la maison? = Are we going home?

2. One past tense suffices for most cases. In Spanish, the past tense is more sensitive to time and has more options.
Ce matin, j'ai parlé avec ma mère = This morning, I spoke with my mother = Esta mañana, he hablado con mi madre 
Hier, j'ai parlé avec ma mère = Yesterday, I spoke with my mother = Ayer, hablé con mi madre

3. It is possible to avoid subjunctive in French, or at least spoken, it often sounds equivalent to the present, so if you don't know subjunctive... yes you do. It is impossible to avoid in Spanish, and it always sounds different.
(present) Tu joues ce soir = You play tonight = Juegas esta noche
(subjunctive) J'espere que tu joues ce soir = I hope you play tonight = Ojalá que juegues esta noche 

Why French is harder

1. French has more accents, which makes spelling harder. Though Spanish accents are also a pain in the butt, at least there is only one kind.
Examples of the five French accents are: à, hôtel, fée, maïs, garçon 
Example of the one Spanish accent is: él

2. Negation is a pain in written French with its compound ne...pas, ne...rien, etc. You can get by omitting words when speaking, but when writing, it has to be done correctly. 
Je ne veux pas aller = I don't want to go = No quiero ir 
Personne ne veux jamais rien de toi = No one ever wants anything from you = Nadie quiere nunca nada de tí
(jamais = ever and never = alguna vez y nunca/jamás)

3. French spelling is not like the pronunciation. This doesn't mean Spanish pronunciation is easier, it just isn't as complexing to pair the written sounds with the spoken words.
Je vais jouer dans la forêt avec mes amis (zhe vay zhu-ay dahn lah fo-ray ah-vehk may zah-me) 
= I am going to play in the forest with my friends  
= Voy a jugar en el bosque con mis amigos (boy ah hoo-gar ihn el boh-skay cohn meese ah-me-goes)

4. "Dr P & Mrs Vandertramp" is the acronym for the most common of the French irregular verbs that use être instead of avoir in the past. Though the acronym is very useful, one must memorize these verbs, plus remember that all reflexive verbs are also conjugated with être. All Spanish verbs are conjugated with haber or the indefinite tense, in the past. 
Je suis sorti hier = I went out last night = Salí anoche 
J'ai sorti la voiture = I took the car out = He sacado el coche 
Je me suis sorti de cette situation = I made it through that situation = He superado esa situación 

5. French "u". It's so subtle you can barely hear the difference between "ou" and "u", which is why most foreign speakers just make them the same sound.
Voulez-vous aller avec nous? (Voo-lay voo ah-lay ah-vehk noo) = Do you want to come with us?
As-tu vu le sucre? (Ah tew vew luh sewkr) = Have you seen the sugar? 

6. Numbers. 
English  97 = 90 + 7 
Spanish  97 = 90 + 7 
French  97 = (4 x 20) + 10 + 7 
Belgian French  97 = 90 + 7

French verdict: -3

Why Spanish is easier

1. Present continuous has a specific construct, the same as English. French is more simple, but somehow harder. I find myself using en train de ("in the middle of") a lot in French, when hoping to give emphasis of an action I'm doing now, or when translating directly from English.
Estoy cocinando = I'm cooking = Je cuisine 
Cocino = I cook = Je cuisine

2. The Spanish have a very useful tool to start any expression: que. You can literally put any subjunctive word after que and it immediately is a hope or wish. In French, there are specific expressions to do this, and in English, we have to build an entire sentence.
Que descanses = (I hope that you) Rest well = Reposes-toi bien
Que aproveche = Have a good meal = Bon apetit 
Que lo pases bien = Hope everything goes well for you = Passe un bon moment

3. The Spanish swear up and down that their language is easy because you say it how it is written. This just makes it easier to read Spanish out loud without fear of making errors. In French, there is a lot that is written that isn't said.
Las chicas están en el castillo (Lahs chee-kas es-tan in el cah-stee-yoh)= The girls are in the castle = Les filles sont dans le chateau (lay fee sohn dahn luh shah-toe)  
if it were read in Spanish (less fee-yes sohnt dahnce lay chah-tay-ah-oo)

4. Another time when French being simpler (in this case, closer to English) actually makes it less easy than Spanish, is obligated pronouns.
Están listos They are ready = Ils sont prêts 
Veo que juegas = I see that you play = Je vois que tu joues  

Why Spanish is harder

1. The bane (la cruz) of my Spanish is ser vs estar. There are just so many things to say about this, but I won't go too deep into it. "To be" is maybe the most common verb in any language, and the Spanish wanted to complicate it. 
Estoy contento = I am happy = Je suis content 
Soy profesor = I am a teacher = Je suis professeur

2. Spanish is loaded with so many tenses and moods and conjugations - more than French. Honestly, why are there two different ways to say the past perfect subjunctive?
Si hubiera ido, ellas hubieran ido también = Si hubiese ido, ellas hubiesen ido también 
= If I had gone, they (girls) would have gone too 
= Si je serais allé, elles seraient allées aussi

3. Rolling the Spanish "r" is harder than the also difficult French back-of-the-throat "r". The soft "r" in Spanish is still stronger than the English "r", but about on par with the French "r".
Perro (peh-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr-oh) = dog = chien 
Pero (peh-rrrrrr-oh) = but = mais 
Muy = Very = Très (t-rrrrcchhh-*phlegm*-eh)

4. The lisp. It's technically not a lisp, but it untechnically, very much is. 
Lucía es zurda y tomó una cerveza en Zaragoza (loo-ssthee-yah ehs ssthoor-dah ee toh-moh oo-nah ssther-bay-ssthah ihn ssthah-rah-go-ssthah) 
= Lucía is left-handed and had a beer in Zaragoza

5. Double vowel sounds are difficult to pronounce, especially in the middle of a sentence.
aula (AH-oo-lah)   
oído (oh-EE-doh)  
distribuir (dih-strih-byou-eer) 
huella (way-ah)

6. I learned French first. All its idiosyncrasies make learning Spanish a bit harder, as I have to learn to not apply them to Spanish. Many of the reasons that Spanish speakers find French difficult, are the things I now get, and are like second nature to me... ok maybe third nature.

Spanish verdict: -2


My numbers show that French is slightly harder. Furthermore, after studying Spanish quite intensely for the last year, my Spanish abilities are easily on par with, or better than my French skills, which were obtained over many years. However, I have a bias toward French, since it was my first foreign language, and therefore, is the basis for which I judge every other language I learn, but, against Spanish, it is more difficult to learn. 

What do you think?

Do you speak either French or Spanish, or both? Which is harder for you? I am certain I missed some key points and I'd like you, the reader, to clue me in via the comments. Maybe I even made a mistake? Unlikely, but I challenge you to find them!  

For more Spanish articles, go here.

For more French articles, go here.

Location: Pamplona, Navarre, Spain


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