Are you undecided as to whether you want to learn how to speak Italian or Spanish? Read on to see the ultimate showdown between Italian and Spanish to help you decide which one you want to study.
Similarities Between Italian and Spanish
Let’s start with some of the main similarities between the two languages.
- Both Italian and Spanish are Romance languages.
- Both roll their double Rs (majority of accents)
- They both have the masculine and feminine forms.
What about audience? If you are concerned with using your new language to reach a greater worldwide audience or market, then by far you will find Spanish wins with more than 400 million native speakers. Italian has more than 60 million native speakers. If you live in Europe, then Italian is more common than Spanish. In the Americas, Spanish is widespread and useful.
So which is easiest language to learn? According to the US Foreign Service, both Spanish and Italian are ‘Category I’ languages. These languages would require about half a year of intensive study (about 25 hours a week) for monolingual English speakers.
If you learn one, it will be easy to learn the other. You’ll find that Italian and Spanish share about 80 percent of the same vocabulary.
Examples of Similar Vocabulary Between Italian and Spanish
Since about 80 percent of the vocabulary is similar between Italian and Spanish, let’s take a look at some examples. Spanish will add an ‘i’ to some Italian words, such as in concierto / tiempo. Remove the ‘i’ and you have the Italian concerto / tempo. Italian uses a ’t’ and Spanish may replace it with a ‘d’. Verdad / verità. Also notice the word endings. You’ll see Italian ends in ‘à’ as in comunità and Spanish has comunidad. Also Spanish doesn’t generally do double letters except for double L and double R. Double LL in the dictionary is its own letter, in alphabetical order between L and M.
Differences Between Italian and Spanish
Now let’s get into some differences.
Italians love to end their words in a vowel. Whether you’re talking about the verbs: -ire, -are, -ere (Spanish verb endings are -ir, -ar, -er) or about the everyday words, giardino, cielo, strada, casa, and their plurals, giardini, cieli, strade, case, Italian is more likely than Spanish to end in a vowel. The Spanish equivalents of the above words are: jardin, ciel, calle, casa and in the plural this is jardines, cielos, calles, casas.
Speaking of casa, the pronunciation of this word is different in Italian and Spanish, even though it is written the same in both languages and means ( ‘house’ in both languages. In Italian it is pronounced ka-za. In Spanish it is pronounced kas-sa. If you said kas-sa in Italian, then you are talking about the cassa which is the cash register, that would be the caja, in Spanish.
At first glance, Italian and Spanish have the same main vowel sounds: A, E, I, O, U. There is an important difference though. Italian also has what is known as a closed ‘e’ in addition to the open ‘e’ that it shares with Spanish.
Some examples of the closed ‘e’ in Italian include: pesca and pesca. Mamma Mia! When you say pesca with an open ‘e’ it means ‘peach’ and when you say it with a closed ‘e’ it means ‘fishing’. To hear the differences between the two ways to say pesca, listen to both on Forvo. The differences between the Italian open and closed ‘e’ are also found in the Italian words for the number ‘seven’ and in the word ‘silk’, which are sette and seta. While sette uses an open ‘e’, seta uses a closed ‘e’.
When we learn a language, it’s always fun to notice the ‘false friends’, which are words that you would think are the same or similar, but are quite different. For example, in English ‘embarrassed’ is NOT embarazada in Spanish. Embarazada means ‘pregnant’ and is one of favorite examples that Spanish teachers will give their students when they talk about false friends, because it can create the most ridiculous of misunderstandings.
Some good false friends to be aware of between Italian and Spanish include:
- Barato — Italian: cheated. Spanish: cheap
- Burro — Italian: butter. Spanish: donkey
- Pesca — Italian: peach (when open ‘e’). Spanish: fishing (when it’s a closed ‘e’, it also means fishing in Italian)
- Salire/Salir — Italian: go up. Spanish: to leave
- Seta — Italian: silk. (closed ‘e’) Spanish: mushroom
Music and Culture
Becoming fluent in Spanish will open you up to the world of music in the Spanish language. You’ll be able to impress people by singing songs in Spanish language, all the way from Cielito Lindo, to the Macarena and up to Despacito and beyond.
Becoming fluent in Italian will open you up to world of Festival San Remo and of opera. You’ll be able to follow the music of Italian pop stars Zucchero, Jovanotti, and Eros Ramazzotti. In addition you’ll be able to learn the operas of Italian opera composers Bellini, Donizzetti, Puccini, Rossini and Verdi. Italians became leaders in opera, but Spanish composers never developed opera on the level of the Italians If you become fluent in Spanish, you’ll instead have the option of understanding Zarzuela, which is a mixture of song and dialogue that you might compare to Italian opera to some extent.
Using the Past Tense in Italian and Spanish
Italian’s use the past tense with the verbs avere (to have) and essere (to be) + the verb that you are speaking about in the past tense. Spanish past tense is just the verb you are speaking about. So in Italian, it works a lot like French. (Also Dutch and German consider states of being for the past tense) When something is a state of being, you use the verb essere before using the past tense of the verb. Examples include: sono andato and siamo stati. This means ‘I went’ and ‘we were’. Because these are states of being, the past tense of the verb is similar to an adjective and you need to match it into singular, plural, masculine and feminine. In Spanish you don’t have to worry about this. To say ‘I went’ in Spanish is (yo) fuí and ‘we were’ is (nosotros) éramos.
The Subjunctive Mood
The subjunctive mood is much more common in Spanish than it is in Italian. Many Italians aren’t concerned about whether people use the subjunctive mood correctly and some will speak in ways that make it unnecessary to use the subjunctive mood. If you’re interested in learning about the Italian subjunctive mood, check out this post from Italian Language Learning. In Spanish, the subjunctive is common in everyday speech. So you’ll need to spend some extra time to learn when and how to learn it. This guide from SpanishDict will help you get started.
Should I Learn How to Speak Italian or Spanish?
There is a debate as to whether you can learn both Italian and Spanish at the same time. Elisa Polese presented at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2016 about the subject as teaching several languages at the same time is a technique she shares with her students.
I hope you enjoyed this ultimate showdown on whether you should learn how to speak Italian or Spanish. Which will you learn?
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