Easiest Romance Languages, According to a Linguist
Dozens of romance languages evolved from Latin, but the main ones are: Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian and Romanian. As a group, they're very popular for people seeking to reap the benefits of being bilingual (or even multilingual), which include a better attention span, career advantages and easier communication while traveling.
We spoke to Dr. Rosario Gómez, a linguistics professor at the University of Guelph, to see how easy it is for English speakers to learn each Romance language. She notes that the ease of picking up a new language depends on several factors, highlighting positive transfer (the words and features you already know), opportunities for exposure and personal motivation.
With this in mind, she helped us rank the easiest romance languages to learn for English speakers, starting with...
No. of speakers: 24 million
Mainly spoken in: Romania, Moldova
How Easy Is Romanian?
Many people are surprised to learn that Romanian came from Latin since it sounds so different from its sister languages. This is because it's also heavily influenced by Slavic languages.
Romanian's uniqueness is endearing, but it also makes it the hardest of all romance languages. Dr. Gómez points out that Romanian has seven vowels and two diphthongs (two vowel sounds together). Plus, you'll need real motivation to practice since it's spoken mainly in just two countries.
That said, learning Romanian won't be as hard if you know Spanish or other Romance languages since they share many similarities.
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No. of speakers: 300 million
Mainly spoken in: France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, Canada, Western Africa
How Easy Is French?
According to Dr. Gómez, the advantage of French is that it shares many words with English, as it was the language of the elite for hundreds of years.
French's long stint as the lingua franca also ensured that words seeped into our everyday life (think "déjà vu," "brunette" or "cabaret"). Practice isn't too difficult. You'll find French schools in every major city in the world. And because it is the second most-studied romance language, you can find speakers wherever you are.
So, why does French come in fourth place? Because the grammar is complicated. Take it from someone who's spent years learning this language. You have 12 vowel sounds (plus some nasal vowels) and 21 verb tenses — some of which you'll only use when reading formal or historical texts.
Despite these complications, French is a beautiful and incredibly rewarding language, so the effort is worth it.
No. of speakers: 200 million
Mainly spoken in: Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Angola, Mozambique
How Easy Is Portuguese?
Dr. Gómez actually considers French and Portuguese to be tied in terms of difficulty for English speakers, but we've placed Portuguese higher because of French's dizzying verb tense maze.
Some words in Portuguese have undergone more drastic changes from their Latin roots than in other romance languages — particularly when it comes to sounds. (To be fair, this has also happened in French.)
That said, this language only has five simple vowels and a couple of nasalized vowels. It has extra letters (like "ç"), like French and Romanian, but nothing too hard to understand.
Many English speakers may not have been exposed to the language, as Portugal and Brazil haven't widely exported their music, films and culture into the Anglophone world.
You won't find as many opportunities to practice Portuguese outside the countries where it's spoken. But it won't be impossible to find language classes or at least people who are enthusiastic about it.
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No. of speakers: 65 million
Mainly spoken in: Italy, Switzerland
How Easy Is Italian?
The second-easiest romance language is Italian, as ranked by Dr. Gómez. She cites the hold of Italian culture over English speakers (and, let's be real, the world) as one of the main factors.
Many of the words that exist for food, music and architecture come from Italian (like, "macchiato," "opera," and "cupola"). And while Italian cinema and modern singers aren't as popular as they were in the mid-20th century, they still constitute well-known cultural classics.
Italian has seven vowel sounds, so it's fairly easy to learn pronunciations. The main difference between the Italian alphabet and the English one is that the former has some double consonants. Besides, what better motivation could you have than following Audrey Hepburn's footsteps and having your own Roman holiday?
No. of speakers: 500 million
Mainly spoken in: Spain, Latin America (except Brazil), the Caribbean
How Easy Is Spanish?
If you're keen on learning a romance language and want to focus on the easiest and most practical for English speakers, choose Spanish. Dr. Gómez estimates that English has a high level of similarity with Spanish due to shared Latin influences and the large number of English-based words that are now used in Spanish.
Yes, conjugations are complicated, but they're not any more challenging than the other languages of this group, and Spanish only has five vowels and 22 consonants. Its big advantage over, say, French, is that it's phonetic, meaning that words are pronounced how they are written. Once you know the alphabet, you'll be able to pronounce almost any word in Spanish, even if it's your first time seeing it.
Besides, practicing the language is easy, especially if you live in the U.S., which has the second-largest population of native Spanish speakers in the world (after Mexico). And if you want to travel for the language, you can choose from over 20 countries where it's spoken. Spanish-language shows like "Money Heist" and singers like Bad Bunny and Shakira also make exposure easy and, more importantly, fun.
Just a word of caution: Each Hispanophone country has a different variety of Spanish, so be prepared for some hilarious misunderstandings.
General Advice for Learning a Language
No matter what language you learn, some strategies make the process faster and easier. Dr. Gómez recommends repetition and consistency. Apps like Duolingo, Babel or the Rosetta Stone can help train your brain by repeating the same exercise until it clicks.
She also believes in the power of exposure. Listening to music in your target language, reading news or literature out loud, and watching shows or movies with subtitles (first in English and then, eventually, in the language itself) are all good habits to cultivate.
Ideally, you should also find someone that can help you practice. And if possible, immerse yourself in a country where the language is spoken. Learning a language is the perfect excuse to book a trip!