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What is the most difficult to learn ?
On the relative difficulty of learning french, italian, spanish and portuguese

Among people who speak more than one romance1 language, the discussion about which is the most difficult to learn recurrs regularly. As a native speaker of french who learned spanish and italian, I happen to be in this situation and this page is devoted to my observations on this point.

If you are considering a new language or have some ideas to share on this topic, this is the place.


Learning the first is the most difficult
If you already speak fluently a latin language, learning another is really easy. My own experience has been 6 months of pretty intense self study to learn spanish, and only 3 months for italian. I don't think that you can go much under 3 months, but on the other hand, if you need more than a year then you should definitely study differently.

What do they share in common ?
Most of the vocabulary is closely related between romance languages : je vais (french), Io vado (italian), voy (spanish), you don't need a doctoral thesis in comparative linguistics to get the picture.

What about confusion ?
This is où le bât blesse, because more or less everything is similar, you tend to use italian words in spanish, etc... I have a special page for methods of coping with this problem. Anyway, this is not so bad and after a few hours in one language, you get the rythm and confusion decreases. The hardest is to take calls alternatively in different but very similar languages and not make mistake.

What about latin?
I don't speak latin, but I think it would make great fun to see all the pieces fit together (like knowing the mother after you spent 10 years with the girl). Anyway, snobism mis à part, my opinion is that your time is better spent if you learn a living romance language instead of latin. You can still study latin in your old days, when you will have time, money and interest to visit the beautiful remains of this tremendous civilization. But unless you are an historian, I don't see the point in learning a difficult language that nobody speaks anymore when there are so many easier languages with cultures every bit as interesting, but living.

This the easiest, most useful and most logical of all romance languages. Orthograph is a breeze, grammar is as simple as can be, and vocabulary as bad as any romance language.

Orthograph is a bit trickier and pronunciation less regular than spanish but you'll love the language very quickly and the country that comes with it is well worth the trouble. For french speakers, this is a must, probably the closest language there's to french.

The most difficult, with a cumbersome orthograph frozen a few centuries ago, bizarre pronunciation and many, many exceptions. Nevertheless, some people think it's worth the trouble, be it because of the great litterature or the fantastic country (forget about Switzerland and Belgium, we speak everything there!).

I don't speak this language, but in writing it is very close to spanish. Pronunciation is probably a little more difficult for most people because of some vowels and strange consonants, otherwise the rest seems kosher.

More in my choosing your language page...

1 Romance or latin languages, are the living heirs of the latin spoken in the roman Empire. Today they include italian, spanish, french, portuguese, romanian and also retho-rumantsch, galician, catalan, sard and a load of italian dialects.

Languages | Return to FX Micheloud's homepage