Can Spanish Speakers Understand Italian?
Knowing if Spanish speakers can understand Italian is important if you’re a polyglot thinking about the next language you’ll tackle—or maybe you’re just curious about whether Spanish speakers can understand Italian or not.
The two languages do have similar words, phrases, and grammatical structures. This is because they’re both romance languages! But having a common ancestor might not be enough to facilitate communication between these languages.
Sometimes, having similar words isn’t enough to understand another language. Some Spanish speakers can understand Italian while others can’t. Certain factors that help us understand Italian better, and we’ll be exploring them in this blog post.
What is a Romance Language?
Both Italian and Spanish are romance languages. What does this mean?
Romance languages evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was spoken in the Mediterranean region during the first few centuries A.D. As with all languages, its evolution has been gradual and continuous.
Today, we have clear language barriers that help us outline the most prominent Romance languages: Italian, Spanish, Romanian, Portuguese, and French. Italian is the closest to Latin, followed by Spanish. Because they come from the same roots, there is bound to be overlap between certain aspects of Spanish and Italian.
To illustrate this, we can think about English and German, which are both Germanic languages. Words like “bring” and “bringen” share the same meaning. The same phenomenon happens between Italian and Spanish! Keep reading to learn more about similar words in Italian and Spanish.
Why Spanish Speakers Can Understand Italian
Spanish speakers can understand Italian for many different reasons. The two languages share similar vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Vowels in Italian are pronounced the same as in Spanish, and we both like to roll our Rs.
Since both languages are the closest to Latin, that means they are also the closest to each other.
Fun Fact: Italian and Spanish have a lexical similarity of over 80%! This means that 4 out of 5 words are similar in both languages.
If you take this into account, Italian and Spanish speakers should be able to understand each other perfectly, and they actually can!
I used to regularly hang out with Giammaica, a friend from Italy. We both spoke English, but we would often have entire conversations in Italian and Spanish, respectively. However, for this to work, we had to speak slowly and use simple vocabulary—mainly because of the critical differences between the languages.
Why Spanish Speakers Can’t Understand Italian
Italian and Spanish, though similar, are not the same language. If these two languages are over 80% similar, why can’t we understand each other all the time?
The accents are different, which can negatively impact a Spanish speaker’s understanding of Italian. We may have the same pronunciation, but the difference in accent can sometimes be too much for us to understand Italian.
Sometimes, accents can even impair understanding between speakers of the same language! For example, the Cuban accent is known for being fast and abbreviated, which may throw off a Spanish speaker from a country that speaks slower such as Mexico or Guatemala.
Going back to the previous example, my friend Giammaica and I would have regular conversations using our own languages, but when we hung out with our other Italian friend, Francesca, I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying.
Shared Words Between Italian and Spanish
A promise made is a promise kept! Let’s take a look at some similar words in Spanish and Italian.
|¿Cómo estás?||Come stai?||How are you?|
|Mío||Mio||Mine / My|
Can you spot the similarities? Even though some words are written differently, the way you pronounce them is almost the same. Hey, some words are even similar in English, as well! At this rate, our great-grandkids might be speaking a globalized language. If you want to see more words, check out this huge list of similar words in Italian and Spanish.
Which Language Should You Learn First?
If you want to learn both languages, there are many things to consider when choosing which one to start with. In terms of complexity, the languages are similar enough that learning either Spanish or Italian will help you learn the other one without the order making a difference.
Something important to keep in mind when looking for which language to learn is context. Where do you live? Are you planning on moving abroad soon? Answering these questions will help you decide which language to pick. For example, over 40 million people speak Spanish at home in the U.S., making Spanish the second most spoken language in the country. So, if you’re living in the U.S., learning Spanish will prove more useful than learning Italian.
If you’re planning to study abroad in Italy, or if you have Italian family and friends that you want to impress, then you should pick Italian instead. It all depends on your context, environment, and most importantly, your own desire to learn.
Learn a Language By Speaking It
Giammaica and I could understand each other because we had the patience to speak slowly and simply. With enough practice, I’m sure we could’ve gotten used to each other’s accents and pace—and learned some Spanish and Italian in the process.
To answer the question of whether Spanish speakers can understand Italian or not, the answer is: sometimes! Both languages are similar but different enough for many Italians to take Spanish lessons and vice versa.
Speaking slowly and clearly helps a lot, and it’s an effective way to better understand a new language. Finding the right person to practice with can be difficult. They have to have the patience and willingness to speak slowly and clearly to make themselves understood.
If you want to learn Spanish, our teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy are trained professionals. Not only will you get personalized education but also a friendly teacher who will help you take your Spanish skills to the next level. Why not see for yourself and take a free class? You might even learn some vocabulary that’s similar to your own language!
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