Spanish vs Italian: Which One Should You Learn?
Are Spanish and Italian similar? Are there many differences between Spanish and Italian?
Just how close is Italian to Spanish? Italian and Spanish have a lexical similarity of 82%, which means they’re highly similar.
While I personally think that Italian sounds more romantic than Spanish, Spanish is more practical than Italian since it’s spoken in 21 countries and it is the third-most common language on the internet.
Italian is an official language in six European countries: Italy, San Marino, the Vatican, Slovenia, Croatia, and Switzerland.
Which is more difficult, Spanish or Italian? In general, once you get the hang of them, neither one is difficult, but both have their different levels of complexity.
English speakers tend to have trouble pronouncing the rr and j in Spanish, while non-Italian speakers struggle pronouncing the “gli” correctly in Italian. The good news is, once you learn one, learning the other one will be easier.
Keep reading to decide which language you should learn: Spanish or Italian?
Why Are Spanish and Italian Similar?
Spanish and Italian are so similar thanks to the Roman Empire.
Rome grew, expanded and conquered throughout centuries and emperors. Anywhere they expanded and conquered, they turned into part of their empire. While they respected the conquered town’s customs, the official language of the Empire was Latin.
Between 218 B.C. and 19 B.C. Romans conquered Hispania (Spain). Before this, the people that inhabited the Iberian Peninsula (now Portugal, Spain, and Andorra) spoke prehispanic languages that came from Greek, Fenician and Punic. As the Roman Empire started conquering, they started imposing Latin over their new Roman citizens.
The Roman Empire fell several centuries later, and the Saxons took over Northern Europe, giving birth to languages such as English, German, Dutch, Norwegian, and Swedish. On the other hand, Southern Europe stuck with Latin, therefore French, Romanian, Galician, Catalonian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Italian were born.
Between 500 and 600 A.D. different forms of vulgar Latin started drifting apart even further and finally, in 800 A.D. they were completely different. But, just like English, they evolved over the years.
FUN FACT: Hispania, España, or Spain means “land of the rabbits.”
Brief History of Italian
Italian was born more or less, directly from the vulgar Latin. The first texts written in Italian are from 960 A.D. Afterwards, Sicilian poets started publishing their creations in Italian, and afterwards, Dante Alighieri created what was the most important book in Italian: La Divinna Comedia (The Divine Comedy).
Brief History of Spanish
After the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century, Spaniards started popularizing Romantic Castillian, a language that they spoke in the region of Castilla. Afterwards, Arabs invaded Spain for eight centuries. In 1200 A.D., King Alfonso X El Sabio (the wise Alphonse the 10th) standardized the Spanish language throughout Spain.
It later expanded to the Americas when Spain conquered Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America.
FUN FACT: Virtually every word in Spanish starting with “al” (such as almohada – pillow) comes from Arabic.
Similarities Between Spanish and Italian
Since Spanish and Italian both come from Latin, it’s natural that they share many words that are the same or similar: cognates.
Here are a few nouns that are similar or the same in Spanish and Italian.
|el amigo (friend)||l’amico|
|el apartamento (apartment)||l’apartamento|
|la camisa (shirt)||la camicia|
|la canción (song)||la canzone|
|el lago (lake)||il lago|
|la luz (light)||la luce|
|el muro (wall)||il muro|
|la música (music)||la musica|
|la pera (pear)||la pera|
|la roca (rock)||la roccia|
|el semáforo (traffic light)||il semaforo|
These verbs are similar in Spanish and Italian:
|ayudar (to help)||aiutare|
|beber (to drink)||bere|
|caminar (to walk)||camminare|
|correr (to run)||correre|
|dormir (to sleep)||dormire|
|escribir (to write)||scrivere|
|estar (to be)||stare|
|leer (to read)||leggere|
|nadar (to swim)||nuotare|
|salvar (to save)||salvare|
|ser (to be)||essere|
|ver (to see)||vedere|
|volar (to fly)||volare|
PRO TIP: Not everything you read is pronounced exactly the same with an e at the end. Italian, just like Spanish, has its own spelling and pronunciation rules. For example, when in Italian, “sce” or an “sci” sound like “she” or “shi.”
Differences Between Spanish and Italian
Now, let’s look at some of the main differences between these two beautiful languages.
|la almohada (pillow)||il cuscino|
|la cama (bed)||il letto|
|la cuchara (spoon)||il cucchiaio|
|el cuchillo (knife)||il coltello|
|el mantel (tablecloth)||la tovaglia|
|la manzana (apple)||la mela|
|el pepino (cucumber)||il cetriolo|
|la pimienta (pepper)||il peppe|
|la sala (living room)||il soggiorno|
|la sandía (watermelon)||l’auguria|
|el tenedor (fork)||la forchetta|
|el tomate (tomato)||il pomodoro|
|el vaso (glass)||il bicchiere|
False cognates are words that look and sound similar in two languages but do not mean the same thing. Watch out for these false cognates in Italian and Spanish.
Aceite vs. Aceto
Aceite means oil, but “aceto” means vinegar. The way to say oil in Italian is “olio.”
Burro vs. Burro
Burro means donkey in Spanish, but in Italian “burro” means butter.
Caldo vs. Caldo
Caldo in Spanish means broth, but “caldo” in Italian means hot.
Caro vs. Caro
Caro in Spanish means expensive, but in Italian it means dear.
Carta vs. Carta
Carta in Spanish means letter, but in Italian it means paper.
Demandar vs. Domandare
Demandar in Spanish means to demand or to sue, in Italian, however “domandare” means to ask (a question).
Oso vs. Osso
In Spanish oso means bear. In Italian “osso” means bone.
Prender vs. Prendere
In Spanish prender means to turn on. In Italian “prendere” means to grab.
Salir vs. Salire
In Spanish, salir means to go out. In Italian “salire” means to go up.
Todavía vs. Tuttavia
In Spanish, todavía means “still” or “yet.” In Italian “tuttavia” means “nevertheless” or “however”.
Voto vs. Vuoto
In Spanish voto means I vote. In Italian “vuoto”means empty.
Days of the Week
The days of the week in both languages come from celestial bodies.
- Monday, the day of the moon
- Tuesday, the day of Mars
- Wednesday, the day of Mercury
- Thursday, the day of Jupiter
- Friday, the day of Venus
- Saturday, the day of Saturn
- Sunday, the day of the Sun or the day of the Creator
Here are the days of the week in Spanish and Italian.
Do Spanish and Italian share more things? Yes! Interrogative pronouns are highly similar. In English they are: what, who, whose, whom, and which. Let’s see these question words in Spanish and Italian.
|¿quién?/¿quiénes? (who or whom)||chi?|
|¿cuál?/¿cuáles? (which one/which ones)||quale?/quali?|
|¿cuánto?/¿cuánta?/¿cuántos?/¿cuántas? (how many/how much)||quanto?/quanta?/quanti?/quante?|
Grammar in Spanish and Italian is similar as well. Both languages share about the same amount of tenses and speakers use them for fairly the same things. Italian uses il congiuntivo (the subjunctive mood).
If you’ve paid attention so far to the words you’ve learned, you’ve seen that they seem to have genders, and that’s because they do, in both languages. Most of the time, when words do not end in “a” in Spanish, they are masculine, this is usually the same case in Italian. But it can get a little bit trickier in Italian.
In Spanish, if a word doesn’t end in “a” it is usually masculine singular – el cuchillo (the knife)
If it ends in “os” it’s a masculine plural – los cuchillos (the knives)
If it ends in “a” it’s a femenine singular – la mesa (the table)
If it ends in “as” it’s a femenine plural – las mesas (the tables)
In Italian, plurals are slightly different.
The “o” is usually for masculine singular – “il coltello” (the knife).
We turn that “o” into an “i” to make it masculine plural. For example “i coltelli” (the knives).
To talk about femenine in Italian, we usually use the “a”. For example “la tavola” (the table).
To make the femenine plural, we use the “e”. For example “le tavole” (the tables).
Both Spanish and Italian use articles, but there are a few situations in which one or the other language uses or doesn’t use them. For example, in Italian, every country has an article in front of it, so Italians say “il Messico” (something like The Mexico), whereas in Spanish we only say México.
However, in many cases the articles are similar in both languages, but in this case, Italian is more complicated than Spanish.
|Article in Spanish||Use|
In Italian there are a bit more, specially for masculines, check them out:
|Article in Italian||Use|
|il||singular masculine when the word starts in a consonant|
|l’||singular masculine or feminine when the word starts in a vowel|
|lo||singular masculine when the word starts in: s + consonant, ps, x, gn, or z.|
|la||singular feminine when the word starts in a consonant|
|i||plural masculine when the word starts in a consonant|
|gli||plural masculine when the word starts in a vowel, s+ consonant, ps, x, gn, or z.|
Learn Spanish With Us!
In conclusion, Italian and Spanish are highly similar. If you learn one, learning the other one will be much easier for you. However, Italian seems to be a little bit trickier than Spanish once you start getting deep into the comparison.
While learning Spanish or Italian might land you a better paycheck at the end of the month and boost your cognitive and decision-making abilities, Spanish will also open the door to more than 53 million people who live in the U.S. and already speak Spanish!
Why not dive in and try a free trial class with Homeschool Spanish Academy? We offer tailored 1-to-1 lessons, earned high school credit, and different pricing plans. Engage in a real-time conversation with our friendly, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala!
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– William R, Parent of 3
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