The general consensus is that Spanish is easier than French, but many learners of both languages will tell you otherwise. I believe the perception that Spanish is easier was likely born in the United States, where due to the proximity to Mexico the influence of Spanish is much more widespread. In fact, the U.S. is currently the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. So there’s no doubt English-speaking Americans are more exposed to it than they are to French.
As someone who has studied both languages, I don’t believe that Spanish is any easier than French. I believe that your experience of each will depend on how your brain works and which concepts you tend to be more comfortable with as a learner. One thing’s for sure. If you’re currently deciding which one to learn, you should not base your decision on which is ‘easier’. Because ultimately, there’s no winner. And here’s why.
One of the biggest arguments in favour of Spanish being the easier language is pronunciation. Spanish is a phonetic language, meaning that what you see is generally what you get. All the vowels have distinct sounds, and although some of the consonants can have two or more pronunciations there are strict rules for those depending on where they fall in the word and which letters follow. The sheer fact that s is always pronounced makes it easier to detect plurals. It also helps you notice when someone is addressing you.
French pronunciation is made tougher by silent letters and a lot of exceptions. You can never be 100% sure how a new word will be pronounced just by looking at it. French also features liaisons, in which the pronunciation of a word changes slightly depending on which word follows. This can make it harder to understand.
That said, Spanish includes a trilled R which can be excruciatingly difficult for an English speaker to pick up. Although French can get pretty nasally at times, I think these sounds are easier for beginners than the trilled R.
The pronunciation of both languages can vary a lot from country to country. But in Spanish it’s probably worse, especially when you consider that Argentines pronounce the ll as a “sh” sound while in most countries it’s pronounced like a “y”. They also use a different second-person pronoun, using “vos” instead of “tu”. Quebec French is a different dialect to that spoken in French, but it’s mostly an accent thing and you adjust to it pretty fast after a few months of living in Quebec.
If the subjunctive annoys you in French, wait til you get to it in Spanish. The Spanish subjunctive tense has multiple conjugations and is used more frequently.
In fact, there are generally more tenses to learn in Spanish and native speakers seem to use all of them. French has 11 tenses that are used regularly, while Spanish has 14. In French, for example, the present continuous doesn’t really exist – you just use the present. And although the pretérito seems easier on paper than the passé compose, the conjugations can take a while to learn fluently. Coming to Spanish after French, I really missed the passé compose. All you need to know are the conjugations for avoir and être, and a single past-participle for each verb.
In Spanish, the subject pronoun is often dropped. This, again, seems easier on paper but can be a lot to get your head around. French is just more similar to English in the respect that you always indicate I or you or they. In Spanish, you have to know the conjugations well or you risk misunderstanding who the speaker is talking about.
Spanish definitely wins here, because words are generally written as they sound. Although the spelling of nouns changes in both languages depending on gender, French takes this to the next level by insisting that some verb endings respect this concept too.
Both languages contain thousands of words that are identical or very similar to words in English.
Spanish has two verbs meaning “to be”, ser and estar. This is hugely confusing and continues to be a challenge even once you’re quite familiar with the language.
It’s a matter of opinion
Some people do find Spanish easier, but this has not been the case in my experience. In my first few weeks of learning Spanish I distinctly remember thinking “wow, this is easy!” but as time went on I started to look back longingly at French wishing they could be more alike.
The bottom line is that the best language for you to learn is the one you have the most affection for, or the one that’s going to be more relevant in your life. I would say that I’ve found Spanish harder, but it’s also the one I had much less exposure to as a child. What I do know is that I believe it to be an incredibly beautiful language. That, coupled with an affinity for Latin America culture, is what has motivated me to continue learning it despite its many challenges.