The Secrets of Languages: How Similar is English to Spanish?

For years, researchers have been studying the similarities between different languages. Being aware of how different languages can be similar is important when learning to speak a new language. Having a good understanding of a language’s cousin will allow you to start improving your language learning skills quickly. Having a good grasp of the grammar and vocabulary of similar languages will also help you get on the path to fluency.

Usually, languages are related because they share the same root language. Knowing how languages are connected by their roots helps in the learning process. Linguists have many ways to determine the similarities between languages, a common method being lexical similarity. 

How We Measure Language Similarities 

The concept of lexical similarity in linguistics is grasped as the measurement of similarity between two languages. It is typically graded on a scale from zero to one, where a score of zero indicates a lack of any common words between the languages. A score of one denotes a 100% overlap between the languages’ vocabularies. A high percentage of lexical similarity indicates the two languages are likely to be related dialects.

Various other ways of assessing the similarity of two languages exist, all producing differing results. The level of similarity between two languages is only one indicator of their mutual intelligibility. Different factors such as morphology and syntactical similarities also affect lexical similarity. For instance, the similarities between French and English are considerable in terms of culture, while their differences are smaller in terms of basic function words.

Easy Languages to Learn for English Speakers

Want to learn a new language but you’re stuck on where to begin? Start with languages similar to English. Aside from being widely used, Spanish is an easy language to learn for English speakers. 


Aside from being a widely used language, Spanish is also one of the easiest Latin root languages to learn for English speakers. English has many words deriving from Latin, and Spanish has a lot of cognates that sound similar to English words. Since most Spanish words are pronounced the way they’re spelled, it’s a more phonetic language. 

Spanish does have a few exceptions to grammar rules that can get confusing, but the tenses align with English easily. With over 450 million native speakers, Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the world. 


Italian, though not as widely spoken as other Romance languages such as Portuguese and Spanish, has 63 million native speakers. Its Latin roots allow it to encompass a wide variety of cognates. One of the best things about choosing Italian is that it allows you to learn with food. Many Italian words pop up in our everyday conversations. 


Spoken in both Brazil and Portugal, Portuguese is similar to Spanish in shared vocabulary and exposure to the language. Brazilian food, music, and films have been making their way into pop culture, providing exposure to Brazilian Portuguese globally. However, be careful when it comes to false cognates.


Though not the easiest to learn of the Latin root languages, it’s still spoken by over 300 million people. Historical wars between the French and English are largely credited with the shared vocabulary between the two languages. With the inclusion of French words into English, and its growing exposure, French is easier to imitate. 

How Similar is English to Spanish?

Spanish and English languages have many similarities. The Roman alphabet shared between the two languages helps build a phonemic and phonological foundation for ease of learning. About 40% of all words spoken in English have related words in Spanish.

Although both languages have several word order exceptions, sentences in both are similar in terms of their basic structure. The goal of learning to read and write in either language is following the same basic processes used by both: 

  • Phonemic awareness
  • Decoding
  • Fluency
  • Comprehension
  • Writing mechanics 

The structure, grammar, and vocabulary of Spanish are all similar to that of English. This makes it a great second language to learn. Take a look at our list of the most common similarities between the two:

  1. Same letters
  2. Same cognates
  3. Similar syntax
  4. Similar pluralization
  5. Easy contractions
  6. Similar capitalization and punctuation

Friend or Faux: Be Aware of False Friends

When starting to learn a new language it is easy to fall into the trap of similar sounding words having differing meanings. The term for this kind of language slip-up is “false friend”. A false friend is a word that sounds or feels identical to a word in its own language but has different meanings and senses.

We also call these false friends “treacherous twins” or “false cognates”. The presence of false friends can have a significant impact on how people understand each other. Often unintentionally, false friends can cause serious offense and misunderstandings.  

We see many types of false friends; some are benign and do not stem from false cognates. They can also change their meaning depending on the context and the changes in their usage. 

Below, we can look at some false friend examples and how these common language mix-ups may occur. 

False Friend Examples

  • In Spanish ’embarazada’ means ‘pregnant’ but sounds like the English word ‘embarrassed’
  • The English word ‘gift’ means ‘poison’ in German and ‘married’ in Norwegian.
  • In Italian ‘burro’ means ‘butter’ while in Spanish it means ‘donkey’
  • The word ‘auge’ means ‘basin’ or ‘bowl’ in French, but in German it means ‘eye’ and in Spanish ‘acme’ or ‘culmination’.

Knowing what languages are similar to English, such as Spanish, helps when deciding on an easy language to learn. Also, recognizing common language learning mistakes, such as identifying and being aware of “false friends,” is helpful when practicing to communicate or understand people in a new language.