Spanish vs German: Which One Is Harder to Learn?

Adult life can be hard. With the line between work and leisure more diffuse than ever, it’s hard to find “me-time.”

If you’ve finally managed to take the time to learn a new language and you want to make sure you make the right choice, we are here to help.

Today, we will be answering one of our followers’ most burning questions: Spanish or German? Which one is easier for English speakers?

Below, we will try to answer this question while also focusing on which language, Spanish or German, is more useful for adult learners who see language learning as a strategy to boost their careers.

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Pronunciation

Pronunciation is possibly the most dreaded aspect of language learning.

But how hard is it for a native English speaker to master the sounds of German or Spanish?

Let’s delve into German first.

German Pronunciation

While the German alphabet looks almost identical to the English one, it does have a few additional symbols (and sounds!) that students should be aware of.

First, we have to acknowledge the (in?)famous Umlauts: Ä, Ö, Ü.

These letters might look weird, but they appear in a lot of high-frequency words such as Hände (hands), Stöcke (sticks), and Küsse (kisses).

So, how are they pronounced?

Ä –  This vowel has a similar sound to the “a” in “pay”.

Ö –  A long but undefined sound, this vowel is a near equivalent “u” in “fur.”

Ü –  Similar (but not identical) to the “ew” in “few” or “pew”.

As regards consonants, there are a few troublemakers that you should be aware of before you even start to learn the language! Let’s take a look at each of them.

ß – Also known as Eszett, Buckel S, or scharfes S, this consonant sounds like two English “s” one after the other. Just mimic the sound of a snake and you should get it right.

C – A familiar symbol for English speakers, C changes its pronunciation before “i”, “e”, “ö”, “ä”, and “ü.” When followed by these letters, C sounds like a “ts.” Think of a drop of water hitting a hot pan!

J – German J has the same sound as English Y as in words “yoke,” and it is never pronounced like the initial consonant sound in “judgement” or “jam.”

W – When trying to imitate the accent of a German speaker, this is the sound that English speakers intuitively choose to exaggerate! The German word for “water,” Wasser, is pronounced /vasser/, with a /v/. This is why the stereotypical German speaker mistakes all of our W sounds for V ones in English!

Z – German Z is not the vibrating sound that we know from English. Like C, it is pronounced like a “ts.”

Spanish Pronunciation

The Spanish alphabet has 27 letters, of which only one—Ñ—will look unfamiliar to English speakers. Below, we will delve into Ñ, and also into a few familiar letters whose pronunciation differs from their English counterparts.

G – Before consonants or vowels A, O, U, Spanish G is a softer version of its English counterpart. However, before I or E, it’s a strong, hissing version of English H: gente (people) /hente/.

H – In English, there are a few words in which this letter is silent. Think of “heir,” “honest,” and “hour.” In Spanish, H is always like that, it is always unpronounced. As you can imagine, that makes it quite hard for students to know when to spell it!

J –  Like G, J is like an English H but harder, as if you were upset. In fact, this sound is quite similar to the German “ch” in words like  “Ich.”

Ñ – One of the most feared sounds for learners of Spanish, the unfamiliar-looking Ñ should not pose major challenges for English speakers. Though there isn’t a one-to-one equivalent in our language, it’s very similar to the sound we make when we say “canyon” or “Anya”.

Z – It seems Z is a complicated letter in every language. In Spanish, it has two possible pronunciations, but none of them is the one we know from English. In Castillian Spanish, most people pronounce this letter like the “th” in “think.” Zona (zone) is pronounced /thona/. In Latin American countries and a few regions in Spain, however, Z is just like an S: zona /sona/.

It seems that, when it comes to pronunciation, German and Spanish are quite accessible to English speakers. With just a few challenging sounds in both languages, you shouldn’t have problems mastering the sound systems of any of these two languages.

Grammar

Are German and Spanish as different from each other as they seem? Let’s compare their grammatical systems to find out how dissimilar they really are, and which of them might be easier for English speakers.

Gender

Both German and Spanish have grammatical gender, though the German gender system is slightly more complex. While Spanish has only masculine and feminine, German also has the neuter gender. Gender affects not only the termination of the noun, but the form of the articles as well. English uses “the” for all nouns, and German uses Der, Die or Das for masculine, feminine, or neutral nouns, respectively.

German Spanish
der Tisch (the table) – masculine la mesa (the table) – feminine
die Katzte (the cat) – feminine el gato (the cat) – masculine
das Pferd (the horse) – neuter el caballo (the horse) – masculine

Cases

In addition to having a gender, German grammatical words such as articles change depending on their grammatical case.

But what do we mean when we talk about “cases”? Basically, we are talking about the function that a word has in a sentence, i.e., whether it is a subject, a direct object, or an indirect object, or a possessive construction.

In German, this leaves us with four cases: nominative (sentence subjects), accusative (direct objects), dative (indirect objectives), and genitive (possessive phrases).

In Spanish, on the other hand, case doesn’t affect the form of words. They are always the same, no matter what function they perform in a sentence.

Plurals

In German, plural words end in several ways:

  • der Arm(arm) – die Arme (arms)
  • das Kind(child) – die Kinder (children)
  • die Schlange (snake) – die Schlangen(snakes)
  • das Auto(car) – die Autos (cars)

In this aspect, Spanish is definitely easier, as the vast majority of its plural nouns end in ‘s’

  • brazo(arm) – brazos (arms)
  • niño(child) – niños (children)
  • serpiente(snake) – serpientes (snakes)
  • coche(car) – coches (cars)

Capital Letters

As you may have noticed from previous sections, German nouns are always written with capital letters.

  • der Finger(finger)
  • die Vogel(bird)
  • der Arm(arm)

In Spanish, only specific nouns have capital letters: countries or cities, people’s names, titles, etc. Common nouns are written in lowercase.

  • dedo(finger)
  • pájaro(bird)
  • brazo(arm)

All in all, it seems that German grammar is more complex than Spanish grammar. So, if you’re someone who gets easily scared by difficult rules and long declension tables, you might want to go for Spanish.

Vocabulary

As regards vocabulary, both German and Spanish come with special benefits for English speakers.

Perhaps the most crucial point to make is that both German and English are like language cousins, both being part of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European language family.

Their common origin means that there are strong similarities between them. So strong, in fact, that it is believed that at least a third of English core words are of Germanic origin. In addition, the resemblance between English and German is made stronger by the fact that both have been influenced by Latin, Greek and French.

This means that, even if you are an absolute beginner learner, there are many German words that you already know! Think about “rucksack”, “angst”, “pretzel” or “delicatessen”. They’re all German words!

What’s more, there are a ton of German words which sound extremely similar to their English counterparts, a major advantage both for native speakers of English and for foreign students who are fluent in this language. Words like Haus (house), Universität (university), and Kamera (camera) are easy to guess even for beginner learners!

At this point, you must be thinking that Spanish doesn’t stand a chance against German in terms of vocabulary, but don’t judge so fast. As it happens, almost 40% of all words in English have a “sister” word in Spanish, i.e., a counterpart that has similar spelling, pronunciation and meaning.

Both Spanish and English words ending in –al, for example, tend to come from Latin. Words like general, habitual, festival, ideal, individual or marginal, are the same in both languages, although they’re all stressed in the last syllable in Spanish: norMAL.

But that’s not it. English words that end in -ant or -ent can become Spanish words just by adding an “e” at the end: accidente, agente, conveniente, decente, elegante, etc.

As you can see, considering how many curious similarities there are between these two languages and English, English speakers should have a blast learning both.

Now, if you still want to know which of these two is more difficult to learn, we have to admit Spanish might be slightly easier than German. While neither pronunciation nor vocabulary should be a problem for English speakers studying any of these two languages, when it comes to grammar there is a big difference between Spanish and German. With a complicated case system, lots of rules for the formation of plurals, and three genders that affect not only nouns but also the words next to them, it’s clear that German might pose some extra difficulties for learners of any native language.

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Still, you don’t need to make up your mind just yet. No matter how many articles you read about the specificities of German or Spanish, it’s almost impossible to predict what kind of connection you will have to a language until you find yourself immersed in the learning process. For that reason, we have decided to offer our readers a free trial lesson in Spanish or German. But wait. We are not talking about a pre-recorded lesson. We are talking about a live lesson with a native teacher. Contact us now and discover how hard Spanish and German really are, no strings attached!