So you’re a budding bilingual, or maybe a well-established polyglot who’s looking for your next language. If you’re trying to make a choice between Spanish vs German, it’s probably because you’re interested in a language with a lot of practical utility, one that’ll open a lot of doors for you conversationally, or perhaps in your career. Or maybe you just love the way they both sound (for very different reasons, obviously).
Narrowing it down won’t necessarily be a straightforward decision, but it helps to look at it from a couple different angles. Spanish and German are both, in their individual ways, fairly accessible languages for English speakers to learn. They’re also both useful to know, which might be more important to you. It might be more helpful to start with a question like, “How would a language be most useful to me, personally?”
Here are some more considerations you might want to take into account.
Spanish Vs German
How similar are Spanish and German?
One thing you’re probably already aware of: Spanish and German are very different languages. And presumably, you love them both for who they are.
But on the scale of world languages, Spanish and German do share a lot in common. They’re both distant cousins in the Indo-European family. They both use the Latin alphabet. They both have grammatical gender, so you won’t be escaping that part anytime soon. (Spanish has masculine and feminine, whereas German has a third “neuter” gender, too.) Plus, they’re both relatively straightforward in terms of pronunciation.
What are some of the key differences between German and Spanish?
The most obvious difference between Spanish and German is that their shared linguistic ancestry traces back to thousands of years in the past. Spanish is a Romance language, and German is, well, Germanic (like English, Danish and many others). These are both language families that began to take shape around the time of the Roman empire.
Beyond the fact that they sound a lot different and have different vocabulary, Spanish and German also differ in word order and sentence structure. Spanish is similar to English in that they both share an SVO structure (subject-verb-object). German might stretch your mind a little more due to its flexible word order. You can sometimes say the same thing in two or more different ways by placing the verb or subject in completely different places in the sentence. Not to worry; it does have its own logic. It’s just one you may not be used to at first.
Another key difference is that German has four noun cases — the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative — whereas this concept isn’t really as important in Spanish. At the very least, you’ll be spending a lot less time getting your head around it.
Which language is easier to learn?
On Babbel’s internal ranking of easiest languages for English speakers to learn, Spanish was number three, and German didn’t even make the list. Don’t get too concerned, though, because German didn’t make the cut for hardest languages to learn, either.
Spanish and German both share lots of cognates with English, or words that look or sound similar due to a common linguistic root ancestor. So you probably won’t struggle too much with either sets of vocabulary.
Both languages are also more or less spoken as they’re written. And though German is known for its long, convoluted compound words, they’re actually not that hard to muster once you tackle them systematically.
Overall, Spanish might be easier than German at the beginning stages, but the two tend to even out in difficulty once learners get to the more advanced stages. German has more complicated grammar rules that need to be mastered early on, but once learners get familiar with them, they find that they’re pretty consistent. Spanish has a bit of an easier onboarding process, but more advanced learners run into more complexities and rule exceptions down the line.
Which language is more useful to know?
Well, that depends on where (and how) you intend to use it.
In terms of sheer demographics, Spanish wins out. Spanish has the second largest native speaker population in the world (after Chinese), and there are 543 million total speakers around the world that you’ll be able to converse with (many of whom are less likely to know English than their German-speaking counterparts, by the way). Additionally, knowing Spanish will open large swaths of the world to you, including Spain and most of Latin and Central America. Spanish is an official language in 20 countries overall, and is spoken in many more.
Meanwhile, German is the 11th most-spoken language in the world, with around 155 million speakers. Of that number, about 80.6 million (so, roughly half) of the speakers live in Germany.
Spanish and German are also both languages that will make you competitive in the business sphere. If you have your sights set on working in Europe, German is a good language to know. Germany has the largest economy in the European Union (with many high-quality companies to work for), and it’s an official language in a few countries in central Europe. We Forum’s Power Language Index ranks German third in the world in terms of the economic opportunities that it offers.
Spanish is also highly in demand, especially considering the sheer amount of speakers around the world who might be looking for services in their native language. It is also the official language in many growing South American economies. It has an overall ranking of fourth on the Power Language Index due to a combination of factors, above German, which ranks at number seven. However, German beats Spanish specifically in terms of economic opportunities. Still, there’s no objective answer as to which will be better to learn, as everyone is different.