What Languages Are Most Similar To French? (Examined)


French is one of the most spoken languages in the world, and is always one of the first picks for those wishing to learn a second language. It is known as being a unique Latin language too, due to it being different in regards to sound and pronunciation. This leads many to wonder, ourselves included, what languages are most similar to French?

The languages that are most similar to French are Italian, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, and others like Romanian. These languages have one or more things in common with French, which mainly revolve around a high lexical count, in turn meaning shared vocabulary, and similar grammar.

Yet, why are these languages close to French, and what specifically do they share? Of all of them, which one stands out as being the closest language to French? What more can we learn about these languages, and others that are similar to French without being considered the “closest”. We will get into the answers for these questions and more down below.

The Languages With The Most Similarities To French

Languages are hard and complex, and much more can be said about them. It can sometimes take someone years to fully learn the in and outs of a particular language, along with the social clues and cultural aspects that are innately a part of them.

So, comparing two languages should not be any different, right? If there is more to be said about them, then we should further explore why these certain languages are more similar to French than others.

French shares the most with Latin languages due to the historical trends and influences they all share, namely how they are all derived. However, a part of French’s “uniqueness”, is it’s history with Germanic influence, allowing it to have similarities with those languages as well.

The unique perspective French has taken made it to be the ‘odd man out’ when compared with the Romance family, since it has influences other than Latin.

Some mistakenly think this means French has more in common with German, which is not true. Instead it is most similar to Latin based languages, while having decent similarities with its Germanic cousins.

So, the closest languages to French (that are all Latin based) are:

  • Catalan
  • Italian
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese

These languages are our answer to the question: What Languages Are Most Similar To French?, and due to this we should go through them to fully understand what they share with French.

The Closest Languages To French: Explained

We discussed how French has similarities with languages that are not derived from Latin, but it still shares the most with those that are. Thus, it will be best if we focus on the Latin based languages, due to their stronger ties.

All percentages relating to lexical similarity between languages down below are provided by Ethnologue.

So, what more can we learn about those Latin languages closest to French?

Catalan

Catalan is commonly considered to be in the Gallo-Romance group within the “umbrella” term of the Romance languages (all languages that are derived from Latin are a part of the Romance category). The reason why this is important for us to know, is because French is also in the Gallo-Romance subgroup.

This shows that they will share features innately, precisely because it reveals that they are more related together, more so than French might be compared to others.

These are very similar, yet they are not mutually intelligible. In small conversations and texts, a French speaker might understand a little here and there of Catalan. However, this is more due to contextual clues than anything else.

Even if two languages are similar, that does not mean they will be mutually intelligible. In fact, the norm is that most major Romance languages are not mutually intelligible amongst themselves, and is pretty rare even for the less known Latin languages too.

Grammar

French and Catalan are not that similar compared to other aspects like lexical similarity (we’ll get into that in a moment). Catalan is actually pretty odd, since it shares features with many different languages, specifically Italian, Spanish, and then French.

It does not have an unusual relationship with French in regards to grammar, since most languages differ to some degree. This is followed by the things it does share with French are nearly the same as it is with Italian and Spanish.

So, Catalan’s grammar would be easier to learn for French speakers in comparison to something like Russian, though that does not mean it would be easy in general.

Vocabulary

This is where French and Catalan have the most similarities, with a high lexical count.

Where languages like Italian have more in common with Catalan in regards to grammar, French has more similarities relating to lexical similarity.

And, what does lexical mean exactly?

It refers to the vocabulary of a language (essentially the words that we use on a daily basis), and it is usually measured by percentages.

A percentage of 85% lexical similarity between French and Catalan thus shows that they share a lot with each other in that particular field.

We should note that this does not equate to the meanings of these languages, nor the pronunciation of them, to be the same across these two. There is a significant amount of variety to the meaning and pronunciation in the shared vocabulary.

Pronunciation

French has an incredibly unique sound and way of pronunciation which leads many languages to be extremely dissimilar to the sound of French.

Catalan is no different, though when compared with the Slavic or Asian languages it might sound more like French. Yet, this is hardly notable for Catalan, since both are derived from Latin.

Italian

Italian is not in the same subgroup that French is in, known as the Gallo-Romance. Instead it is located in the Italo-Dalmatian group. It is also not unlike Catalan. It’s not mutually intelligible with French.

Regardless of these points, Italian is one of the closest languages to French, if not the closest.

So, what do both Italian and French languages share?

Grammar

Unlike Catalan, French and Italian share more in the written form, which naturally relates to grammar.

It is said that they are more mutually intelligible than others when it comes to writing, though overall they still are distinct languages.

This really means that though they won’t understand a lot of what’s written down, French speakers can sometimes understand more of Italian written speech than they could of other languages (like Catalan, Spanish, etc.).

Vocabulary

Italian and French share a crazy high (that is the technical term, mind you) lexical similarity with each other. With around 89% lexical similarity, they are head and shoulders above the rest when compared to French.

Italian has the highest lexical count to French with only a few exceptions. Furthermore, all of these exceptions have fallen out of common use.

Of course a high lexical count is not the only thing two languages need to be similar, but it is definitely a must.

Such a high count should definitely not be dismissed, because most other languages that are seen as being close to French are around 75%.

This clearly shows that Italian has a significantly stronger relationship with French. This also shows how Catalan and French’s 85% lexical is very high as well.

Pronunciation

Though both Italian and French share a lot, from the perspective of the pronunciation or ‘sound’ of the two, they are very much far apart.

For us, this means that when both of these languages are spoken side by side, we will probably not hear all that much in common. On this basis is where many considered French to be different from most other languages.

Spanish

Spanish and French are close, but both languages find themselves having more similarities with others than together. With that in mind, what do they share?

Grammar

Spanish’s grammar is not foreign to French per se, but it is not strictly close either. It would be better to say that French has more in common with Catalan and Italian grammar than it does with Spanish.

This includes the aspect of the written speech too, though French and Spanish do have similarities, it would be comparatively less than it is with either Italian and Catalan.

Vocabulary

French and Spanish have 75% lexical similarity with each other. Compare this to Italian’s 89% and Catalan’s 85% with French and we see that it is considerably less.

It really is a matter of perspective though, since French does share a lot with Spanish, even if they are not the closest to each other.

Pronunciation

This is where French and Spanish have a “unique” or notable connection, since it is considered by some that French and Spanish sound alike. Not only that, they go as far as saying that French speakers can understand, in small conversations, Spanish more than other languages.

However, this does not mean they are mutually intelligible. Instead, it is their shared vocabulary allows French speakers sometimes to understand what a Spanish speaker is meaning.

Portuguese

Spanish and Portuguese share more with each other than they do with French, and funnily enough their relationship with French is pretty much the same.

So, what do I mean by that?

Grammar

French and Portuguese don’t share a lot of grammar, which is really due to how they don’t share much when it comes to written speech.

All of this is not unlike how Spanish relates to French with grammar and the written speech.

Vocabulary

Like Spanish, Portuguese has 75% lexical similarity with French, which is high but not unique. So, they have a significant amount of shared vocabulary, but Portuguese is not the closest to French in this regard.

Pronunciation

Something that is more notable with Portuguese and French is how their pronunciation has some similarities (separate from sound of a language). More so than most other languages compared to French.

This is something that sets Portuguese apart from the rest, and like Spanish, as it relates to pronunciation. French is known as having a very unique sound, so it is no small feat that Portuguese has something in common with French (however small those similarities might be).

“Honorable Mentions” Of Languages Close To French

There are many obscure languages, and sometimes they are the subject of legitimate debates of whether they are actual languages or just dialects of another.

Yet, we are going to assume they are, and mention some other languages that are close to French. Keep in mind, that they might not be considered the closest, but are nonetheless fairly similar.

The following are our Honorable Mentions (drumroll, please)…

  • Occitan
  • Romanian
  • Quebecois
  • Haitian Creole
  • Dutch
  • Romansh
  • Sardinian
  • And others that could be considered “Honorable Mentions”

Two very strong examples of other honorable mentions would be English and German. This is very unique due to their being Germanic languages while French is Latin based. Strangely enough, being a Germanic does not mean it is derived from German.

French had Germanic influences due to being located near northern Europe. Then this was strengthened by French overall isolation from other Latin based languages.

If you want to learn more about how English is similar to French, German is similar to French, or why French is different from other Romance languages then check these articles that I wrote!

Is French More Similar To Spanish Or Italian?

French has similarities with a lot of languages, though that does not mean it is necessarily close to them. Due to this many wonder what has the most similarities, or if one language has more than another.

One common example of the latter is whether Spanish or Italian are closer to French. This leads to our next topic: is French more similar to Spanish or Italian?

Italian is more similar to French than Spanish. From the perspective of the written form, Italian has much more in common with French. They both share a very high lexical count of 89% compared to Spanish having 75% with French. However, Spanish does sound a little bit more like French than Italian.

A question that usually follows our topic is: which would be easier for a French speaker to learn, Italian or Spanish?

Though it is by definition subjective in nature, both are actually pretty neck and neck. Looking at the pronunciation and sound aspects, Spanish would be easier. In regards to the writing of French, then Italian might be easier.

As is discussed in this study, the environment one has really does affect how successful you will be in learning a second language. If young, then parental support is equally as important.

One thing is for sure, it’s not that cut and dry as saying one is 100% easier or harder.

What Languages Are Related To French?

Instead of are they similar, whether a language is related to another refers to more of the upbringing so to speak rather than if they sound or look alike. As such, we can ask the question: what languages are related to French?

A language’s lineage is not unlike an ancestral tree of someone’s family. With many branches connecting French to other languages, it shares features with languages that very well might surprise some. This is how French has things in common with Italian or Spanish.

The lineage of a language is very important since it not only refers to the features of a language and how it develops, but also to the culture aspects and the people who speak the language.

Out of all of the Romance languages those that are the most related to French are the ‘oil languages’, or those found in the Gallo-Romance group.

All of the following are related to French…

  • Catalan
  • Occitan
  • Picard
  • Norman
  • Provencal
  • And many others that are not well-known and not spoken by any considerable population…

The Final Talking Point On Languages With The Most Similarities To French…

French is a very unique language, and has similarities (however small) with many different languages. Yet, the most similar languages have to be:

  • Italian
  • Catalan
  • Spanish
  • Portuguese

And, there are plenty of other languages that could be considered similar despite not being the most.

If interested in more about French or language learning in general then read some of my other articles!

Jackie Booe

Jackie Booe is a licensed teacher for elementary through high school in 3 states. She is a former adjunct professor at the undergraduate level and certified to teach elementary, secondary English, and English Language Learners. She was a mentor for many education interns, has taught and coordinated professional development for teachers and educators, and professionally tutored in a multitude of subjects.

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