Yes, Italians Can Understand Spanish Speakers (Mostly)

  • Jada Lòpez
    Written byJada Lòpez
    Jada LòpezSpanish teacher, translator
    🎓 B.A., Translation and Interpreting English and Spanish, Universidad de Granada
    🎓 M.A., Formación de Profesores de Español como Lengua Extranjera (ELE), Universidad Pablo de Olavide

    Passionate language teacher and translator. Wife, mother of 3 and amateur surfer.
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Yes, Italians Can Understand Spanish Speakers (Mostly)

Can Italians understand Spanish speakers (and vice-versa)?

The short answer is yes.

But mutual intelligibility between Spaniards and Italians requires some amount of careful adaptation to make communication easier.

This involves substituting words that the other party may not know for a word that is shared between both languages, slowing of speech and paying extra careful attention to the other person. There are going to be many slang expressions in Spanish that Italians may not understand.

The other issue is pronunciation.

Spanish sounds quite different to Italian, and this pronunciation difference may lead to confusion for both parties.

Knowing either Spanish or Italian will guarantee at least some mutual comprehension

Spanish and Italian are part of a group of languages called Romance languages, which is made up of French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

These all evolved from Vulgar Latin over the centuries of Roman control in Europe.

Because of their shared Latin roots, the majority of the vocabulary of these languages are the same or almost the same.

While it’s true that all Romance languages are very closely related in their lexical and grammatical makeup, it is Spanish and Italian that are the most mutually intelligible.

French and Portuguese are comparatively very different.

So how close are Italian and Spanish?

Very much so. A Spaniard could, theoretically, exist happily in Italy using only Spanish.

The main challenge they would face is that various words, which may be perfectly understood in both languages, are not used in the same context in Italy.

This is very similar to the way that Moroccans use antiquated Arabic expressions that Egyptians wouldn’t use in the same context, even though it may be understandable.

Not all Spanish words carry the same meaning in Italian (and vice-versa)

Because words may carry different meanings in Italy, it’s imperative that a Spanish speaker pay close attention to what are called false friends.

These are words that look the same in both languages, but carry a different meaning.

Here are a couple of examples:

WordSpanish meaningItalian meaning
sembrar / sembrareto plantto appear
tras / trabehindamong
parar / parareto stopto parry

While some false friends are vastly different in meaning, many of them have a traceable connection to their root, so it’s not all bad.

So do Italians understand spoken Spanish?

Italian and Spanish are not the same language, but they’re close enough that mutual intelligibility is possible.

Both languages have over 80% lexical overlap, with pronunciation and grammatical differences.

The answer is not that they will understand eachother, but rather that they can understand eachother (with effort). This extra effort entails careful listening and slower speaking, and may require both parties to search for alternative vocabulary.

It is entirely feasible to live and get by in Italy using only Spanish (or for an Italian to exist in Spain), though it may be stressful having to constantly adjust your speech.

At the end of the day, if you plan on residing in Italy as a Spanish speaker, you should aim to learn Italian. 🇮🇹

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George Pimentel  Ph.D  {Sociology},  B.A, B.Ed, OCT

George Pimentel Ph.D {Sociology}, B.A, B.Ed, OCT

You said “While it’s true that all Romance languages are very closely related in their lexical and grammatical makeup, it is Spanish and Italian that are the most mutually intelligible.”

I must correct you on you incorrect assertion. Italian and & Spaniards, both unfamiliar with the other’s language, will, at best, only be able communicate on a very basic level. But in terms os having fluid conversations that are complex and very involved, they will not be able to. I’ve seen this happen many, many times where an Italian and Spanish speaker will thought that mutual intelligibility between both languages would be a breeze, but are quickly shocked to discover that mutual comprehension between Italian and Spanish is far from being the very easy task they thought it would be. The conversation usually starts out pretty good, but within minutes deteriorates to the point where hand and body gestures begin being used more than actual words, and that’s the surest sign that the two speakers are far from being on the same page. Both interlocutors will generally politely and embarrassingly take leave of each other when they realize that they were sorely mistaken about the mutual intelligibility of Italian and Spanish.

The true closest pair of Romance languages which are mutually intelligible are: Portuguese and Spanish. They are 89% alike in lexicon, grammar and sentence structure. A fluid conversation between educated speakers of each is usually remarkable effortless. They are like dialects of the same language...Spanish and Portuguese are astonishingly close in every way. This truth has borne out repeatedly over the years by linguistics scholars and experts Andy scientific empirical research. A political program in Lisbon, Portugal last year focussed on the eventual separation of Catalan and Spanish. The guest panels consisted of 4 Portuguese speakers and 1 Spanish speaker, plush Portuguese speaking show host, a lady lawyer. It was a spirited, intellectual discussion, and for 1 full hour the Portuguese and 1 Spanish guest speakers communicated and understood one another perfectly - PERFECTLY ! It was a remarkable sight to behold. I finally have proof positive on and which I taped, that proves, irrefutable that Portuguese and Spanish are sister Iberian Romance languages which are, beyond any doubt , mutually intelligible! By the way, none of the guests had any prior familiarity with the language of the other. It was all right off the cuff! Italians and Spaniards would have never been able to have that same exact political discussion, unless of course they already had some prior knowledge of the other’s language.

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