Learning some similar languages

Ori   Thursday, November 25, 2004, 17:22 GMT
Do you think it is clever to learn two or more languages from the same "family" at the same time (or one after another)?

If so, what do you recommend for not getting confused between words similar but different? (e.g. 'Yo' in Spanish vs 'Io' in Italian)

My big problem here is with the Latin languages. Since each and every one of them is so charming and romantic, I really wish to know some of them.

By the way, do you consider Spanish and French to be too close to one another indeed? Since honestly, judging by the accents of them both, I tend to feel there is nothing to compare with the proximity of, say, Spanish and Italian.

Looking forward to your replies,
Ori   Thursday, November 25, 2004, 17:29 GMT
I'm sorry. Not 'proximity', but 'resmblance' or 'similarity' are the correct words.
egg   Friday, November 26, 2004, 03:47 GMT
The pronunciation of French and Spanish is way different but the writing is quite similar and seems to be structured in the same way.
Brennus   Friday, November 26, 2004, 08:11 GMT

Dear Ori,

It is not unusual for people to learn related languages at the same time. Most linguistic students in college major in just one family or sub-family like Celtic, Romance, Slavic, Turkic, Nordic (i.e. Scandanavian) etc.

There are a few look-alike words in Spanish and Italian with different meanings like Spanish burro 'donkey' and Italian burro 'butter',Spanish primo 'cousin' and Italian primo 'first'; Spanish piso 'floor' and dialectal Italian piso "cat / pussy cat' but these are very infrequent and shouldn't cause any learning problems.

Experts on the French language claim that it evolved from two strains of Vulgar Latin. A Spanish-like variety coming up from the Mediterranean and a North Italian - Dalmatian-like variety coming up the Rhone River. Vulgar Latin eventually replaced the native Celtic (Gaulish) speech of France but not overnight. As late as 270 A.D. the Bishop of Lyon said that he had to learn Celtic in order to preach to his congregation. There was still a pocket of Celtic speech in Auvergne until the 7th century A.D. Breton, spoken today in western France may be a Gallic remnant. While it is fairly closely related to Cornish and Welsh, not all scholars are in agreement that it was brought there from Britain.

Gradually, however, Celtic tongues shaped the Vulgar Latin of Gaul into modern French and Occitan (Provencal) giving them a flavor distinct from Spanish, Italian and Romanian whose pronunciations are closer to the original Latin.

Good luck with your studies. I'm sure you will find them worthwhile in the long run. The study of any foreign languages can indirectly improve one's competancy even in the English language.

---- Brian
vincent   Friday, November 26, 2004, 10:08 GMT

Provençal is not the same as Occitan, provençal is a dialect, a local form of spoken occitan.

Lo provençal es pas lo meteis que l'occitan, es un dialecte, una fòrma locala de l'occitan parlat.
Kill Bill   Friday, November 26, 2004, 11:50 GMT

Vincent is right, provençal is a dialect, like franco-provençal spoken in the Lyon area and Savoie and Piemont in Italy.

Occitan is a big family, you can have for example in Auvergne different occitan dialects from north to south. The best illustration was during the 1st world war where french military forces did not have any other choice to keep south auvergnats between themselves for the only reason they were not abble to understand the auvergnats form the north.

Occitan was not only a french specificity and was spoken in some north italian areas and some spanish ones.

Catalan is a close language but has its own specificity

As we say in Cantal (south west Auvergne)
La vacha cantalou non parla la mesme idiom que la vacha dou Velay
Paul   Friday, November 26, 2004, 11:57 GMT
French written form is close to italian, french spoken is different.

I did not know some french people spoke another language instead of french. Quite funny... so marvellous country! People are so differnet form a country to another, in some places you feel like in Spain, some others in Italy and some others like in Germany...

The only place which really looks french is Burgundy

People are quite funny, nice people but they all the time contradict themselves, and they never agree each others. If one say yes,you can be sure the other one will say no and vice versa.

If you go to France, you will see how many time they spend to cook, their "Chefs" are most of the time men.
Ori   Friday, November 26, 2004, 12:36 GMT
Thanks a lot for your replies.

What has really frightened me was this article:


Thus, I asked you for advice to deal with the problems can be caused while learning a couple of languages together. I will be more than grateful if you share such advice with me.

To Brian,

You did calm me down about this subject. So I assume I will begin learning another language after I finish with my Spanish (well, it will happen sometime...)

Thank you for your good wishes and for the interesting explanation about the source of the French pronunciation.

To Egg

Then Spanish differs from French in the pronunciation and resembles it in the writing. And what about the vocabulary and word order?
Easterner   Friday, November 26, 2004, 18:00 GMT
I actually have some experience with learning related languages. Sometimes it has definitely helped, like with Italian and French, because of the similarity of Italian and French forms, despite the difference in pronunciation (eg. , retrouver - ritrovare, demain - domani, hier - iero, alors - allora etc.). Curiously however, there is more interference when I try to learn Spanish. So one thing that has worked for me is to write down the correct form in *both* languages whenever you confuse the two in a sentence. For example, if you happen to say or write: "Possiamo incontrarci (Italian) manana (Spanish)?", you can take a notebook and write on one page the correct Italian version, and on the other the correct Spanish one. In this way you can correct yourself in both languages. Of course this also works for one language. By the way, I think similarity is more often a help than a hindrance, but you have to be careful.
Joe   Friday, November 26, 2004, 18:43 GMT
Ah, I've read that article in the past and it got me all worried at first!

In my circumstance, I'm learning German while beginning my studies in French next month when the new semester starts. I'm a major in International Affairs and French.

In my case, French is a Romance language and German is a Germanic language, so the two are completely different. It would be a different story if I were learning Dutch and German, for example, or Spanish and Italian simultaneously.

(In fact I want to learn all of those languages in time lol)

The people that responded in that article seem to be more pessimistic. You can do anything you set your mind to. Obviously it's going to be a bit more of a struggle to learn Spanish and French, or any two languages, at the same time since you're devoting time to two instead of one. Learning one foreign language is a huge challenge for many people.

The key is that you are determined and you seem to enjoy and take pleasure in learning foreign languages. If something is fun for you, it's not tedious work, and you won't mind putting in the effort. You certainly will reap many benefits of all kinds from your effort.

Just make sure your studies are structured. I would definitely recommend starting one and getting comfortably into it before starting the other. I've been doing German for 6 months now, so I'm well rooted into German. Therefore I'm at a more advanced point than when I enter French I, where I'm starting from square one (I never learned any French in my life). This method will likely work a lot better for you than just starting French and Spanish lessons at the same time.

I've heard many strategies for how to not confuse two similar languages (Dutch-German; Italian-Spanish, etc) including studying the similar words in each language so the differences are rooted in your mind.

Don't let that one article get you down. It would of course be most ideal to just devote time to one and master it and move on, but that's not always feasible and many people are able to master languages studying more than one at once. Just devote equal effort so one doesn't lag behind the other.

Also, just remind yourself, it's not like you're doing something that hasn't been done before! So it can be achieved. Good luck!
dutchboy   Friday, November 26, 2004, 23:55 GMT
It is my personal opinion that if you are interested in learning two or more languages at the same time then you should start right away. Only with practice and exposure will you succeed. I enjoy learning languages in my spare time, and I am learning both Dutch and German. I find it helpful to note the similarities that each language may have, and often I find rules of how each language may spell words similarly but may substitute one letter for another. And it is usually not until AFTER I make a mistake and correct myself that I begin to gain a better understanding of each language.
Joe   Saturday, November 27, 2004, 02:53 GMT

From the experience I have had so far with German and Dutch, I can note several similarities between words that are spelled similarly or even the same, but are pronounced in a different manner. For example, the word "klein" for "small" is pronounced differently between the two languages but means the same thing.

How far along are you in learning both languages? And how are you learning Dutch? My Dutch friend found a website for me Googling on Dutch Google (it turned up more pertinent sites), Nederlands als tweede taal, which sells a variety of Dutch language programs, including Totaal, which I have heard of.

I feel very fortunate that I'll have people to practice my use of Dutch with, since I have Dutch family and friends.

How has your experience been so far? I'm really interested since I want to learn Dutch (its on my list, and I just love the Netherlands; plus I'm looking forward to the day when I can watch Kopspijkers and actually understand what they're saying. I find that show funny without getting hardly a word they're saying LOL)
Brennus   Saturday, November 27, 2004, 08:41 GMT

To my distant cousins in Provence,

Re: Occitan. It seems to be the politically correct term for all of Provençal these days although if you're one of those brave souls who wishes to debunk political correctness I'll agree with you that Occitan is a regional form of Provençal like Niçois and (possibly) a separate dialect like Gascon.

A similar situation exists with Eskimo vs. Innuit. Actually Innuit is just one of four (4) dialects of Eskimo along with Yupik, Iñupiaq and Greenlandic but in Canada, including Quebec, it has replaced Eskimo as the politically correct term for all Eskimos. It is making inroads in the United States too although personally I prefer Eskimo.
Jordi   Saturday, November 27, 2004, 09:18 GMT
The problem is there wasn't a single name for the language in medieval times and you'll find: lemosin, bearnés, gascon, provençal and others. Dante did speak of the language of Oc and Occitan is actually taken from the way "oc" (yes) is said in Occitan and there is a region called Lengadoc. It is actually the area where they speak dialects closest to the Medieval language and with the greatest vitality of the language in present times. It is a complex issue but Occitan does not refer to a single variety but to the present standard language (with regional differences accepted.)
I have learnt and speak Occitan and I'm a native Catalan speaker, the closest standadirsed Romance language to Occitan.
Hilma   Saturday, November 27, 2004, 09:50 GMT

I'm a Dutch girl (just 13 so I'm sorry if I use the wrong words!) and I like it that you like our little country and ofcourse Kopspijkers! I watch it every saturday.. but I've found a site for you that maybe could help you with your Netherlands; http://www.leren.nl/rubriek/talen/nederlands/learn_dutch/

It really could help you!

Groetjes, Hilma