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How languages help you on for the next

 Language Learning Forum : General discussion Post Reply
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Senior Member
Joined 5303 days ago

100 posts - 145 votes 
Speaks: Swedish*, English, Italian
Studies: Spanish, French, Russian

 Message 17 of 47
12 May 2010 at 11:30am | IP Logged 
Solfrid Cristin wrote:
Impiegato wrote:
This is my story:

ENGLISH: I began learning English at the age of 10 (elementary school). I continued studying it for eight years. Later in life I have had university education in English for a couple of years.

FRENCH: When I was 8 I spent a month in France and learnt some vocabulary and pronunciation. I started studying it at the age of 12/13 and continued for six years. Also, I took a university course in European Union French, which contained information on terminology in the fields of economy and law, and debates about the institutions.

SPANISH: I took classes in Spanish for three years in upper secondary school. I also studied it in Spain when I was 20.

RUSSIAN: One year in upper secondary school. This was the most interesting and challenging one. I will probably take up studying it again within a couple of years. However, my goal is primarily to learn what I need for holidays or a short trip there.

ITALIAN: Two years of full-time study at the university.

And in which way did you feel that the languages you allready know help you learning the next one?

My knowledge of French has had a great impact on my possibilities to learn other Romance languages fast, first Spanish and later Italian. Even though I started by learning French and studied it for quite a lot of years, Italian has become the language I consider my third best (after Swedish and English).

As to Germanic languages, I have only studied English aprt from my mother tongue. I think German is the best one to kno if one wants to learn the others, because it is somehow placed in the middle of the Germanic languages. It is also more difficult than its neighbouring languages, which also is an advantage for the Germans. With regard to vocabulary, Norwegian and Danish (at least bokmål) seem to be slightly closer than Swedish to German.

In the same way, Italian seems to be in the middle of the Romance language family, and I would therefore recommend studying it before the other languages of the same family. However, this is not possible in Sweden since we are not able to choose other languages than German, Spanish and French in the early ages (in school, age 12/13).

I should also add that it has sometimes been a little confusing to keep both Italian and Spanish at a high level at the same time. In Spanish, my reading comprehension is still very good, but I have lost quite a lot of my ability to speak it. The reason is easy; words like "come" and "como" etcetera are confusingly similar, and I like to keep a flow when I speak to someone. This is also the reason I will never study Norwegian or Danish - it would just be a mess! Norwegian words like "sentral" just look misspelt! =) Moreover, it is impossible to know when a word is different in Norwegian if one has not studied the whole language (instead of just assuming a word exists or has the same nuance as in Swedish, which is apparently not always the case).

Edited by Impiegato on 12 May 2010 at 11:39am

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Senior Member
United States
Joined 5186 days ago

147 posts - 176 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Latin, Arabic (Egyptian), German, Spanish

 Message 18 of 47
12 May 2010 at 9:18pm | IP Logged 
I know one person had said that learning Latin was a waste of time when it doesnt really help learning other Romance languages. I actually feel that considering every aspect of learning a new language, that if you can get one aspect down (in this case vocabulary) via another language, then you can then focus more attention on the other aspects that are different. In the case of Spanish which I am currently self-learning, I know or can deduce about 70% of the vocabulary (about 50% via Latin and 20% via native speakers here on the west coast). I just checked out 2 copies of that best-seller Dewey (the story about the library cat) in both English and Spanish so Im utilizing my knowledge of vocabulary and putting the pieces together to learn it. So far Im through one page (just started last night) and its fun! Ive learned and recalled much so far. Its also giving me an idea of what the differences are in translation (like sentence structure and omitting some lead-in phrases, etc) to kinda gear me up for future translation work.

For me, I didnt even truly *know* English until I learned Latin. After I took Latin, I finally learned what a direct object was and Ive been in love with etymology ever since. I also use Latin in some abstract ways as well. When Im learning new pronunciation, it helps me to not compare it to English (really its pointless as every letter can be pronounced a billion ways) and not even try to learn the IPA (EXTREMELY dry and frustrating rote memorization in my opinion) SO, since, for example with vowels, there are only 10 vowel sounds (2 for each vowel) and only a handful of dipthongs, its easy for me to compare back to the pronunciation. Ill think well if that makes the 'a as in day' sound, then I will think of an e with a macron above it. Voila! For me anyways this is extremely helpful.

Wow, that was a long ramble. Sorry about that. Ill probably write more later too ;)
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Super Polyglot
Joined 6573 days ago

9078 posts - 16473 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
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 Message 19 of 47
12 May 2010 at 10:48pm | IP Logged 
I learned German in school as a child and have watched German television ever since. Shortly after that I listened regularly to 'Talk op Platt' on NDR which gave me some hint of Low German, and a few years ago I finally decided to learn some Dutch. The final language in this row is Afrikaans, which I have learned so-so last year. From each of these languages to the next one there has been a lot of 'free' vocabulary transfer. However the Dutch and Afrikaans grammars are closer to Danish than to German, with Low German somewhere in the middle. So the order in which I learned these languages is anything but random.

With the Romance languages the situation is less clear, as I learnt some fragments of Latin very early and then added Italian, Spanish and French almost in parallel. However I learned French in school so the logical order here would have been French, Italian (because of Latin), Spanish and then Portuguese and Catalan, with Romanian last in the row because of its isolation and ties to other Balkan languages. However I didn't do anything useful about Portuguese before 2006, so the actual order wasn't the one I indicated as the most logical.

The order of the languages in a group will often be influenced by the study possibilities, but I would generally say that the amount of adequate materials for each language is the main factor. Within each language family there is rarely compelling linguistical reasons for preferring a certain order. However there may be some logic in learning Spanish before Portuguese because the Portuguese pronunciation is less clear. And if acccess to suitable materials wasn't a factor, then speakers of languages with sparse morphology might also find Dutch more logical as starting point than German - but in this case the amount of texts and TV programs in German points to German as the most reasonable first choice.

Edited by Iversen on 17 May 2010 at 9:18am

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Senior Member
United States
Joined 5186 days ago

147 posts - 176 votes 
Speaks: English*
Studies: Latin, Arabic (Egyptian), German, Spanish

 Message 20 of 47
12 May 2010 at 11:33pm | IP Logged 
Iversen wrote:
with Romanian last in the row because of its isolation and ties to other Balkan languages.

Ahh, someone else who has taken the same path that I have set out for myself with my choice of Romanian. I want to transition into the Slavic languages via Romanian. I plan on taking it (after Ive learned another Romance-Spanish and/or Portuguese), and then once and if I master that, I actually want to learn Croatian because that will transition me into Cyrillic (through Serbian) if and when I want to take Russian.
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Super Polyglot
Joined 6573 days ago

9078 posts - 16473 votes 
Speaks: Danish*, French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Swedish, Esperanto, Romanian, Catalan
Studies: Afrikaans, Greek, Norwegian, Russian, Serbian, Icelandic, Latin, Irish, Lowland Scots, Indonesian, Polish, Croatian
Personal Language Map

 Message 21 of 47
13 May 2010 at 12:07am | IP Logged 
Well, almost.. I studied Romanian in the late 70s and then again from 2006, but I didn't continue from Romanian directly into the world of Slavic languages after my first bout of Romanian - that only happened after the second round. And even though Romanian has some grammatical features and a substantial number of words in common with other Balkan languages including Croatian this doesn't make Croatian an easy target. However choosing to learn Romanian plus another Balkan language is logical from other points of view, such as cross-border travel opportunities in that region.
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Marc Frisch
Senior Member
Joined 6535 days ago

1001 posts - 1169 votes 
Speaks: German*, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Italian
Studies: Persian, Tamil

 Message 22 of 47
13 May 2010 at 12:10am | IP Logged 
There are several very interesting threads on this topic in this forum:
Slavic language family learning sequence
Romance language learning sequence
and similar threads about Germanic which I can't find right now.

To sum up the opinion voiced in those threads:
1) Learning a language makes it easier to learn other languages of the family.
2) Learning a language makes it easier to learn other languages having lexicographical similarities (e.g. Arabic and Persian).

More specifically, if you want to learn a whole language family (this is based much on the posts of ProfArguelles):
1) Avoid learning very close languages one after the other (i.e. don't learn Norwegian -> Danish -> Swedish -> Dutch -> German but instead Norwegian -> Dutch -> Swedish -> German -> Danish)
2) Learn "big" languages first, as there are more study materials (i.e. not Luxembourgish -> German but German -> Luxembourgish)
3) Learn old languages early in the process (i.e. learn Latin early in the process of learning the Romance family.

For example, a good sequence for the Romance languages would be:

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Senior Member
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20 sounds
Speaks: English*, French
Studies: Polish, Slovak, Uzbek, Turkish, Korean, Finnish

 Message 23 of 47
13 May 2010 at 3:43am | IP Logged 
Solfrid Cristin wrote:

So what is your story? When did you learn what, and how did it benefit your learning of other languages?

I warn everyone that this is a long post.

The first foreign language that I began learning was French as my parents sent me to a French school for my childhood and adolescence. Learning French acquainted me with grammatical gender and got me accustomed to morphology which was more fusional than English's. Knowing French also proved useful when I encountered or needed to understand then-unfamiliar English words or expressions of Romance origin.

The second foreign language that I began learning was Latin. Even though it is a dead language that shouldn't have stopped my teachers from teaching us how to use it actively (if not orally, then at least for writing). I took Latin for most of high school not so much for the linguistic aspects as much as for the fact that our teacher was a soft marker and taking Latin was an easy way to boost our GPA. Nevertheless Latin was useful in that it introduced me to the concepts of widespread inflection, heavily fusional morphology (compared to English and French), and relatively free syntax (Latin tends to be SOV, but I recall having some trouble initially dealing with writers' changing syntax to add subtleties or emphasis)

The third foreign language that I learned was Hungarian which I began by studying independently during high school using an old edition of "Colloquial Hungarian" with some "dipping" into "Teach Yourself Hungarian" and "FSI Hungarian Basic Course". I studied Hungarian somewhat haphazardly for the next several years - including taking a course in intermediate-level Hungarian at my university. Learning Hungarian was probably the most significant in my linguistic development since it really opened my mind and made me realize that a language doesn't need to be like Romance and Germanic ones in order to function "properly" or "logically". Learning Hungarian got me accustomed to a lexicon whose roots are not Indo-European, vowel harmony, heavy agglutination, many cases, conjugation based on definiteness and dealing even more with flexible syntax. It has also prepared me somewhat for learning Estonian and Finnish.

Outside linguistics, learning Hungarian also fired my desire to learn about the culture and history of people living in areas that are associated with Hungarians, namely Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Western Siberia.

My fourth foreign language was German and my study of it began in high school and formally ended at my graduation from university. Virtually all of my study in German was done in the classroom and the only significant aspect of it in my linguistic formation was how it gave me an interesting point of reference for reconsidering English. By this time, dealing with 4 German cases was nothing compared to what I had already seen with Latin and Hungarian. Obviously my knowledge of English was helpful when acquiring German vocabulary and grasping certain points in grammar (e.g. comparatives and strong/weak verbs).

My fifth foreign language was Polish and I began studying it while still in university by taking a course for beginners. It was my first Slavonic language and I got a "leg up" when I began learning other Slavonic languages. By this time, I wasn't overly bothered by inflection, grammatical gender, or "unfamiliar" sounds. What was new however was aspect and verbs of motion and to a lesser extent vocabulary that's not very recognizable to someone accustomed to the Romance and Germanic sub-families from Indo-European. It took some work for me to grasp (if not master) most of the attendant subtleties of Polish verbs but I think that having a competent Polish teacher was very helpful in making sure that from the outset I'd get a good grounding in the basic distinctions.

My sixth foreign language was Slovak and I began studying it after university because by chance I had been invited by a friend to visit Slovakia. My visit there left such a favourable impression that I resolved to learn more Slovak and in the process my circle of Slovak friends grew steadily. Of course my background in Polish was helpful in grasping basic Slovak vocabulary and many of the fundamentals of Slovak grammar. My knowledge of Slovak held me in good stead later on as it significantly helped me when learning Czech, and to a lesser extent with BCMS/Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian and Ukrainian (although it is observable that the ease of acquiring or grasping a Slavonic language is proportional to the number of Slavonic languages already known or the degree to which these Slavonic languages are known). Learning Slovak and meeting Slovaks also had an important cultural effect for it began to make me realize how foolish nationalism is (in this case I began to see even less reason for modern Hungarians and Slovaks to fire up or cling to old grudges. For those who don't know: there is a rivalry or somewhat ambiguous relationship between Hungary and Slovakia with nationalists (or sometimes even "patriots") on both sides rehashing various political or historical "sore-points" in fits of self-righteousness).

My seventh foreign language was Czech and after having had some exposure to Polish and Slovak, it presented relatively few surprises.

My eighth foreign language was BCMS/Serbo-Croatian (I focused on Croatian but I was effectively picking up the other three variants). This was probably the first Slavonic "challenge" since my beginning days with Polish. Unlike with Czech, Polish and Slovak, I had to learn to use mobile stress and pitch-accent (although stress in standard BCMS/Serbo-Croatian does not fall on the last syllable while many native speakers of BCMS no longer follow the pitch-accent distinctions as taught in my books and still codified in textbooks and dictionaries). No longer could I reliably pronounce an unfamiliar word from the very beginning. I've never quite got a handle on prosody in BCMS, but in general I've never had a problem in making myself understood when speaking relatively slowly and sticking to rather basic vocabulary. Learning the grammar and much of the basic vocabulary was fairly painless given my ever-growing background in Slavonic languages.

My ninth foreign language was Slovenian and I came to it when I got a chance to visit Slovenia. Unfortunately Slovenian was a real pain for me to learn primarily because the only course that I could find was "Teach Yourself Slovene" which is a POS ("Colloquial Slovene" is equally bad and written by the same author who designed "Teach Yourself Slovene"). "TY Slovene" is a terribly skimpy course and when I did go to Slovenia I found that I ended up falling back on BCMS/Serbo-Croatian or even English when my limited knowledge of Slovenian picked up from "TY Slovene" failed me. From a linguistic point of view, Slovenian was interesting by introducing me to a language using full declension for the dual and also because of a few traits that it shared with Western Slavonic languages (especially Slovak) but not with the otherwise more closely-related BCMS/Serbo-Croatian.

My tenth foreign language was Lithuanian which I decided to take on in preparation for a trip to the Baltic States and also as a bit of a break from the Slavonic languages in which I had been concentrating. It remains one of the tougher languages that I've ever dealt with. Much of the vocabulary was difficult for me to remember (partially because it seems to have undergone fewer sound changes than kindred Slavonic languages) and it also retains features from the era of a probable Balto-Slavonic language which have been dropped in modern Slavonic languages and even the more closely-related Latvian. For example, Lithuanian declension reminded me very much of Latin declension since it has divided nouns into different declensional classes but these declensional classes aren't as "regular" as those in Slavonic languages. I couldn't just look at the ending of a noun and be able to make a good guess at its declension into a given case. Lithuanian also has the added complication of mobile stress and pitch-accent (much like BCMS/Serbo-Croatian and Slovenian), thus adding to my misery in trying to learn proper pronunciation. Despite these problems, it wasn't totally detrimental for me to learn Lithuanian since I did get some exposure to one of the more conservative Indo-European languages.

The eleventh foreign language that I took on was Ukrainian and I arrived at my choice because I had been thinking for some time to visit Ukraine, and after my experience with Lithuanian I was willing to revisit the more familiar Slavonic family :-). Learning Ukrainian really solidified my knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet (I had taught myself to read the Russian and Serbian Cyrillic alphabets before, but I never got entirely comfortable with using them until I studied Ukrainian) and also helped me gain a little more passive understanding of Russian. My ever-growing background in Slavonic languages also simplified my acquisition of basic Ukrainian. Unfortunately I lost much of my motivation to go further with Ukrainian since my plans to visit Ukraine fell through and I decided that it'd be better for me to focus on developing fluency in at least two of the Slavonic languages that I had already been learning (I've settled on Polish and Slovak).

The twelfth foreign language that I took on was Estonian and as was the case with Lithuanian it came about as preparation for a trip to the Baltic States. Estonian was surprisingly difficult but somehow I didn't get as badly thrown off as I had been with Lithuanian. I attribute my improved persistence with Estonian to a very enjoyable stay in Estonia (not that my trip to Lithuania was bad; it was just as good, actually) and because I was really getting a lot out of "Teach Yourself Estonian" which was my main course. With Estonian I got a different view of the Uralic languages (at that time I had only studied Hungarian intensively) and it has provided a useful base for me in my current study of Finnish. Knowing some Estonian also made it somewhat easier for me to understand essays on comparative Uralic linguistics since quite a few of them make reference to characteristics observed in Balto-Finnic languages such as Estonian or Finnish. Lastly learning Estonian was also enlightening since it shattered the preconception that all Uralic languages have vowel harmony or are agglutinative (with Finnish and Hungarian being held as the representatives by most people). To my surprise Estonian is more fusional than I had expected and lacks vowel harmony. I couldn't help but wonder if this was at least partially attributable to the fact that people with less agglutinative languages or ones that don't use vowel harmony such as Middle Low German, Middle Russian or Middle Swedish began producing Estonian using characteristics from their mother tongues to the point of increasing the divergence from other Finno-Ugric languages even further.

The thirteenth language that I took on was Romanian and as some of you can guess by now my choice arose from a trip to Romania. As with Estonian, learning Romanian gave to me different insight into the respective language family (the Romance one in this case). I was now dealing with a language which appeared to have a lot less intra-familial transparency unlike what you see within French, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. Picking up some Romanian was useful since it made a little clearer to me what the Balkan "Sprachbund" is about and here was a language with elements of Romance grammar and a goodly amount of Latinate vocabulary mixed with words of Slavonic origin (some recognizable loanwords for me here) or perhaps Illyrian origin (maybe even "Dacian" or "Thracian"?).

The fourteenth foreign language that I took on was Finnish and to date I am still working on it. Learning Finnish has been a good experience so far and it is with Finnish that I finally get a clear application of the consonant gradation which is often mentioned in general descriptions of the Uralic family (Hungarian lacks consonant gradation while Estonian bears it in less obvious ways). Knowledge of Finnish has also made me understand somewhat better the complexity inherent in declining direct objects which I had first encountered in Estonian but never fully grasped partially because Estonian declension doesn't give obvious signs about the phenomenon.

I apologize for the length of this post but it's all in the spirit of the original post (I hope!).
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Bilingual Triglot
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Arabic (Levantine)*, French

 Message 24 of 47
13 May 2010 at 6:10am | IP Logged 
Your posts are always thorough and helpful, Chung. =)

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