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For English Speaker: Germanic or Romance?

 Language Learning Forum : Specific Languages Post Reply
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Joined 4698 days ago

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Speaks: English*, French

 Message 1 of 10
13 May 2011 at 12:08am | IP Logged 
IN THE LONG RUN,would an English native have an easier time learning and speaking a Germanic language like German or Dutch, or a Romance language like Spanish of Italian? Which would be easier to gain fluency in?
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Senior Member
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Speaks: Italian, English*
Studies: Spanish, Swedish, French

 Message 2 of 10
13 May 2011 at 1:43am | IP Logged 
From my own experience I find romance languages easier. Languages like Italian and
Spanish are much easier for me to pronounce and remember than German.
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Spanish, French

 Message 3 of 10
13 May 2011 at 1:57am | IP Logged 
I would say it's about the same in either one. Romance languages do share a lot of vocabulary with English, but so do the Germanic languages, only with them it's on a more intrinsic level, they need to be deciphered before you can realize that they're cognates. The most important thing is how much contact you get with the language you're learning, as well as when you start learning it. When I first started learning Spanish (my first foreign language) it seemed about as foreign as any, but now I've grown so accustomed to it that it almost seems weird to me when other people can't understand it. Now that I'm a few months into my German study I would say that I'm actually a lot more comfortable with it than I was with Spanish at the same level and I'm confident that, if I keep at it, it won't be long before I know it as well as Spanish, but that's probably only because I have a lot more experience now.
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Senior Member
United States
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Speaks: English*
Studies: German, Spanish, Dutch

 Message 4 of 10
13 May 2011 at 2:07am | IP Logged 
I agree with altito235’s opinion that the difficulties are about the same between these language groups, for an English speaker. I speak German and am learning Spanish, yet despite the fact that I am exposed to Spanish much more frequently than German, I still feel more comfortable with German, and had felt very comfortable with German when at the level at which my Spanish currently is, though I do not feel comfortable with my Spanish at that level.

Vocabulary wise, one would pick up the more abstract words quicker in a Romance language since there are many borrowings in English from French and Latin. Likewise, one does not have to worry about learning cases in some of the Romance languages. On the other hand, I personally feel that the verb system of Spanish (the only Romance language I studied besides Latin) is quite a beast, whereas the German verb system is nice and easy, since there are less tenses and constructions are more like English.

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Lucky Charms
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Speaks: English*, Japanese
Studies: German, Spanish

 Message 5 of 10
13 May 2011 at 4:55am | IP Logged 
tracker465 wrote:
I personally feel that the verb system of Spanish (the only Romance
language I studied besides Latin) is quite a beast, whereas the German verb system is
nice and easy, since there are less tenses and constructions are more like English.

Yes, the verb tenses of Romance languages are more difficult, but the case system of
German is at least as challenging. However, I understand that this case system is
either greatly reduced or nonexistant in Dutch, Afrikaans, Swedish, Norwegian, and
Danish. My overall impression of the difficulty of some of the most popular modern
Germanic and Romance languages is as follows:

⇓ Easiest for an English speaker


⇑ Most challenging for an English speaker

So if you discount German and Icelandic, I think the Germanic family as a whole is
easier than the Romance family. However, the more conservative grammar of German, which
preserves a difficult case system, and Icelandic, which is notorious among language-
lovers for its complexity, weight it in the other direction. The Romance languages all
seem to be about the same difficulty, somewhere in the middle of the spectrum.

(Again, this is just my impression as someone who reads these forums a lot but hasn't
studied most of these languages, so take it with a grain of salt :))
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Bilingual Heptaglot
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Speaks: Spanish*, English*, German, Italian, French, Portuguese, Mandarin
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 Message 6 of 10
13 May 2011 at 5:39am | IP Logged 
As someone blessed by circumstances to have native abilities in a Romance and Germanic language, I may have a rare insight specially since I am learning another Germanic and Romance language right now.

In terms of vocabulary, German is more independent from Latin influence though borrowings are still significant in German, specially as you get to 2nd or 3rd option adjectives and low frequency and technical terms. The real striking difference of English and German is word order as a lot of people know. English follows the Romance model more closely, the exception being adjective placement where is similar to German.

But in general when you get down to it, English and German are much more related in how you construct coherent grammar, to the point that if I have to ''guess'' in a situation like that I refer to my English first every time. That is specially true with things like modal auxiliaries, the future tense and many idiomatic expresions. It's hard to explain, but basically you are more likely to be ''close'' to being right in your German construction by reffering to your English than to any romance language. So even if the order of the words or adverbial phrases is very different, their actual underlying construction is rather similar.

Vocabulary wise, as an English speaker you have an advantage in both language families, but in what I call the ''intermediate'' vocab beyond the basic which in English is of Germanic origin and the advanced terms where both languages can be heavily latiinized, there is a middle ground where English is closer to Romance than German in vocabulary.

VERBS: English is the easiest language (though Swedish is easiest and then Dutch is probably the same as English). German is next a step above in difficulty. A little more conjugated than English, but to me German verbs are easy. Then would come French and Italian which are two or three levels harder than German. The hardest part for Germanic speakers is the Romance subjunctive. French and Italian are a bit simpler than Spanish or Portuguese because French only has two subjunctive tenses that are necessary to speak properly, Italian two or four depending on the region. Also both have dispensed with the preterit and use the present perfect, Spanish and Portuguese actively use the preterit.

Portuguese would come two levels higher for two reasons: it has two copulae ( literally two verbs that mean ''to be'': ser and estar; Italian has this but it is much less common and French has only one ''to be''. Bottom line this causes headaches for foreign learners). Second, Portuguese subjunctive can be very complicated with six tenses, three simple and three compounds. However, in Portuguese you can live without using the future tense much and also the conditional (some might argue this with me, but it is possible and grammatically ACCEPTED to get around these two tenses).

Spanish is the hardest, a level higher than Portuguese. It not only has the two verbs ''to be'' (ser and estar), which are used even more so than in Portuguese (Spanish uses estar to differenciate active from passive statements, Portuguese does not), but it has far more ''radical'' changing verbs because of spelling changes in the 14th and 15th centuries. As a Spanish speaker learning Portuguese, I have noticed many radical verbs in Spanish are totally regular in Portuguese, while the opposite is only true a handful of times (in fact, this is one of the reasons Old Spanish actually resembles modern Portuguese!). So all those spelling changes to verbs are a nightmare for foreign speakers.

The Spanish subjunctive is almost as hard as Portuguese (Spanish dispenses the Future Subjunctive in normal speech, it is used in Legal settings though), but Spanish requires the future tense and conditional in certain situations, you can't get around them as you can in many Portuguese equivalents. The present perfect is used more in Spanish than Portuguese (though some areas of the Spanish realm use the preterit more dominantly). And while in Portuguese the Anterior preterite is nonexistent, you will still see it in Spanish in literature and some formal speakers.

German has it's famous case system, which really is very hard at first, but once you practice, practice, practice, it becomes 2nd nature. But it does take time to get it right. Eventually once your brain has commited which prepositions use what case when, and what time expressions use what case, then you can concentrate on the adjective endings and once you get those down, it becomes 2nd nature to know that after a preposition like ''mit'' an adjective will always end in an -n, etc. It's crazy but eventually you do get used to it.

Edited by outcast on 13 May 2011 at 7:52am

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Senior Member
United StatesRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*
Studies: German, Spanish

 Message 7 of 10
14 May 2011 at 1:15pm | IP Logged 
I agree. German is much easier for me to learn than Spanish, though I still tend to have
problems in German, it's that bad.

Spanish verb conjugations is a pita and not predictable as German's verb conjugations.
Which is going to be a problem, but it's not impossible.

Spanish for me would have more benefits than German based on where I live, due to the
Hispanic community. But in the Computer Science area, for me, German has a bigger
influence, well at least where I do all my work.
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Senior Member
IndiaRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Speaks: English*, Danish
Studies: Mandarin, French, Korean, Hindi

 Message 8 of 10
15 May 2011 at 5:32am | IP Logged 
I have learned German and French both, and still prefer German for terms of ease/use. I supplemented my German studies with 1/2 years of Latin (Latin I in the US, and then again in Denmark where it was a mandatory part of the curriculum); Denmark is where I started French, so I was able to see more about how the Latinate additions and segments fit into each language.

I don't think either of them is easier or harder: look at what you're more interested with or may use more frequently.

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