Monday, September 30, 2013

Is it better to learn similar languages or different ones?

Sometimes I wonder whether it is better to learn language that are similar to each other, or whether it is better to take on completely different ones. Each choice has its advantages and disadvantages. The final choice will depend on the goals we set ourselves. My choice: learning several languages ​​at the same time, but belonging to different language families.

Advantages and disadvantages of learning similar languages

* alphabet - there’s no need to learn a new alphabet, the widest choice being among the languages ​​written in the Latin alphabet, because there are simply more of them
* similar vocabulary - it facilitates memorizing new words or phrases
* similarity in grammatical constructions - can greatly facilitate learning

* so-called false friends - sometimes similar words have different meanings in different languages
* small differences in the vocabulary can cause confusion; it happens to me to sometimes mix the word "language" in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, sometimes I need a moment to think whether to use "lingua" or "lengua". Sometimes I use the Spanish "frío" instead of the Italian "freddo "
-sometimes you try to transfer grammatical structures from one language to another, while they are not being used in the same way, or with the same operators

+ different auxilliary verb in the present perfect tense: he visto - in Spanish (haber), ho visto - in Italian (avere), but tenho visto - in Portuguese (ter)
+ using different construction in the sentences like “when she comes...”: cuando venga - in Spanish (requires the subjunctive - subjuntivo, in the present tense); quando vier - in Portuguese we use infinitivo pessoal - personal infinitive)
+ to express “to make her do”: in Spanish we say - para que haga, in Italian - perché faccia, but in Portuguese - para (ela) fazer

Advantages and disadvantages of learning different languages

* there are no problems with confusing vocabulary because generally a new word is not associated with other, already known
* bigger satisfaction from learning

* different alphabet - in some cases you have to learn from scratch the letters or words (depending on the language), some systems are easier to write (Hindi), others more difficult (Chinese)
* different vocabulary - you cannot rely on what you already know (of course there are borrowings in every language)
* different language structures - as above

As can be seen, both aproaches have their advantages and disadvantages. Every one has to decide for themselves what suits them best. Do you want to quickly learn another language, in which basing upon similarities will certainly be helpful. Or will it satisfy you more to learn a languages from a different family.

It seems, however, that you should not take on too many diametrically different languages​​, because you won’t learn satisfactorily any of them.

Of course, opinions differ in this matter. Some prefer to learn just one language to the desired level, others believe that there is no reason not to learn several languages ​​at once. I myself belong to the latter group, but I can afford to spread learning over time, because my present job or geting a new one does not depend on mastering a new language. But if I had to speak, let’s say a German, I would dedicate to it almost all my time.

Back to the subject, I believe that it is better not to take on too many different languages​​, because then learning new vocabulary and different grammatical structures will last forever. However, if you want to learn several languages ​​at the same time, in my opinion, the best strategy to combine learning a new language that is similar to the one you already know - with learning a different one.

What’s your opinion?

This text is available also in Polish


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