Learning a language is very tricky, but very rewarding. If you’re thinking about learning more than one Latin language, I have some good news for you – it’s a lot easier than you thought! I’m a Brit who studied French, Spanish, and Portuguese at university, and now lives in Portugal full-time. I’ve been juggling French and Spanish for 13 years, and started learning Portuguese on top of those 7 years ago. Basically, I like languages. 🙂
So why do I think that learning more than one Latin language at a time can be easier? Well, without further ado, here are my tips:
Once you know the basics of the sentence structure and grammar in one language, you (mostly) know them all. Some rules, like putting the adjective after the noun (la casa blanca or le moulin rouge) or the noun after the verb (comí una manzana, j’ai joué au foot) just don’t change.
Here’s an example of how this made life easier for me: as a native English speaker, I had never heard about or used the subjunctive until I was learning Spanish as a teen, and I really struggled with the concept. After struggling with it in Spanish for a year, I was ready to use it in French and Portuguese without any confusion: I completely understood why and when we were using it, I just had to focus on how to form it.
Tip No. 2
A lot of words are very similar between Latin languages. This can also be one of its biggest pitfalls (false friends, I’m looking at you), but some of the time you’ll be able to understand or guess a word correctly thanks to this. For example, most words that end in “-tion” in English have specific endings in other Latin languages but will start in the same way. In French: –tion, Spanish: –ción, Portuguese: –ção, and Italian –zione. The good news here is that you don’t need to learn the vocab more than once, you just need to know the endings! This doesn’t always work, but it’s a good rule of thumb.
Get used to jumping between languages in your practice so you can flit between them more easily. Juggling languages got easier for me once I got used to practicing all three every day at uni. Over the course of a few hours I would go to a French speaking class, a Spanish translation seminar, and a Portuguese grammar lecture. Juggling was essential. It was exhausting at first, but after a few weeks it became second nature.
That being said, don’t make life more difficult than it needs to be. Why not start with a bit of grammar for one language followed by a SPEAK session in another?
Save time and learn all your vocab together. This sounds complicated, but it basically just means setting out your vocab in a chart with all languages:
School – école/colège (fr), escuela/colegio (es), escola (pt)
Hiking – la randonnée (fr), el senderismo (es), a caminhada (pt)
Not only will it get you into the practice of knowing all relevant translations and avoiding false friends, but it will also allow you to go through all your vocab at once.
Music and TV are amazing resources. You’ll get used to the different rhythms and develop a more attuned ear. Distinguishing between languages in your mind will get easier and you’ll have a stronger idea of what sounds right. Maybe you’ll learn how to use diminutives in Spanish from listening to Despacito, or you’ll get a better grasp of negative phrasing in French from Edith Piaf’s Je ne regrette rien. There’s a lot of great TV and music to be found, so have fun with this one!
It might sound boring, but it’s the only way to learn more than one language without going insane. Be kind to yourself and accept that you won’t be fluent on day 1. You’ll be a lot better by day 30, and even better on day 365! Learning a language is time consuming, whether it’s learning words, learning how to trill an R for Spanish, or learning your irregular verbs. If you take off the pressure of nailing it straight away then you’ll learn sustainably and more happily.
Finally, you need to get to know what works for you. I figured out, over more than 10 years of learning languages, how I learn and what motivates me. The above tips worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they will for you. I find that creating necessity makes it much easier for me to learn languages – I had to learn to juggle languages in order to complete my degree, so I did; I wanted to get better at Portuguese, so I moved to Portugal. This pressure isn’t for everyone, and not everyone wants to uproot their lives like that.
If you want to find out what works for you, trial and error will get you a long way, but a good teacher will be able to identify how you learn and build that into their lessons. If you want to get some one-on-one classes, you can find native teachers for remote lessons at Fixando Portugal, Fixando España, and Fixando Deutschland.
As I said before, learning multiple languages is hard work, so big kudos to you for doing it! Sometimes it might seem frustrating, but when you go on holiday and show off your skills, or make friends from different cultures, or even just find a great new show or film on Netflix, it will all be worth it. Happy learning, feel free to check out classes on Fixando, and of course attend some sessions with SPEAK!
If you liked reading this post, you might also enjoy "Learning a New Language Shouldn’t be Boring."