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The More Languages, the Easier?!
April 16, 2022

The more languages you speak, the easier it will be to learn a new one.

Do you remember your first foreign language and how long it took you to be able to say a sentence and understand the language to a certain level?

I still remember exactly how I had to learn English. It took a long time and was a laborious process until I understood even a bit of the language. A little later, I learned French, and also, with this language, it took a very long time until I could say even one sentence and got used to the new structures. After French, I learned Spanish. I did this in a short time, and in the beginning, I already understood some words and was able to communicate within a few months. When I learned Italian and Portuguese in the following years, things went even faster. Already at the beginning, I was able to understand many words. Initially, I understood Portuguese so well that I could read and understand entire texts without ever having learned the language before. So the more languages you speak, the easier it is to learn a new one.

But why is that?

Let's go a little into the history of language for this, where we will find the explanation. Languages are not something a person once built up and have fixed structures. Languages are constantly evolving and mixing with other languages and dialects, or they can die out entirely over time. Today, many languages still spoken in Europe have a long history and transformation. Still, all go back to a common original language, namely the Ur-Indo-European language, which is several million years old. The Indo-European language family was established from this ancestral language, which has many sub-families but has all descended from this one ancestral language and has changed over time. Among them are the Germanic language family, to which German and English belong, the Slavic languages, to which, for example, Russian belongs, the Baltic languages like Lithuanian and Latvian, and some languages Albanian or Greek. Since many languages that are nowadays world languages belong to the Indo-European languages and therefore have a common origin, it is possible to benefit from learning more than one of these languages. Indeed, the languages share various similarities and the languages that belong to the same language family even more.

For example, the Romance languages are all descended from Latin. In ancient times, Rome had a significant influence on the whole Mediterranean area, and Latin, which people spoke in Rome, spread quickly. As time went by, Latin mixed with the dialects of the various countries, which gave rise to the Romance languages. Latin is thus an extinct language but still lives on in the Romance languages. Therefore, French, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese are very similar and have adapted many structures and words from Latin. These similarities can sometimes be so great that, for example, 50% of the basic vocabulary of Italian is already known if one already speaks French. Also, some grammar structures are very similar between languages within a language family, and one can transfer many rules.

Certainly, these similarities between two languages are beneficial for us, and if we know that they exist, we can transfer words even more consciously. However, everything that is good has a negative side. These similarities between languages can also cause two languages to become mixed. Many words between languages are not identical but are very similar with a small change, such as two letters that change.

For instance, the word "world" is called "mondo" in Italian, "mundo" in Spanish, "mundo" in Portuguese, and "monde" in French. Although these words are very similar, you understand them all, even if you only speak one language. If a person already speaks Spanish, for example, and wants to learn Italian, it may well happen that the person transfers the Spanish word "mundo" into Italian. This phenomenon usually occurs subconsciously and interferes with the learning process. The positive thing is that the better you speak the languages, the better you can tell them apart. So these wrong translations are mainly beginner's mistakes. But this is not something wrong at all as it shows that you can speak more than one language, which is a positive thing. However, of course, such mistakes always happen, and you can't avoid them, but the next time you make such a mistake, you will know that we can find the reason in the history of the language.

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