Many Romance languages: risk of confusion

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by jester., Aug 3, 2006.

  1. jester.

    jester. Senior Member

    Aachen, Germany
    Germany -> German

    First off: I know that confusion of words and grammar often occurs between Romance languages. This is a well-known fact and quite common among learners.

    The question is especially directed rather at people who know, let's say, at least three Romance languages (I don't). By "know" I mean that they are at, at least, an intermediate level in learning those three Romance languages.

    My question is: How do you handle/avoid confusion between the languages. This question leads to my real question: Is it (or How is it) possible to learn maybe 4, 5, 6 or even more Romance languages?

    Personally, I would love to do so (in good time) but I'm a bit concerned about the possible risk of confusion and maybe finally messing up all of these languages.

    What do you think about this? How did you manage to learn so many Romance languages without losing track of the differences in grammar and vocabulary?

    One of my theories is that one has to learn one language until a certain level and then begin the next one. So, maybe (I actually have no idea about this stuff) there would be different "blocks" in your brain whicht don't intervene with each other so easily if they have been created one after the other.

    I hope you understand this obscure theory and I hope that many people can share their experiences (although I know that it is quite much to know 3 or more Romance languages and that there are probably not so many people in this forum who do have the quality for which I'm asking in this interview).
  2. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I'm kind of in a borderline situation. My native language is Portuguese, and I've learned French. I know a little Spanish, but I've never studied it formally.

    My advice for avoiding confusion between the languages is simple: learn just one of them at a time. And make sure you're pretty comfortable with each, before moving on to the next one: Can you read a book in it? Can you keep a fluent conversation with a native speaker? Can you follow a TV show?... If your answer to these questions is "not entirely", then you haven't really learned that language yet, and you're not ready to move on to another one.

    Having said this, I can understand that all our languages must look alike to someone whose native language is Germanic. If I tried to learn Dutch, Danish and Swiss German all at once, I would probably mix them up, too. :D
  3. vince Senior Member

    Los Angeles, CA
    It's really hard to study many at the same time

    You would have to immerse yourself in each one so that you are fully fluent and no longer confuse words

    Otherwise, you will confuse words when you are studying

    I am studying Portuguese, Spanish, and French. What usually happens is that if I don't know a Portuguese word, I substitute in a Spanish word, but Portuguese-ized ("lusified"). If I don't know a Spanish word, I substitute a French word, Hispanicized.

    The challenge is to develop separate thought processes for all the Romance languages you are learning, otherwise you will mix up grammar

    e.g. espérer (to hope) takes the indicative in French, but subjunctive in Spanish/Portuguese

    e.g. with modal verbs, the pronoun goes in the middle with French and Portuguese but at the end or beginning in Spanish

    If there does exist a level of fluency where one does not confuse languages, then it must be very high, because I have been self-studying French for many many years and even went there, but I still mix up Spanish into my French. Perhaps frequent usage of the languages is what creates the separate "blocks" as you say. And not purely one's level of understanding of the language. Because I haven't spoken French in four years so perhaps that's why.

    The same kind of thing applies for other related language families. I am also trying to learn Mandarin but I often directly translate from Cantonese and it sounds weird or doesn't make sense.
  4. Layzie Member

    United States
    English, Spanish.
    I'm a native spanish and english speaker, so my opinion is biased, but I find each language has a very distinct sound to it. I've studied french to a very advanced level, and I've looked at the basics of portuguese and italian though I havent had time to seriously learn either one of the two. Having studied barely any portuguese and italian, I could go to wikipedia right now and understand almost all the portuguese and maybe 60%-70% of the italian. Listening, it's a lot harder. My advice to you, if you want to learn 2 simultaneously, is to learn the gender articles and verb conjugations first, this makes it really easy to distinguish between the two languages fast when you run into a text.
  5. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    I have learned Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French, Catalan and Romanian, and indeed, it can be confusing sometimes (although Romanian and French are harder to confuse, in my opinion). I myself, although I am a native Portuguese speaker, many times confuse it with Spanish, the language that is the closest to it in this group. I would say that I'm fluent in all those languages, and confusion still sometimes occurs, but not that often, though.

    After a certain time, you basically expect certain endings in a given Romance language's word even if you have never seen the word, but based on previous lexical experiences you've had. The endings also help you to keep them apart: Portuguese -dade, Spanish -dad, Italian -tà, French -té, Catalan -tat, Romanian -tate.

    I would suggest doing as has been pointed out before. Only when you're really comfortable with one Romance language should you embark on the next one, otherwise chances are there will be a big mess in your head. This, by the way, happened to me when I was learning Swedish after Danish, I couldn't keep them apart anymore. But since I prefer Swedish, I decided to study it a little bit more and go back to Danish when I was able to better distinguish them.

    I, for example, sometimes have to think how to say nomad. I have to stop and think that it's nômade in Portuguese (although nômada also exists, but less used in my neck of the woods), nómada in Spanish (nómade also exists, but less common) and nomade in Italian. :confused: This especially happens to words that I don't use every day.

    It can also take the infinitive in Portuguese (espero ver-te amanhã) and Spanish (espero verte mañana). You must be referring to something else.

    I just gave you a counterexample above. ;)
  6. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    :idea: Vince might be thinking of colloquial Brazilian Portuguese, in which I believe the most common word order would be "Espero te ver amanhã".
  7. jazyk Senior Member

    Brno, Česká republika
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Oh, my bad. I was thinking infinitive, not indicative. Yes, you're right, Vince.

    Thanks, Outsider, for pointing it out.
  8. mytwolangs Senior Member

    English United States
    The fact is this -
    The more languages you try to study, the less proficient you will be at any one, aside from your native tongue. You can learn one or two new languages very well or you can learn 3 or more only half-ass.

    A jack of all trades is master of none.
  9. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Trilingual: Swedish, Romanian & English
    Let me start off by saying that this is a brilliant thread!

    I've been thinking about this for quite some time.

    Romanian is my real "mother tongue", I've studied French since I was five (don't ask me how :p ), did a big mistake taking Spanish in the 8th-9th grade and I have studied Italian for three years now.

    Well, I have to agree with every post here. I have mixed up these languages sometimes very much. When I came back from Italy last year, my French teacher was shocked that instead of "oui" I said "si", all the time! I gave up Spanish, because believe it or not it started to affect my German (!) and vice versa. :eek:

    Romanian has always helped me with all the Latin languages. I've always relied on Romanian to help me in grammar and vocabulary in other Latin languages (don't ask me how!:D ). I think that you get the best of all worlds if you have Romanian in the baggage, when learning other Latin languages. (PS: I’m currently learning Portuguese and I don’t mix it up with the other languages)

    You may be right, but it depends on your learning ability and ambition. I took French and Italian simultaneously and it worked out (even if I was much more advanced in French).

    I think you should take the chance and GIVE IT A GO!


    :) robbie

  10. jester.

    jester. Senior Member

    Aachen, Germany
    Germany -> German
    You mean I should start learning another or several other Romance languages now, without "completing" the ones I'm learning now? Well, thanks for your encouragement, but honestly, I doubt if that would be a good idea.
  11. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Truth be told, you will never really "complete" learning a language, not even your own. However, for most people at least, I think it's a good idea to wait until you've started to get the hang of a language before taking up a similar one.
  12. jester.

    jester. Senior Member

    Aachen, Germany
    Germany -> German
    I know that one never completes a languages, I've heard it countless times. But I guess that you know what I mean.
  13. robbie_SWE

    robbie_SWE Senior Member

    Trilingual: Swedish, Romanian & English
    Maybe you should first get acquainted with one language first, but then you can take two new languages at the same time. That's my opinion anyway.

    :) robbie
  14. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    It might help if you try and learn your new language through the old language. IE, I am learning Spanish (for like 7 years now). I want to learn Portuguese, so what better way to compare similar structures and learn more than by using Spanish?
  15. moldo

    moldo Senior Member

    Dutch, Netherlands
    Very interesting topic.

    I am a native Dutch speaker. Once upon a time, when I was young, I have learned the old Latin. Only translating.
    I also learned French speaking and writing as well. Although I am certainly not very fluent, I can manage.

    Later I followed a beginners course in Italian, which is helpfull for vacations (Questa sedia e libera?)
    For vacations in Spain you have this little books with usefull phrases. (Dos cervezas, por favor).

    I have just returned from vacation in Portugal. I had prepaired myself with a little book, the bbc short beginners course Portuguese and by reading Portugues internet pages.
    In real life conversation it did not work. Everything got mixed up, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese. Also the articulation of the Portuguese is very special. Too fast to understand.

    So, like some of you have adviced, I should really concentrate on first getting more fluent in one language.
    But which one?
    Italian is the easiest for me I guess to progress on.
    Spanish on the other hand is the most spoken language, so probably more valuable to be able to speak.
    Portuguese has the most beautifull sound and articulation.

    Any recommendations? Italian, Spanish or Portuguese?


  16. Kräuter_Fee

    Kräuter_Fee Senior Member

    Portuguese&Spanish (native)/ (English&German - foreign)
    For me it's extremely hard not to get confused... My native languages are both Romance languages (Spanish and Portuguese) and many many times I get confused... and about the grammar, don't ask me a thing about Portuguese grammar...

    I think that two languages that are too similar are hard to learn, I'd rather learn a language that is completely different to the one I speak.
  17. chics

    chics Senior Member

    Catalan - Spanish
    At the Universidad de Barcelona (Melchor de Palau street, Barcelona, Spain) they teach languages. There's a subjet for english, another for French... And there's one where you learn at the same time italian, portuguese, spanish and french.
  18. chics

    chics Senior Member

    Catalan - Spanish
    I would recommind you the easiest for you.

    Afterwards, you'll see that it will be not difficult to understand (at less, by reading) the others, and with a little extra effort you would be able to comunicate -not correct, but comunicate!- with the others.
  19. The only way to avoid confusion I have discovered so far is to know the language well and to keep it in constant use. That concerns all languages, not only those belonging to one language group or family.
  20. swyves

    swyves Senior Member

    UK English, Living in Peru
    I studied French and Spanish together, and aborted an attempt at Portuguese when it just sabotaged the Spanish. I then moved to a Spanish-speaking country, and largely lost the ability to talk French (without going very slowly and still dropping in hundreds of Spanish words). Now that my Spanish is natural and fluent, I'm recovering the ability to speak French, and I think I could now improve my level much more quickly than before. I'm also starting to learn Portuguese and finding that quite easy. As I speak English and Spanish and have learned some French and Latin, I feel that I can now distinguish between the languages easily enough to learn more than one at a time; say, French and Portuguese, without getting confused. And once that's done, I might be able to learn Italian and Catalan at the same time. My suspicion is that the more languages one has a high level of fluency in, the easier it is to learn more.
  21. Very very true. But one is also bound to confuse them more often:). It is hard to keep up on all of them at the same time. I often say that languages are like children:) . They not only need to be produced (learnt), but also fed (maintained);) .
  22. swyves

    swyves Senior Member

    UK English, Living in Peru
    True, true -- I can't find the reference now, but I remember reading about an African politician (I think) who grew up in a small village and was then forced to leave his country for many years. On his eventual return, he found that he had forgotten his own native language.
    I know that after a long period of disuse even my English gets less accurate and I find myself constantly forgetting finding myself at a loss for a word. So, to keep fluency in a large number of Romance languages would almost certainly be a very tricky juggling act. I know a Romanian woman who claims to speak 6, but I'm not at all certain that I believe her.
  23. I can believe that. I myself spent 4 years in my childhood-early teenage years without practically speaking any English at all. You should have heard me when I first met with the British community after that!! If I remember rightly, I had to produce my passport to confirm my nationality!:D Still after speaking Spanish or Russian for a long time, I deliberately force myself to read something in English or to keep thinking in English before having to speak to somebody in order to "come back".

    I believe it about the Romanian woman as well. I speak several Romance, several Scandinavian, Polynesian and Slavic languages. One can achieve that if one really puts effort into that. I started with 4 languages from the very beginning and then it all goes on and on. Maybe she just set that goal for herself.
  24. swyves

    swyves Senior Member

    UK English, Living in Peru
    I'm not doubting her on principle; more because I've heard her try to speak Spanish, which she's supposedly good at! It's very easy to claim to speak Catalan when one is safely shielded from any Catalans.

    I've seen my brother speaking fluently in at least five languages, and remember reading about a British journalist who was conversational in 40.

    So I'm pretty sure you polyglots didn't get that way by spending the same 11 years on each of those languages that it's taken me to get my Spanish up to scratch! I'll suggest a mix of it getting easier the more you have "under your belt", and natural linguistic talent (something I certainly lack).
  25. This is probably so. Many people I`ve heard claiming that they are fluent in English, were far from being that. And the less fluent they are, the more they think of their abilities. So she might be that type. Although one might be not that dishonest either. Again it depends on the amount of use you give to all your languages. That`s what J3s talking about. I am supposed to have an advance level in both Spanish and Italian. I mostly speak Spanish these days. I met an Italian tourist in the city last week and I almost couldnt speak Italian, Spanish would come out. After half an hour I more or less got accustomed to it. But when I returned to my Latin American boss I couldn`t speak Spanish because only Italian would come out. Iwas once again reminded that one has to give additional effort to maintaining all the languages at the same time, esp. if some are temporarily 'abandoned'. like it happended with your French.
    I hear the Head of the British Intelligence spoke 56. That`s whom you should consult, probably;).
    And I do not quite believe in inborn linguistic talents, it`s just about starting early and acquiring the habit. You probably put your energy initially into something else. Learning languages is just like gathering speed and then one cannot stop:).
  26. Well, that`s only the fault of the Catalan -speaking community!! Why on earth are they so hard to meet??!!:D
  27. ronanpoirier

    ronanpoirier Senior Member

    Porto Alegre
    Brazil - Portuguese
    Well, interesting topic I must say. I think the risk of confusing them is clearly. It's really usual to hear people saying they speak Italian or Spanish here because they are very similar to Portuguese (and what about Galician? Hehehe That is one close language to Portuguese!). But the thing is they understand the language when reading it or even when listening to a person speaking it!
    You don't need to much brain (if you're a native speaker of Portuguese) to relate "noite" with "noche", "nuit", "notte" and "nopte" (I guess that's the Romanian form).
    It's not surprising to listen to someone who says "to speak" another Romance language and he or she mix it with Portuguese because of the lack of vocabulary.
    Learning the grammar may be tricky. All languages have their similarities and differences:
    Portuguese / Italian / Galician / Catalan (I think) / Romanian (actually it's a suffix which indicates the article in this case) use the definite article + possessive pronoun.
    Portuguese uses articles before person's names.
    Portuguese's personal infinitive is kinda tricky too.
    French and Italian's 3rd person plural possessive is the same, the possessed thing's gender doesn't matter.
    French and Italian have those pronouns which indicates another thing already mentioned: en, y, ne
    Italian negative imperative uses the infinitive form while other Romance languages use the subjuntive to form it.
    Portuguese and Italian have contractions of prepositions with feminine articles.

    Not to mention use of verbs tenses. And verbs are tricky too! Compare Portuguese, Galician, Spanish and Italian conjugations! They are really close. French is too to a certain level.

    Another good thing to master are the suffixes:
    Portuguese -ção, Spanish -ción, Italian -zione, French -tion
    Portuguese -vél, Spanish -ble, Italian -bile, French -ble
    And many others.

    And not to mention pronounce! Spanish, Italian and Romanian may have, to a certain level, close pronounces (number of vowels and consonants). French and Portuguese have nasal sounds and stuff. Portuguese's written form is closer to French's I think.

    Well... I think, it would be possible to learn more than one at once. The thing is to learn separated the grammars up to an intermediate level first. Then you have to learn the tricky things such as the suffixes. Finally, learn some vocabulary. Then you can pass to another language and you won't have too many problem because, I guess, about 80% of what you learned on the previous language, you'll use to the other. But that's my opinion. Must be because of that I can't speak advanced Italian and Spanish. Oh that reminds me those are "assimilative" languages to me. Languages I learn just to reading texts and translating the words I don't know, since, as I said before, about 80% of what I know from French and Portuguese will help me a lot!

    I hope it helps a little. Or about 80% hehehe :)

    P.S.: Just don't forget the slangs and expressions (which are harder to learn since mostly are not in dictionaries) and false cognates!
  28. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    I think the point is why you learn more languages. If you do it only for fun (& want to kill two birds with one stone:D), then it's not as much problem if you confuse them, others will correct you & all ends up as a big fun when making mistakes. :D

    The only problem should be if you are working with languages at a professional level. Then, this is how foreign expressions get (got) into languages. But in the end there's the proofreader who will correct your mistakes.

    I personally don't have problems with words and don't know why. It depends on individuals. I asked myself why I cant find e.g. perguntar and preguntar confusing. I don't know, maybe a biolinguist could answer the question. The only word I will never learn how to write in many languages correctly is football. Extremely confusing and so far was not able to learn it.
  29. TimLA

    TimLA Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English - US
    It can be very difficult.
    During the day I speak some Spanish to others and rarely write it.
    Here on the forums I write Italian and rarely speak it because I don't have the opportunity.

    Occasionally I'll bounce between Italian and Spanish forums and end up writing "que" in the Italian post and "che" in the Spanish one.
    While speaking Spanish, I'll often do half a sentence in Italian...and when I see the error, I just say "sorry"...I'm learning Italian:(:D.
    At least now, there is a part of my brain that says "STOP! That's Italian! Switch back to Spanish!":D

    Though I'm rarely on the French forums, to me it isn't an issue because the spelling is very different, and when speaking, the accent is SO different I generally don't get confused.

    Good question!
  30. Ynez Senior Member

    The language you know best (or you have been practising more) will influence the rest, but at the same time it will help communication, because you will normally be using that language into another romance language when you can't think of the word you want to say.

    I mean, mixing them is bad if you aim for perfection, but it is great when you are trying to communicate. :)
  31. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)

    :thumbsup: I agree.
  32. Nanon

    Nanon Senior Member

    Entre Paris et Lisbonne
    français (France)
    But what does "communicating" mean :confused:?
    Confusions and false cognates can hinder communication. Even between very close languages and cultures having as much in common as Spanish and Portuguese (or Latin American Spanish and Brasilian... oh, whatever :)).

    At least in my experience with three Romance languages, the more you practise a language, the less confusions you will have in that language. Yet like plants, languages need watering... and learning a new language should not drive your attention away from the other one(s) you already speak.
  33. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    I don't really see any special problem concerning the romance languages. I it is easier to learn threes (or more) languages of the same family than three languages of different families. Of course you may mix up things. That may also happen if you grow up learning two Germanic languages at one time. But once you've reached a level where you can speak more or less fluently in one you already have the basic structure of the next one, and - at least passively - a huge vocabulary.
  34. Juri Senior Member

    Koper, near Trieste
    I work only with Italian, English and Slovenian, but studied Latin, German,Slovenian, Croatian, attended a beginner's course of French;being five times in Spain , learned the complete local touristic repertory ,then autodidacted a bit of Russian.I never had confusion problems, because , visiting countries in Europe, North Africa and USA, I take befor every start a handbook and refresh the necessary language. During the drive to Budapest wife repeated to me Hungarian(very difficult) words. So in seven hours I learned just 70 quite useful words. In Prague it happened better.I mean also that our natural PC(our brain), can't forget a well learned language. I studied German 50 years ago, and used it in rare occasions. But after only two days permanence in Austria , German appears again from my brain archives -the files.
  35. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    That's very interesting. I was already fluent in Spanish when I began studying French, and was fluent in French when I began studying Italian. The Italian class was advanced; the only students allowed to enroll where those who had already studied either Spanish, French, or Latin for four years. I was a teenager at that time, and never had any problem keeping the languages straight, either.

    I am having a problem now, though. After studying all those languages (plus Russian, Japanese, and Latin), I spoke nothing but English for almost 15 years. I forgot a lot of what I've learned. Now I'm studying Spanish and Russian on my own again, and the problem is that sometimes when I'm speaking or thinking in one of the languages, a word from the other will pop into my head, and suddenly I'm stuck. It happens only with words that sound like they could be a word in the both languages (for example, the Spanish word "basura" sounds like it could be a Russian word).

    As for the original question, I agree that the best approach is to learn one Romance language to the point of fluency before starting the next. Once you have learned one Romance language to fluency, it becomes much easier to learn the next. (I found it helpful when learning French to use a Spanish-French/French-Spanish dictionary.)
  36. silverdaizy

    silverdaizy Senior Member

    Canada- English
    I have the exact same problem! I am a native English speaker but also speak fluent Spanish. I was studying Italian for a few years but when I moved to Spain I dropped it to improve my Spanish more easily (as I was mixing the two together). Now that I am fluent in Spanish, I have started to learn French, but I also want to go back to Italian because my level is better than French so it would be easier to learn. BUT I also want to start studying German! So which one should I learn first?!?

    Italian would be the easiest for me as it is the closest to Spanish and I have a higher level than the other two...
    French, however, would be more beneficial to me as I am Canadian and when I decide to return to my country it will always come in handy...
    But I also have this obsession with German! And REALLY want to learn!

    I guess we are in the same predicament :eek:
  37. silverdaizy

    silverdaizy Senior Member

    Canada- English
    I just want to add that I also use Spanish-French and Spanish-Italian dictionaries because Spanish is my 2nd language and, therefore, the foreign language that my brain relates the other new foreign languages to. It's helpful to compare the similarities and differences and always keep them in mind as this will help you in many ways when you're learning a new language.

    Also, it's recommendable to at least have one foreign language under your belt before learning another as your brain is already accustomed to thinking in a different way and processes the new information more easily:D
  38. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    Communication means being together. ;)
  39. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    Once you know the structure in one it is easier to focus on the differences in the next one, than learning the structure in a language of a different group.

    Of course you should learn one first so you have a solid level to build on. That is exactly where it becomes a lot easier to learn the next one.
  40. Encolpius

    Encolpius Senior Member

    Praha (Prague)
    magyar (Hungarian)
    I wonder if there are any other pitfalls except the vocabulary. :idea: Just because you mentioned structure, so syntax, word order or anything confusing.
  41. curly

    curly Senior Member

    English - Ireland
    I imagine the worst parts are the bits that would make grammatical sense in one language, but just isn't said because there's an idiomatic phrase that is preferred for no particular reason.

    That'd drive me nuts having to adapt to les caprices of many similar languages.
  42. Rintoul Senior Member

    Catalonia, Catalan
    Truth be told, there aren't so many millions of us, but we aren't that hard to meet! Just come to the right places...:)
  43. rukiak Senior Member

    I am not sure if my question is suitable for this thread, but I have experiences of mixing English and French, the latter is lomance language, I think...

    My question is that if there exist the universal grammar, is the confusion of words and grammar is because of that? Or, is it like problems that you mistype words or commands when you use or experience two kinds of keyboard like Mac keyboard and Win keyboard? What do you think?
    Last edited: Jun 21, 2010
  44. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    It is very much like different keyboards - with hundreds of keys.
  45. jdotjdot89 Senior Member

    American English
    I actually agree with that a lot, given certain contexts. At one point, while I was studying in Barcelona, I took a course in which the professor spoke in Spanish, the students spoke in Catalan, the American student on my left spoke in English, and the Israeli student on my right spoke in Hebrew. Needless to say, since I speak all those languages, it was pretty difficult to come out with a coherent sentence. The reason was because I wasn't focusing on a particular language when I spoke--it was like trying to type while constantly changing keyboards. Once I started picking a language for each sentence and focusing, I stopped mixing them up.

    That being said, I most often mix up languages when there's a particular word that I do not know or have forgotten--I will just replace it with a word from another language. This is particularly the case with Romance languages, but then it's usually correct--for example, I forgot the word for "word" in Catalan, and so I said "mot" from French but using a Catalan pronunciation, and sure enough, it was right. Being right for the wrong reasons happens a lot between the Romance languages. That stops when I begin inserting Hebrew words instead, which has happened. (Anecdote: I once went to the supermercado and demanded to know where the sabón was, and I couldn't understand why the woman kept clarifying if I meant jabón when I clearly meant sabón, until I realized after the fact that sabón is how you say "soap" in Hebrew.)

    I vote learning a bunch of languages despite the risk. I just say that you focus on one at a time. That doesn't mean that you have to achieve fluency in one before you move onto the next; just only be trying to learn one at any given time. I have switched off between learning French and Catalan many times over the past year, but I don't mix them up even though they're very alike because I am either in "French mode" or "Catalan mode." Being around speakers of whichever language helps a lot, as well--I strongly support learning foreign languages in areas that speak that language natively; I think that's the only real way to do it. I was able to speak Catalan on a train back from Versailles with relative ease simply because I was talking with native speakers despite being surrounded by French--I was able to switch into "Catalan mode." Does anyone else focus like to avoid confusion?
  46. lux_ Senior Member

    Definitely what you have defined as "focus" plays a huge role.

    For sure the chances of mixing up languages when you are in the "right context", meaning with native speakers or with people who speak that language are much much fewer than if you just study the languages on your own or in some classes and the move to the next class to lean a different language.

    Indeed I'm trying to learn German with my girlfriend, I work in a company where my team speaks Italian and the company's language is English. So I'm often in a situation where I need to switch quickly, and that "confusion moment" even happens when switching to my mother tongue. So I would say that the risk is not really that big and mostly confined to the first impact.
  47. Heredianista

    Heredianista Senior Member

    Portland, Maine
    English - USA
    I didn't!

    My Spanish was excellent until I learned Portuguese and Italian.

    I don't know how others do it.

  48. Vanda

    Vanda Moderesa de Beagá

    Belo Horizonte, BRASIL
    Português/ Brasil
    And where have you been that I have never seen you at the PT forum? But why do you say your Spanish 'was' excelent until you learned the other Romance languages?
  49. chifladoporlosidiomas Senior Member

    San Francisco
    English (US)
    It only gets hard for me when I have to switch from one to another... I took Spanish, French, and Portuguese in high school and I had them for three years all in one day. So, going from one class to another was a hassle because my brain would lag in transition time. So, my teachers knew to just talk to me and if I didn't reply it was because I was getting my thoughts together so I didn't end up speaking the wrong langauge. That's the only time I really have problems, other than that they help because if I forget a word in one language, I can subsitute it (colloquial doesn't always work because some words in one language are "old" in one (port. rua, spanish rúa; port. mais, spa. mas; spa. olvidar, port. olvidar, fren. plus spa/port. plus; etc).
  50. Heredianista

    Heredianista Senior Member

    Portland, Maine
    English - USA
    Oh, dear Vanda!

    I love all of your posts. :)

    And this one, is so sweet. Thank you!

    I have not been in the Portuguese forum (except for once or twice) precisely because Portuguese confuses my Spanish to no end!

    And I say "my Spanish 'was' excellent" because I studied Spanish-language literature seriously for eight years, lived in Mexico, Costa Rica, Cuba, and Spain, and made the Spanish language (and Spanish-speaking Latin American cultures) my absolute top priority for decades.

    As a result, I was once truly a Master of the Spanish language – and I knew what I knew, without doubt. I read Don Quixote in the original. I knew Old Spanish, and all it's antiquated verb forms, and could read it better than I could read Old English (as in, Shakespeare).

    I knew every single irregular verb conjugation, grammatical peculiarity, and verb form, including vos and vosotros.

    And, while no one is ever done learning the vocabulary of any language (especially when a language varies so dramatically from region to region!), my vocabulary was ridiculously extensive, both from having lived abroad and from having studied so much literature.

    For example, words like 'vidurria' (third verse": easy, comfortable life) and 'eslabón" (3rd verse: missing link? necessary link?) were part of my innate knowledge — and now I have to work through them, arduously.

    Or, for that matter:

    "¿Por qué derrocha el cielo tantas vidas
    que no son de otras nuevas eslabón?
    ¿Por qué fue dique de tu sangre pura
    tu pobre corazón?

    Wow. That's a text that now would take me some time to get inside of.

    You see?

    Whereas now...

    I have doubt, all the time.

    ~ ~ ~

    Here's a funny story. (At least, to me.) When I lived in Boston, I went to a party thrown by an artist from Mexico. Virtually everyone there was from Mexico.

    I met two delightful young Mexican men (one of whom started a year-long relationship with me that night) and spent hours in conversation with them.

    They were absolutely perplexed about which Latin American country I was from. They spent what seemed like hours, talking with me, and guessing, and talking, and guessing.. until they were utterly bewildered. They must have guessed every country in Latin America.

    It was delightful fun for me. Here were were, in Boston, where I had been born and raised, and it never once occurred to them that I might be from the EEUU, let alone from Boston!

    But do you know what gave me away????

    I have to say, this drove me nuts, that this is what gave me away:

    I said "pesquisa" instead of "investigación." (Both meaning "research, in case anyone wonders.)

    It was my Portuguese that gave me away!!!

    Immediately, they both said, "OH, you're AmERican!"



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