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It's Easier Than You Think: Learn a Second Language

written by: Audrey Alleyne • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 11/30/2013

Amidst the vast range of world languages, there are many that share similar patterns. Similarities in first and second language acquisition make language learning easier.

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    Latin Roots

    Language Learning Anyone who has studied Latin realizes how much that knowledge helps in studying English. There are those who might think that this ancient language is only connected to the Romance languages: French, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese (sister languages), which developed from the mother tongue Latin; but the English language has many of its roots also found in Latin.

    As a matter of fact, even though students of French and English may realize that there are many similar words in these two languages, Latin remains the most prominent source for English vocabulary. We find Latin terminology in education, in horticulture, in science, in medicine, and according to some studies, in almost half of the English words we use daily. So, through their common roots in Latin, there are many similarities in first and second language acquisition, for those learning a Romance language when their birth language is English, or those speaking a Romance language who want to learn English.

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    The Latin Connection

    This Latin connection can be observed by any English-speaking student who studies French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese, and vice versa. There are many Latin words that came directly into English, but there are many that came indirectly into English from French. There are also many English words which can be traced back to Greek.

    Here are some examples of how common Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes can help an English speaking person to learn or understand French, Spanish, Italian or Portuguese vocabulary easily:

    Latin Root - dict

    Basic Meaning – to say

    Example words

    English - diction

    French - diction

    Spanish - dicción

    Italian - dizione

    Portuguese – dicção

    Latin Prefix – inter

    Basic Meaning – between, among

    Example words

    English - international

    French - internationale

    Spanish - internacional

    Italian - internazionale

    Portuguese – internacional

    Latin Suffix - ation

    Basic Meaning – forms nouns from verbs

    Example Words

    English – information

    French - information

    Spanish – información

    The following two, while they do not share a similar ending, are examples of making a reasonable, educated guess about the meaning of a word in one of the “sister languages”. Observe that they do have a similar prefix to the first three.

    Italian - informazioni

    Portuguese – informação

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    Spanish and English Similarities

    Let’s talk about Spanish similarities. For both Spanish and English speaking learners, similarities in first and second language acquisition offer even greater advantages. Like French and English, Spanish also uses the Roman alphabet. This is an important feature in building a phonemic and phonological foundation. About 30-40 percent of English words have a related word in Spanish. While in French, the sound, appearance and/or meaning may vary slightly, in English and Spanish, the cognates can be transferred directly into either language. Here are some Spanish words used in English as English words: alligator, bravo, cocoa, chocolate pronto, rodeo, taco, tobacco and many more. There are also many words the suffixes of which correspond to particular word endings in either language. Here are just a few:

    dad =ity

    actividad – activity

    libertad – liberty

    ción = tion

    nación – nation

    agravación – aggravation

    tud = tude

    latitude – latitude

    solicitude – solicitude

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    The Indo-European Family

    The Indo European family of languages contains the Germanic languages, which include English, German and Swedish; and the Latin and Romance languages like French and Spanish. Many similarities are found within these groups. The difficulty of studying German becomes a myth when English speaking students realize that there are so many words similarities. Take the following examples:


    Vater – Father

    Sohn –Son

    Wasser – Water

    Examen – exam

    Kamera – camera

    Student – student

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    The Indo-Iranian and Slavic Families

    There are many language families in the world. In each of them a student will find similarities in first and second language acquisition as well as differences. Students of Hindi can identify certain similarities in Urdu and Sanskrit, which are all Indo-Iranian languages. Students of the Slavic languages Czech and Russian see similarities there.

    So take the plunge to study a language. Your first language can be an asset for you. If you know a second language, learning a third or a fourth becomes definitely easier, especially if the languages belong to the same family. Bonne chance!

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    Are You on the Spot?

    Sometimes you may be stumped for vocabulary in the second language. Here is a helpful tip: Make an educated guess based on what you already know, and you just may be right or almost right. This is another way in which you can get over the stumbling block of vocabulary. As the world changes, language is also changing and words from some languages are borrowed and integrated into another. Your educated guess might be pretty successful!