How fast can you learn a related language?

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jeff_lindqvist
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How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby jeff_lindqvist » Sat Jul 08, 2017 12:43 pm

Inspired by the recent thread how fast can you learn an unrelated language? I came to think of related languages.

A few weeks ago, I skimmed the old HTLAL thread Slavic Language Family Learning Sequence. In the very last post, Theodisce says:
Theodisce wrote:If I was to draw a conclusion, I would say that 100 hours of listening to a language is a solid foundation upon which to build your knowledge, provided you already have a decent command of a Slavic language.


Hmm, 100 hours... Let us leave the Slavic branch for a second. Zenmonkey watches Daredevil in Portuguese. It's not unusual for Scandinavians to watch TV in their neighbouring languages. Not everyone's native language has a close relative (Modern English, anyone?), but many have a strong target language with many relatives. So, 100 hours of (somewhat?) comprehensible input, and we have a solid foundation? It's worth a try, don't you think? One hour a day for a little more than three months.

The FSI estimates are mentioned in the first post of the thread: 10 months or 44 weeks or 1100 class hours of intensive, exclusive study + about 900 hours of homework/individual study to achieve (= about 2000 total hours).

Later in the same post, ProfArguelles speaks about positive transfer:
ProfArguelles wrote:However, once one knows one language of a group, there is a considerable amount of transfer from that language to other members of the group, and Slavic languages are by all accounts + my personal experience far more closely related to each other than are either Romance or Germanic languages. Thus, while your first Slavic language may take roughly the equivalent of a year and a half of exclusive, intensive study to achieve, your second should probably take fewer than six months, your third fewer than three months, your fourth about one month, etc.


He may be right when saying that Slavic languages are particularly close to each other, I don't know. It would be interesting to see a similar (suggested) timeline (and perhaps an optimal sequence?) for other language families. Anyway, fewer than six months for a second Slavic language sounds hopeful.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby blaurebell » Sat Jul 08, 2017 1:31 pm

Spanish I learned in an immersion school and it took me 10 weeks to get to a point where I could start reading extensively. With French it took me 13 weeks until I had read my first 5000 pages! Lightning speed! Between English and Spanish I had about 70% vocabulary overlap, it doesn't get much closer than that. All in all it took me 500h. Anything less seems unlikely.

But then other magic can happen with related languages: I actually abandoned Italian about 10 years ago, after studying it for only 3 months up to A2 level. I could never understand TV or news and I read only one book extensively. I then learned Spanish and French to B2+ comprehension and never looked at Italian again. The other day I started watching Star Trek TNG in Italian out of curiosity and although I sometimes miss a sentence here or there, it is entirely transparent to me. According to Dialang my listening comprehension is now B1 although I haven't studied Italian in 10 years and understood very little spoken Italian before. Somehow my Italian improved without studying it at all. Cool stuff!
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby iguanamon » Sat Jul 08, 2017 2:27 pm

To play devil's advocate- the devil is always in the details. When I had learned Spanish to an advanced level, probably C1, I decided that Portuguese would be my next language. It's true that I started with a huge advantage and could understand the gist of formal writing easily before I started. The everyday language can use quite different vocabulary where knowledge of Spanish as a second language isn't of much use (Spanish/Portuguese): "ventana/janela"; "carretera/estrada"; "calle/rua"; "cuchara/colher"; "tenedor/garfo"; "cuchillo/faca" - although "navaja/navalha" are cognate. In my experience having learned three closely related languages, it's the 20% that isn't similar that makes all the difference between "getting the gist" and "getting it right". I was intermediate quite quickly but it took a lot more work to get to advanced.

That being said, yes, I learned both Haitian Creole and Djudeo-espanyol quite quickly thanks to the similarities with English via French and my Spanish and Portuguese. I can read French here on the forum and news articles and get the gist. Catalan and Italian are much more transparent to me than French. I could probably get to intermediate in all of them in a few months. Which is no time compared to what it would take me to get to intermediate in Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hebrew or even German. The fact that I haven't learned Italian, Catalan and French to an intermediate level has more to do with my lack of interest and desire to learn them than with difficulty, but you never know, I just might set out to learn them in the future. The problem for me is that I just dread more conjugations, false friends, pronouns and concordance, and my irrational fear of ending up speaking "Francatalitaloportunhol". (Of course, these are false fears). I was grateful to Haitian Creole for having a much more simplified grammar than French when I was actively studying and being different enough from Spanish and Portuguese in vocabulary. It was a pleasure.

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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby Theodisce » Fri Jul 14, 2017 9:35 pm

A small update: ~130 hours of mostly audio input has proven enough to enable me to understand university lectures in Brazilian Portuguese on subjects I have some knowledge of with 90% or more comprehension. Prior to learning Portuguese I had devoted over 700 hours to French and about 300 to Spanish. Once I have reached ~450 hours in Spanish it became possible for me to have an hour long conversation in that language on a weekly basis without much difficulty; I'd say my spoken Spanish is at B1. I haven't tried it with my 330 hours strong Italian yet but I seriously doubt it is going to be much different. 100 hours of Dutch however seem to be to little to achieve the level of comfort enabling me to enjoy listening to the language instead of struggling with the comprehension, at least for me.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby bpasseri » Fri Jul 14, 2017 11:15 pm

iguanamon wrote:To play devil's advocate- the devil is always in the details. When I had learned Spanish to an advanced level, probably C1, I decided that Portuguese would be my next language. It's true that I started with a huge advantage and could understand the gist of formal writing easily before I started. The everyday language can use quite different vocabulary where knowledge of Spanish as a second language isn't of much use (Spanish/Portuguese): "ventana/janela"; "carretera/estrada"; "calle/rua"; "cuchara/colher"; "tenedor/garfo"; "cuchillo/faca" - although "navaja/navalha" are cognate. In my experience having learned three closely related languages, it's the 20% that isn't similar that makes all the difference between "getting the gist" and "getting it right". I was intermediate quite quickly but it took a lot more work to get to advanced.

That being said, yes, I learned both Haitian Creole and Djudeo-espanyol quite quickly thanks to the similarities with English via French and my Spanish and Portuguese. I can read French here on the forum and news articles and get the gist. Catalan and Italian are much more transparent to me than French. I could probably get to intermediate in all of them in a few months. Which is no time compared to what it would take me to get to intermediate in Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Hebrew or even German. The fact that I haven't learned Italian, Catalan and French to an intermediate level has more to do with my lack of interest and desire to learn them than with difficulty, but you never know, I just might set out to learn them in the future. The problem for me is that I just dread more conjugations, false friends, pronouns and concordance, and my irrational fear of ending up speaking "Francatalitaloportunhol". (Of course, these are false fears). I was grateful to Haitian Creole for having a much more simplified grammar than French when I was actively studying and being different enough from Spanish and Portuguese in vocabulary. It was a pleasure.

My standard citation link for Spanish-speakers learning Portuguese: Eu não falo português (ES) :)


I think that the benefit in terms of related languages is definitely more slanted towards the beginning levels. By learning some of that beginning essential vocab that you pointed out that is likely to be different in each language, plus the overlap in grammar and most other vocabulary, I think most learners could get to the intermediate level extremely quickly. However, it is after that point where the benefits seem to end. Like you said, the devil is in the details, and the 20% difference between Spanish and Portuguese that is going to take the longest to learn, and the more advanced vocabulary and idioms one tends to learn at the C1/C2 levels are usually pretty language-specific. So to sum up, I think related languages probably give you a sort of warp drive between the A1 and B1 levels, but after that is not of too much use.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby Jimjam » Sat Jul 15, 2017 12:22 am

I've always been curious about how learning a closely related language would affect your active skills in the newer language. Let's say you speak french to a high level and you decide to learn spanish; you'd be able to breeze through the beginner level grammar and you would have a higher level of understanding due to all of the cognates but how does that transfer to when you try and speak the language? Do you find it hard to be able to understand possibly thousands of words rather quickly, but when you try to produce them you can only actively think of them in terms of your "first language" (french in this case). It might be a very trivial thing that i'm overthinking which can be overcome easily by a bit of hard work, but I've always personally thought it would be very challenging, largely because I wouldn't want to start saying french words in a spanish conversation.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby Gomorrita » Sat Jul 15, 2017 10:21 am

Surprisingly fast. I learned Italian while already knowing Spanish (native), Catalan and French, and it was the fastest language I ever learned by far. It probably took me around 3 weeks to be able to maintain a relatively fluent conversation with not many mistakes. I think I used Anki to learn no more than 400 words, but since I avoided adding words that had strong similarity with languages I already knew, those 400 words gave me an enormous boost.

That was around 2 years ago and I only studied Italian for around 6 weeks in total. I think it is interesting that now Italian is by far the most "warm-up-sensitive" language I know. If someone suddenly asks me something in Italian, my speech production is completely frozen and I can hardly answer, give me 10 minutes of warm-up and I start making sentences, give me an hour and I am back to acceptable fluency. I assume this is somehow a consequence of how fast I learned but not sure exactly why. :P
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby Iversen » Sat Jul 15, 2017 4:49 pm

Let's first consider the case of passive understanding (written or oral): with very close relatives it seems to me that the correct word here isn't learning, but rather adaption. You 'learn' not so much by adding new facts about the target language as by learning to make better guesses based on things you already know (plus a sprinkling of facts about false friends, common sound correspondances etc.).

For me it is impossible to say how long time that takes without specifying which languages we are speaking about and how you choose to measure your level. I have for instance read texts in Sardic without having studied the language systematically, but I chose reasonably simple texts about wellknown themes and not poetry or novels with lot of local expressions, and I did have some knowledge about several related languages - so here we're speaking about an adaptation time of maybe an hour or so. On the other hand I have had trouble with texts in Aromanian - and quite frankly I don't know whether I could have found better texts to attack, but another reason could be that I have read far more in Italian than in (Daco)Romanian. But with suitable texts and a grammar and a good bidirection dictionary a few days should open the doors to the world of Aromanian writings - but much more time would be needed to conquer the spoken variant. I can't say how much because I haven't tried it, but I could basically follow Youtube files in Sardic already the first day I tried.

Active skills is quite another matter. I do speak some kind of monkey Swedish, and I know a lot of words and expressions in the language, but even though Swedish is closely related to Danish on a linguistic level and I have been watching Swedish TV since the 60s and traveled extensively in Sweden I still have a very clear Danish accent - so my learning process has stopped somewhere along the way. Well, who cares - the Swedes understand me better when I kill their language than when I speak Danish, and I can say just about anything I need to express in the language.

Norwegian is quite another matter. I understand it just as well as Swedish and it know as least as many words and expressions by heart, but if somebody says to me: say something in Norwegian, then I stand like before a house with many doors, and there is a different dialect behind each one. I would need to listen exclusively to one dialect for some time to make a clear picture in my head of how to speak that language - and that hasn't happened yet. And the writing system is problematic because I prefer New Norwegian, but have far less ressources to learn to write it properly. Still I would guess that a month in a specific part of Norway with good resources and maybe some qualified assistance to correct my accent would be enough to reach a decent level.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby whatiftheblog » Tue Jul 18, 2017 7:25 am

Jimjam wrote:I've always been curious about how learning a closely related language would affect your active skills in the newer language. Let's say you speak french to a high level and you decide to learn spanish; you'd be able to breeze through the beginner level grammar and you would have a higher level of understanding due to all of the cognates but how does that transfer to when you try and speak the language? Do you find it hard to be able to understand possibly thousands of words rather quickly, but when you try to produce them you can only actively think of them in terms of your "first language" (french in this case). It might be a very trivial thing that i'm overthinking which can be overcome easily by a bit of hard work, but I've always personally thought it would be very challenging, largely because I wouldn't want to start saying french words in a spanish conversation.


Yes. This is exactly how it is for me. Now, bear in mind that I work out of an hispanophone office at least 3 days a week, so I'm constantly reading and hearing spoken Spanish (Colombian, Mexican, Ecuadorean, Argentine, Uruguayan) - I credit this + French with all of my mediocre Spanish. At this stage, 5ish years into this job/role, I can read the news and legal documents in Spanish without any issues, I can watch the news, I can generally watch movies but prefer to have Spanish subs, and I can... sort of... produce some things. My problem is that what I *can* produce is of very good quality because it's what I keep hearing daily, so some people initially think the rest of it is very good, too, which... it's not. There are lots of things I still go French -> Spanish on when needed - this is kind of a ridiculous story, but I was recently stuck on a bus in Paris with a Peruvian political activist whose views differed significantly from my own, and he was very nice, so I tried to explain to him why his analysis was inaccurate... in Frespañol. I genuinely couldn't tell you where some of that vocabulary even came from, it just appeared. Separately, there was also that time my mom & I specifically booked an English-speaking driver for a 3-hour driving tour in Peru, and once we set out it became clear the driver spoke no English, and we still managed to have a great time and learn a lot from my "Spanish" + gesturing - my French wasn't as good back then, so I'll blame that for the fact that while we survived, it wasn't a high-quality conversation.
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Re: How fast can you learn a related language?

Postby IronMike » Wed May 12, 2021 2:14 pm

How did I never see this post? Thanks for mentioning it in another thread, Jeff.

I point folks to this thread I started years ago of my experiences in DLI's old Turbo-Serbo course. (That's the students' name for it. DLI called it the Serbian/Croatian Slavic Conversion Course.)
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