April 11, 2012 | Review Period

Studying As Fast As I Can

And the languages (French, Italian, German, and Spanish) are getting kind of mixed up.

One of the things that most appealed to me about this language review is the opportunity, for the first time, to study a bunch of different languages all in one day.

I Went to Top of the Rock Today, with My Italian-Speaking Niece and Nephew

I Went to Top of the Rock Today, with My Italian-Speaking Niece and Nephew

Up until now, I have focused on one at a time. Which is great, and useful. But I love the idea of flipping around, just as I love speaking multiple languages in a single shift at the Official NYC Information Center.

I am, as usual, doing a combination of grammar-book studies and Pimsleur audio lessons. I wasn’t sure how much Pimsleur would help at this point, since I am relatively advanced in at least three of these languages (though always sliding back into rustiness, naturally). But I started going back through lessons, and I am finding it useful. 

At the very least, it helps me with accent. It is sometimes hard for me to jump from one accent to the next. One of the worst things, at least with this combination of German, French, Spanish, and Italian, is the r’s. I can’t always switch them instantly as I move from, say, French to Italian to German, so it’s nice to be able to concentrate, via Pimsleur, in a slower, more focused way, on getting the r’s—and also the vowels—right.

Pimsleur is also kind of like a mental jump-start. I recommend trying it if you are rusty, even if you have done the lessons before.

Mixing up languages is still inevitable for most people, certainly for me. In an exercise in my Complete Spanish Grammar by Dr. Gilda Nissenberg, I promptly saw the incursion of my Italian on my Spanish when I translated “they arrive” as arrivan rather than llegan. (It’s arrivano in Italian, so it wasn’t actually right in either language.) When I study one language at a time, that kind of thing happens much less.

I am also being reminded of one of the things that cause me language confusion: what happens with some of the o’s in Spanish as opposed to Italian. Costar is “to cost” in Spanish; it is costare in Italian.

So far, so good. But in Italian “it costs” is costa. And in Spanish it is cuesta. The o to ue shift is common in Spanish and was hard to relinquish when I studied Italian, and now that I am looking at Spanish more closely again, with quite a bit of intervening Italian since my last review, it is sometimes hard to put the ue back in. 

I really wish I could find a Spanish grammar book I loved without the vosotros forms. I never learned them and will never use them. I did not learn Spanish Spanish in my Californian childhood, and my family members who speak Spanish speak the Spanish of Mexico and/or Argentina. For me, plural “you” is always ustedes. Therefore, I am skipping all vosotros questions in my grammar exercises.

The different types of “to be” in Spanish are always a challenge. I was surprised to read in the Spanish book that ser aburrido is “to be boring,” while estar aburrido is “to be bored.” That I do not remember at all. That’s a pretty important difference. Though I do often find that people who say they are bored tend to be rather boring as well. So maybe it’s not such an important difference after all.

Sometimes as I am going through my different grammar books I think of how to translate a word into all four languages. 

Here are “the keys,” translated: die Schlüssel (German), las llaves (Spanish), i chiavi (Italian), and les clés (French). Llaves and chiavi seem to have some perceptible relationship. Not sure about the French. German is, well, German, so it is an outsider among these four anyway. It’s actually kind of funny to translate into the four languages and see a kind of cameraderie among the Romance languages, and then German pops in with something weird-sounding and it feels as though the others are looking at it strangely, like popular kids contemplating a nerd, before continuing in their jovial cameraderie.

Like door: Tür, puerta, porta, porte (same German, Spanish, Italian, French order). They are all feminine, despite their differences. It’s funny that an opening is consistently feminine across these four languages.

Book: Buch (German), libro (Spanish), libro (Italian), livre (French). Please don’t think I am capitalizing the German nouns because of the colon; German nouns just happen to be capitalized. It is a pain.

Light: Licht, luz, luce, lumière. All of those look somewhat related, but I can’t say for sure.

Eye: Auge, ojo, occhio, oeil

To buy: kaufen, comprar, comprare, acheter. Hmm. Those are all over the place.

To read: Lesen, leer, leggere, lire. Interesting. The German and English look nothing alike. The origin of “read” apparently predates 900 A.D. and is related to the German raten, which I know as “to advise.”

To lie (as in tell an untruth): lügen, mentir, mentire, mentir

April: April, abril, aprile, avril. Those consonant shifts can really get you after a while. Compare “to open” in the three Romance languages listed here: abrir (Spanish), aprire (Italian), and ouvrir (French). Yep, same b-p-v consonant pattern. Linguists presumably know something about this consciously. I don’t.

This is a fun little game. I wonder if it would help me fall asleep at night.

In Marcel Danesi’s Complete Italian Grammar, which I have used before in my Italian studies and which I am remembering now was not my absolute favorite of books, I read: “In the languages of the world, nouns make up from 70 to 80 percent of all words. In Italian it is almost 85 percent.” I assume I read that the last time I read this book, but I didn’t remember it.

What a funny distinction/characteristic. And why is that? Does it indicate a particularly nominative-inclined national mentality? And what would that in turn indicate? A tendency towards concreteness? What if the extra nouns are mostly abstract?

So curious!

I apologize for any mistakes or glaring omissions above. I think it is likely there is at least something wrong. I spend a lot of my time confused these days. Anyway, I am glad to know about mistakes should you find any and care to tell me.

Comments (9)

Charles • Posted on Mon, May 28, 2012 - 1:01 am EST

I’m glad to see you posting again.

Its easier to see the relationship between the French, Spanish and Italian words for “keys” and their Latin origin “clavis” when you think about the alternate (i.e., older) spelling of “clé” which is “clef.”

As for the double “l” in Spanish, it often shows up where there is “cl,” “pl,” or even an “fl” in French or “ch,” “pi,” or “fi” in Italian.

The following sentences are from “EuroComRom—The Seven Sieves: How to Read All the Romance Languages Right Away” by McCann, Klein and Stegmann. I have no relation to them, I just think the book is interesting.

La clef (clé) est dans une salle pleine de flammes.

La chiave è in una sala piena di fiamme.

La llave està en una sala llena de llamas.

Tim • Posted on Tue, June 12, 2012 - 2:41 am EST

It gets even more fun when you throw Portuguese into the mix. chiave/llave/chave, with a ch that looks like Italian but sounds like French. And even more intriguing, I noticed in Argentina that they pronounce ll almost that same way.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, June 22, 2012 - 12:16 am EST

I am dying to try Portuguese, to the point that I am on the verge of swapping the order of Chinese (which is supposed to be next) and Portuguese for the umpteenth time so I can do Portuguese first.

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Fri, June 22, 2012 - 9:55 am EST

Charles, thank you (belatedly) for that book tip. I was just looking into it online - very interesting!

Noelia • Posted on Mon, July 09, 2012 - 5:15 pm EST

I’ve been checking your blog for a year or more and it’s great for someone who loves learning languages.
Let me tell you weren’t completely wrong about the word “arrivan”. We have such a word in Spanish but it is “arriban”.
I hope it’s useful for you and keep on with the good work!

Diego Samper • Posted on Wed, August 15, 2012 - 2:19 am EST

Here is another resource, which is helpful.  It’s learn spanish app.  It i.s very easier to learn on the move.

MuchosLibros • Posted on Mon, August 27, 2012 - 3:29 pm EST

I have a hard enough time keeping up with my Spanish speaking when I do not use it often, and yet you act like speaking 5 languages is nothing!  Good for you! I wish I had that ability!  The only thing that keeps me from losing it completely is the Libreria that I have in my town, and the Spanish translated versions of bestsellers that I purchase from  I I was as talented as you!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Tue, August 28, 2012 - 8:13 pm EST

Thank you, MuchosLibros. Just to be clear, my skill levels come and go. This is not something that comes easily, and the words and grammar are not always there when I need them. My Italian pretty much stinks right now! But it’s fun to keep trying.

Geert Drieghe • Posted on Sun, November 07, 2021 - 3:30 pm EST

Licht is interesting. It’s from Indo-European. Luz, luce, lumière all derive from the Latin lux, which also happens to find its etymology in Indo-Euopean, just through a different route. That’s why it looked similar to you.

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