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As a native English speaker, I learned Spanish using both classroom study and in-country learning. I am fluent in Spanish, but don't have the same vocabulary as in English, however, I probably have a better understanding of Spanish grammar than English.

That being said, I am trying to learn French for an upcoming trip to Paris, next year. As a speaker of both English and Spanish, would it make sense to use Spanish as my base language to learn French due to their similarities, or should I stick with English as a base since it is my native tongue?

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Can you please explain what you mean by "base language"? –  Samuel Lisi Apr 13 '12 at 22:09
    
Such as a French-English or a French-Spanish dictionary/book/lessons. French being the target language and either Spanish/English as the vehicle from which to base my understanding. –  thunsaker Apr 13 '12 at 22:22
    
De mémoire l'espagnol te sera utile pour la conjugaison (pour vous en particulier). –  Knu Apr 14 '12 at 1:24

4 Answers 4

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One advice: read introduction books/resources in Spanish and in English. After the introduction phase I don't think it makes much of a difference. (Assuming you are fluent enough in Spanish.)

Example: Learning German pronunciation from the point of view of a French speaker is easier when explained from French than from English. But basic German vocabulary is more similar to English, so introduction sentences are more natural in a book or audio lessons in English.

Using several “base languages” helps you spot more quickly similarities with language features you already know. Of course those similarities would become clear later anyway, even if you stick with a single base language. Knowing Spanish will definitely help you learn French, even if you read/listen to lessons in English.

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Common sense would dictate that, Spanish being closer to French, it may be easier to learn the latter from the former; but I do not think this is entirely true – or at least, that it is not always true. My background is that of a native French speaker who is fluent in English but was never able to master Spanish; I have devoted a lot of time to teaching French to English speakers (whether native or not).

I have to say that knowing Spanish will probably help you a lot with French pronunciation and grammar. Through your knowledge of Spanish, you will have fewer difficulties in understanding issues of gender, "tu/vous" (you), pronominal verbs, and tenses that are little used in English, for instance. However, this does not necessarily mean that you have to learn in Spanish – you know the concepts anyway.

The issue of vocabulary is very important, I think. French and Spanish are both latin languages, meaning that they share common roots, but they have since evolved on their own, and you will find very many false friends and other creeping differences that can actually make things harder for you (some words have nearly opposite meanings, the subjunctive mood is used in completely different contexts, etc.).

English, on the other hand, has practically no latin roots and simply borrowed words from French at a much later period, mainly for use by the court. Being practically absent from vernacular language, these words have been rather well protected and have quite often remained faithful to their French origin. Some words – those which are most used – have evolved and will be considered false friends, and the French counterparts have sometimes evolved too, creating discrepancies. Sometimes the pronunciation and writing of the words have evolved, but usually in predictable ways. Still, most of the time, the English word will be rather accurate or, in the worst case, a bit archaic, but it can still help you grasp the gist of the French word and make it easier to learn.

A DISCLAIMER, however, before everyone starts saying I am wrong and listing the numerous false friends between English and French: I am talking about the extremely numerous English words that few natives know about, that the general public won't understand, and that almost no one ever uses for fear of being told that they write like in the sixteenth-century.

Yet, if you are amongst those who do know these words, they will be of invaluable help when learning French, because then you only need to understand how they evolved (and to re-learn the commonly used words, most of which have become false friends). When teaching French, I usually spend about a third of my time actually teaching English (even to natives).

If you do not have this kind of vocabulary, then I suppose using the language you feel most comfortable with would be the solution.

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It's a lot easier for a native French speaker (who's not very good with languages) to learn Spanish (or Italian):

The sound of English is hard on the ear:

  • Natives living in villages near NATO bases after World War I thought that "they spoke like ducks".
  • The discrepancy between written and spoken is absurd: Worcester, Y, ...
  • The habit of inverting everything: NATO <-> OTAN
  • The medical "prudishness" and other taboo topics
  • Slang and play on words, a type of humour which don't carry over the Channel very easily
  • Verbs that don't carry a lot or any meaning without a string of additional words scrambling the meaning of the word, sometimes pushing toward misinterpretation.
  • A number of false friends
  • The missing tu from a relation to another.
  • Only the BBC, thanks to its academic way of talking, is easy to understand.
  • Speaking Globish or airport English is not a big problem for most people, but a lot of French people are incapable of sustaining a serious conversation or to construct arguments (even in the IT world, except for those studying abroad).
  • It was easier to hear and understand what Yasser Arafat was saying than an American president.

Spanish is entirely different:

  • Sentence construction is similar.
  • Spanish speech is very well articulated and common Latin roots help with transcription.
  • Accents allow immediate intelligibility.
  • Enunciating Spanish and taking on a regional accent use the same movement/principle.
  • Conjugations are similar, even after many years without any practice, understanding what is said on television is not a problem for whoever spent two or three years in high school.

We would need the opinion of someone Spanish to know if he or she encountered the same problems with these three languages.

If you master Spanish fairly well (if you sometimes dream in Spanish), translating from Spanish to French should be easier (less transpositions, rewording and sound transcripts) than from English.


Pour un français (pas très doué pour les langues), l'espagnol (ou l'italien) est beaucoup plus facile à apprendre :

La sonorité du parlé anglo-saxon est difficile à l'oreille :

  • Les natifs des villages proches des bases de l'OTAN, après la Première Guerre mondiale, disaient qu'« ils parlent comme des canards ».
  • La relation entre ce qui est écrit et ce qui est prononcé est aberrant : Worcester (oustère), y (ouAïe), ..
  • La manie de tout mettre à l'envers NATO <-> OTAN
  • La 'pudeur' médicale et autres sujets tabous
  • L'argot et les jeux de mots, une forme d'humour qui ne passent pas facilement la Manche
  • Les verbes qui ne veulent rien dire ou pas grand chose sans une kyrielle de mots supplémentaires qui bouscule le sens du mot parfois en contre-sens.
  • Un certain nombre de faux amis
  • Le tu absent de la relation à l'autre.
  • Seule la BBC, avec son parlé académique, est la plus facile à comprendre
  • Si parler le Globish/English Airport ne pose pas trop de problème à tout un chacun, beaucoup de français sont incapables de soutenir une conversation sérieuse ou de développer des arguments (même dans le milieu informatique, à l'exception de ceux qui se sont expatriés pour leurs études).
  • Il était plus facile d'entendre et de comprendre ce que disait Yasser Arafat qu'un Président américain.

Le monde hispanophone est totalement différent :

  • La construction des phrases est similaire
  • Le parlé hispanisant est très bien articulé et les racines latines communes facilitent la transcription.
  • L'accentuation apporte une intelligibilité immédiate
  • Prononcer l'espagnol, ou prendre un accent régional participe du même mouvement/principe
  • Les conjugaisons sont proches, même après de nombreuses années sans aucune pratique, comprendre ce qui se dit à la télévision n'est pas un problème pour qui a passé deux ou trois ans au lycée.

Il faudrait l'avis d'un hispanisant pour savoir s'il rencontre les mêmes problèmes avec ces trois langues

Si vous avez une bonne maîtrise de l'espagnol (s'il vous arrive parfois de rêver en espagnol), concevoir une traduction espagnole vers le français devrait poser moins de problèmes (moins de transpositions, de réarrangements, de transcriptions sonores) que de l'anglais

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@Kareen, merci mille fois. Je ne serai jamais capable de trouver le mot exact ou la tournure contemporaine en anglais. N'ayant pas l'occasion de le parler (hormis pour aider quelques touristes égarés dans les rues de PARIS), j'arrive à le lire ... et à apprécier d'autant plus votre aide - J'ai demandé sur ce site et sur le site anglais la traduction de "Tu raisonnes comme un tambour, tu réfléchis comme un miroir" en expliquant les notions d'homophonie, d'homonymie, puis de variations possibles permettant de transformer cette phrase en outil pédagogique, "l'expression poétique" a été refusée. –  cl-r Apr 15 '12 at 14:50
    
Je vous en prie. - Pour ce qui est de votre expression, je ne pourrais vous aider, car je ne l'ai jamais entendue auparavant. Les expressions sont excessivement ardues à traduire, car elles reposent bien souvent sur une notion de culture ainsi que sur un jeu de langue, deux éléments qui souvent ne se transposent que très difficilement d'une langue en une autre, quelles qu'elles soient. Dans ce cas précis, l'anglais ne dispose pas des mêmes homonymes et homophones. Il serait peut-être préférable d'essayer de trouver une expression ayant le même sens plutôt qu'une traduction proprement dite. –  Kareen Apr 15 '12 at 21:07

I don't think one should see it as an either/or thing. Rather use your knowledge of both English and Spanish along with the cognitive ability to learn a new language (which you have already demonstrated in fact). Of course your speed will be faster given that you are already aware of things like the subjunctive and latin roots.

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