Did you know that if you can already speak French, Italian, or Portuguese, you’ll have an easier time learning Spanish? It’s true! All four languages are members of the family of Romance Languages. This doesn’t have anything to do with love; it means that in the fourth to sixth century, all four languages developed from Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire. And like the members of any family, they have significant differences but significant similarities, too.
For example, let’s look at a simple sentence in all four languages: “She gave me the blue book.”
French: Elle m’a donné le livre bleu.
Italian: Lei mi ha dato il libro blu.
Spanish: Ella me dio el libro azul.
Portuguese: Ela me deu o livro azul.
The first thing you should spot is their startling resemblance. Aside from two very different words for “blue” – “bleu” or “blu” in French and Italian versus “azul” in Spanish and Portuguese – the sentences are very similar. The words for book (“livre,” “libro,” and “livro”) are nearly identical. And the various pronouns for “She” – “elle,” “lei,” “ella,” and “ela,” – really don’t vary that much either. Many people who can speak one or more Romance languages find they can read another without too much effort.
Notice also the identical sentence structure of those four Romance sentences. Whereas in English we’d say “She gave me the blue book,” or “She gave the book to me,” the word order of sentences in the family of Romance languages is quite different from English: “She me gave the book blue.” If the only language you speak is English, you’re going to find Spanish word order very strange. But if you’re already familiar with French, it won’t seem strange to you at all.
It’s not obvious from this small selection, but all Romance languages have gendered nouns; this means there will be two ways of saying “the” – a masculine one and a feminine one. For example, in Italian, “the bed” is “il letto”; “the chair” is “la sedia.” Now, there is nothing sexual about beds and chairs; just consider gendered nouns a peculiarity, and remember to learn the correct article every time you add a new noun to your vocabulary. Bear in mind, though, that just because a noun is masculine in French doesn’t mean it will be masculine in Spanish or Portuguese.
So how does all this information help you? If you’ve learned French in school, it will be easier for you to learn Italian today. If your grandparents spoke Portuguese, you should be able to pick up Spanish without much effort. Just look for words and syntax that remind you of other words in the Romance language you know. The Romance family of languages can be your best friends as you master a new form of communication!