Comparative Language Learning: Has anyone learned a language this way? 🤔

Hi everyone!

I’m curious if you have any experience with comparative language learning. By this I mean learning a new language by comparing the grammatical structure and vocabulary with a similar language you already know.

As some who loves words games and patterns, this has been a fun way to learn Spanish. I use my knowledge of Portuguese to see the comparisons and often find that I learn more about Portuguese, too!

:point_right:t4: Does this sound like an interesting method, or do you think you’d find it confusing… or even boring?

:point_right:t4: If you’ve tried this method, do you have any resources you would recommend?

I’m only aware of the Language Transfer series and Mikhail Petrunin’s books.

Excited to hear you thoughts!


Thanks for posting this, @Christa-J! I find this topic super interesting.

This is not directly in response to your questions, but I want to share something relevant that I have just learnt…

I’ve started learning Basque and recently I was reading a paper about Spanish-Basque bilinguals (language nerd! :nerd_face: ). There was an interesting section about how the brain activates all the languages it knows when it has to use language. This is helpful when it comes to language learning, because as you said above, making connections between vocabulary that sound similar in different languages can help us to remember them!

However, one paradoxical finding from studies on this topic is that highly proficient bilinguals (people who speak confidently and fluently in two languages) find it harder to switch between languages than low proficient bilinguals (people who are learning a non-native learning language and have skills that are significantly lower than their native language).

Sounds a little surprising, right? You’d think that if you know both languages well it would be easier to switch between them. But, in order to not choose words from the wrong language when we are speaking, we need to inhibit the other language that is also active in our mind. In other words, the better we know a language, the harder we have to work to “ignore” it in our brains when we are trying to speak a different language.

If you want to read more about this you can find the full paper here.


Thanks for sharing that paper, @Maddy11! I enjoyed reading it over my long weekend :blush: and was also surprised by the findings.

Like you, I would have expected switching to become easier as we get better at languages. Then again, the less proficient you are in a language, the easier it is to distance yourself from it! :sweat_smile:

This is definitely very relevant to the comparative language learning method. I’ll have to monitor my own progress to test out the theory!

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We learnt Dutch at school and as it is very similar to German it wasn’t that hard. The teacher would most of the time draw comparisons to German. Dutch is still easier than German though. Within 1 year we were able to write essays and read books. It is a fun language, but unfortunately I forgot most of it by now.
When I teach I often try to draw comparisons to other languages. Mostly either French or English because I know them. It does help students to compare with languages they know already.


I totally agree, @Noel.

Funnily enough, I found myself living in the Netherlands for a few years and was able to learn Dutch through my German. There was plenty of interference as I struggled to part with some German words (also, genau, neu… I don’t know why it was those ones in particular :joy: ).

But like you said, it sped up the learning process and I could easily understand and communicate.

Thanks for your input! It’s so interesting to hear other people’s experiences.

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I’ve been watching a Dutch series right now with German subtitles. It is very funny as a native English speaker and enthused German learner. Pretty much sometimes I hear the exact words written in German subtitles with a Dutch pronunciation and then sometimes a single English word mixed with a Dutch pronunciation (I don’t mean Denglish, but an English originated sounding word).


Which series are you watching @kgeisl1? I’d love to check it out!

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Just a question to those who tried to learn new languages with CLL: Don’t you get confused when two languages are too similar? :thinking:

E.g. for me, it’s easier to learn a complete different language with different grammar structures and words (Arabic :smiley:) than learning a very similar language (Dutch :wink:).

I think it is a great method! for example with Spanish and English there are a lot of similarities with grammar. Many student find it useful to compare the structure and grammar!