Comparative and Multilingual Books for Learning Languages Simultaneously [UPDATED OCT 2014]

I’ve updated the list of multilingual sites for learning several languages together, but if you’re interested in books (some as PDFs) rather than websites, these are the resources I have:

A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish and Italian by O. W. Heatwole (1949) You may be able to buy it from third-party sellers on Amazon; currently a paperback edition from 1977 is available for $15.99. (I don’t know if the 1977 edition is any different from the 1949 edition as it could just be a reprint.) The book was edited by Mario Pei and in the foreword, he explains why a book of this kind is needed:

“But how wonderful would it be if there were only a comparative grammar of the main Romance languages, that would enable me to compare at a glance a rule in the language with which I am most familiar with the corresponding rule in the language I know least!”

This work is an answer to the conscious and unconscious needs of these students and teacher of Romance languages. It is a book the necessity of which has long been felt, but somehow no one has ever taken the trouble to supply it.

There is some inconsistency in the fact that Departments of Romance Languages are far more common in our system of higher education than separate Departments of French, Spanish and Italian, yet nowhere are the Romance Languages taught as a unit from the comparative angle that would permit the learner to avoid major confusions and major pitfalls. Learning three related languages at once should certainly prove no more difficult than learning them separately.

Sorry, (parts of) Belgium, Luxembourg, and Switzerland. You don’t get included.

 

Comparative Grammar of French, Italian, Spanish & Portuguese Languages by Edwin A. Notley (1868) is a similar book though it is much older. The obvious advantage over Heatwole’s book is the inclusion of Portuguese but since it is so old, there are a few spelling differences (Spanish mujer is muger) and probably other features that have changed in the past 144 years! The good news about this book is that it is in the public domain, and I have scanned my copy so you can download it as a PDF (or flip through it online).

 

The Traveller’s Manual by Karl Baedeker (1840) is another book from the 19th century that includes vocabulary and traveller’s phrases for English, German, French and Italian. It also includes some Dutch vocabulary. You can read it online through Google Books.

 

Just look at that adorably long title

 

The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages by Frederick Bodmer (1944) is where my love of comparative linguistics began. I reviewed the book on the blog a while ago, and it is still my favorite book overall. You can buy it through Amazon for $15 or access it online via archive.org

 

EuRom5 (2011) is the most recent multilingual book I’ve seen yet. It focuses on learning to read and comprehend five Romance languages. The book is written in French, Italian, Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese (so it is designed for native/advanced users of any of those languages) with texts and audio files available on the website. Unfortunately it is not available in electronic format, but you can buy it from dicoland.com or hoepli.it for under 30€. Amazon.fr also sells it for about 40€ and a few used copies are available on amazon.com but for nearly $90. I managed to buy this book in mid 2014 but have yet to really read through it. It does not appear to be as “comparative” as the other books in the list since it offers 20 articles in one language with some words glossed in the other 4 languages (i.e. the entire articles are not translated in the other languages).

 

eurom5

 

Comprendre les langues romanes: Du français à l’espagnol, au portugais, à l’italien & au roumain. Méthode d’intercompréhension by Paul Teyssier (2004) is obviously written in French. It’s not available via amazon.fr; however, I ordered my copy from the Librairie Portugaise & Brésilienne in Paris for 29€, and they do ship worldwide. I believe translations of this book in the other languages exist, but I’m not sure where to buy them.

 

EuroComRom – The Seven Sieves: How to read all the Romance languages right away by McCann, Klein & Stegmann (2003) is a European initiative to encourage EU citizens to learn each other’s languages. It  includes Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian, Romanian and French and can be bought online as a PDF for only 6€ or as a regular book for 24,50€. There is also a German version of this book which can be downloaded for free.

EuroCom has also produced a comparative Germanic book entitled Die siebe Sieben – Germanische Sprachen lesen lernen by Hufeisen and Marx (2007) that includes Dutch, Frisian, Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic but it is only written in German. It can also be bought online for 7,45€ or as a regular book for 29,80€.

 

Exploring French, German, and Spanish by Jacob Steigerwald (1987) is a neat PDF explaining the similarities of the three most commonly taught languages in the US. Download the full text for free from eric.ed.gov.

 

Lastly, I’ve found one book for Slavic languages, Slavische Interkomprehension: Eine Einführung, which you can buy at amazon.de. Obviously it is written in German, and it includes Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian/Montenegrin, Polish, Czech, Russian, Ukrainian. I haven’t purchased it yet, but I plan to.

 

Anyone know of other comparative books that teach more than one language at a time?

 

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  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    This is something brilliant I never would’ve thought of.

    “But how wonderful would it be if there were only a comparative
    grammar of the main Romance languages, that would enable me to compare
    at a glance a rule in the language with which I am most familiar with
    the corresponding rule in the language I know least!”

    Precisely! Yes, yes it would be! This particularly interests me as someone who’s already learned quite a bit of one particular Romance language (Spanish) and who very much wants and intends to learn several more romance languages (I’m particularly interested in French, Portuguese, and…yes, Romanian–I know, I’m weird).

    Great list, Jennie.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • Amandine

    The most thorough and visual pleasing comparative language books, or single language grammar books for that reason, have only been in French bookstores. I’ve always had a soft spot for Bescherelle Language Books, particularly the grammar editions since the conjugation editions in my opinion are no longer valid with the many online conjugation dictionaries and resources available. What do you think of this series?

  • http://imlearninggerman.com/ Erik Andersen

    Any chance there’s a version that includes German?

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I still haven’t found a book that combines Romance and Germanic languages except for The Loom of Language.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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