Learning Two Languages Together: Where are the Resources?

Remembering new vocabulary involves a lot of connections between what you already know and what you want to know. This is why I don’t agree with “target language only” classes. Sometimes you need your native language to help you  learn a second language, and sometimes a second language can help you learn a third language even better.  For example, learning German in French is actually easier for me instead of learning German in English even though German and English are more closely related.  Whenever I try to think in another language and want to say something, French is what comes out first because it’s my second language. So now I think in French first for a few seconds before I can switch to German. It’s just simply easier for me to go from French to German than from English to German.

Whether you are learning two languages simultaneously and are at the same level in each, or whether you know one language rather well and are using it to learn the other, having the grammar and vocabulary compared side by side is a useful resource. This is why I decided to start writing comparative tutorials. So far only French & German and French & Italian are available, but I would like to do French & Spanish and Spanish & Italian someday. I don’t know of any language learning books that do this apart from the English Grammar for Learners of…. series, but that is always English + one other language, and I am trying to find resources for learning two languages simultaneously that is geared towards English speakers. But perhaps the market for learning two languages is not very large since most people seem to think learning one language is hard enough. But what about the multilingual enthusiasts like me? Or graduate students who must learn two languages in order to finish their PhD? Surely there are resources for students in a Romance Languages PhD program? Or are those books only available in graduate libraries?

I know there are plenty of multilingual phrasebooks for travelers, but I’m looking for introductory books that teach basic grammar and vocabulary of two languages (any combination, really) side by side. It seems to me that a book on learning Spanish and French together would exist since those are the most commonly learned languages in the US, but I cannot find this book. Does anyone know if something like this actually exists?

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  • Melissa

    The closest thing I know of is language textbooks for made for speakers of languages other than English, eg. an Italian grammar textbook for French students. Sometimes they make direct comparisons and sometimes they don’t but you do at least get the two languages side by side.

    If you’re only looking at textbooks in English, it’s only natural that they’re always going to compare English + one other language. There’s definitely a gap in the market for what you’re thinking of. Have you ever thought about writing a textbook for simultaneous multi-language learning?

  • Melissa

    The closest thing I know of is language textbooks for made for speakers of languages other than English, eg. an Italian grammar textbook for French students. Sometimes they make direct comparisons and sometimes they don’t but you do at least get the two languages side by side.

    If you’re only looking at textbooks in English, it’s only natural that they’re always going to compare English + one other language. There’s definitely a gap in the market for what you’re thinking of. Have you ever thought about writing a textbook for simultaneous multi-language learning?

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

    @Melissa: Yeah, it’s easy to find those types of books (even in the US, you can order them from foreign Amazon stores). I have plenty of German books written in French. I just wish someone had already thought of helping English-speakers become multilingual. One language will never be enough for me. One of these days I’d like to turn my comparative tutorials into books with audio (self-published, most likely). I don’t think publishing companies would think it could be profitable enough. And I don’t care so much about profit. I just want Anglophones to be able to speak several languages!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @Melissa: Yeah, it’s easy to find those types of books (even in the US, you can order them from foreign Amazon stores). I have plenty of German books written in French. I just wish someone had already thought of helping English-speakers become multilingual. One language will never be enough for me. One of these days I’d like to turn my comparative tutorials into books with audio (self-published, most likely). I don’t think publishing companies would think it could be profitable enough. And I don’t care so much about profit. I just want Anglophones to be able to speak several languages!

  • http://anastasiatravels.blogspot.com/ Anastasia

    I’ve been intermittently looking for that for a while, because I feel like if I had something that combined French, Russian, and English it would help me in my pursuit of French, and in maintaining Russian as an active language.
    .-= Anastasia´s last blog ..things recently learned about the internet =-.

  • http://anastasiatravels.blogspot.com Anastasia

    I’ve been intermittently looking for that for a while, because I feel like if I had something that combined French, Russian, and English it would help me in my pursuit of French, and in maintaining Russian as an active language.
    .-= Anastasia´s last blog ..things recently learned about the internet =-.

  • http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/ Paulita

    The point you are making makes sense, but I really wanted to tell you that we made 80 cupcakes today, because I saw that is one of the things you miss. We decided to go with cupcakes rather than a birthday cake for my daughter’s 18th birthday party. .She’s having about 50 teenagers and I didn’t want to cut cake! I’ll have a cupcake in your honor.
    .-= Paulita´s last blog ..A Free Weekend =-.

  • http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/ Paulita

    The point you are making makes sense, but I really wanted to tell you that we made 80 cupcakes today, because I saw that is one of the things you miss. We decided to go with cupcakes rather than a birthday cake for my daughter’s 18th birthday party. .She’s having about 50 teenagers and I didn’t want to cut cake! I’ll have a cupcake in your honor.
    .-= Paulita´s last blog ..A Free Weekend =-.

  • Rebecca

    I think the worry is that people will confuse languages they don’t know well enough. And can you imagine the marketing: how do you decide which languages to combine? what if your target audience turns out not to have a second (third?) language in common? That said, you have a point about combined or comparative language learning. Almost all of my early French notes are in Spanish–particularly vocabulary definitions.

  • Rebecca

    I think the worry is that people will confuse languages they don’t know well enough. And can you imagine the marketing: how do you decide which languages to combine? what if your target audience turns out not to have a second (third?) language in common? That said, you have a point about combined or comparative language learning. Almost all of my early French notes are in Spanish–particularly vocabulary definitions.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com/ Zhu

    My only experience was with Spanish and Portuguese and I found it quite hard. It looks easy at first because both languages share a lot but once you are past the basic structures, you get lost in all the respective exceptions.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..Ed Maruyama: From Brazil To Nunavut =-.

  • http://www.correresmidestino.com Zhu

    My only experience was with Spanish and Portuguese and I found it quite hard. It looks easy at first because both languages share a lot but once you are past the basic structures, you get lost in all the respective exceptions.
    .-= Zhu´s last blog ..Ed Maruyama: From Brazil To Nunavut =-.

  • Nina

    Hi Jennie,

    I’ve never commented on your blog before even though I’m a regular reader. I’m also interested in learnign and teaching languages and I just came across this resource: http://www.goethe-verlag.com/book2/

  • Nina

    Hi Jennie,

    I’ve never commented on your blog before even though I’m a regular reader. I’m also interested in learnign and teaching languages and I just came across this resource: http://www.goethe-verlag.com/book2/

  • http://rachelgoestoparis.blogspot.com/ Rachel

    Hi Jennie, you’re not alone in your multilingual endeavors! I’m always learning French, but I go on six-month spurts between German and Spanish (right now more German, it’s more interesting). I also think French has helped me a lot with German..I don’t really know why but I think it’s just that when learning languages part of it is obviously learning the terms–past participle, subjunctive, relative pronouns, etc. Knowing all of these, even if you’ve learned them in another language, takes away a lot of unnecessary info that first-time learners must learn. I always tell people the second, third, 20th language is much easier because each person kind of has their own way of learning and just plugs in the new vocab, grammar, idioms..Anyway, this is really long, but I sometimes am astounded at how similar we are! (To boot, I used to live in Annecy, I’m a teaching assistant, I’m from the Midwest…bizarre!)

  • http://rachelgoestoparis.blogspot.com Rachel

    Hi Jennie, you’re not alone in your multilingual endeavors! I’m always learning French, but I go on six-month spurts between German and Spanish (right now more German, it’s more interesting). I also think French has helped me a lot with German..I don’t really know why but I think it’s just that when learning languages part of it is obviously learning the terms–past participle, subjunctive, relative pronouns, etc. Knowing all of these, even if you’ve learned them in another language, takes away a lot of unnecessary info that first-time learners must learn. I always tell people the second, third, 20th language is much easier because each person kind of has their own way of learning and just plugs in the new vocab, grammar, idioms..Anyway, this is really long, but I sometimes am astounded at how similar we are! (To boot, I used to live in Annecy, I’m a teaching assistant, I’m from the Midwest…bizarre!)

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com/ cathy

    i don’t know of any, but i will keep my eyes open for a book like that!
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..ghent =-.

  • http://laprochainefois.blogspot.com cathy

    i don’t know of any, but i will keep my eyes open for a book like that!
    .-= cathy´s last blog ..ghent =-.

  • http://www.franceprofonde.blogspot.com/ Betty C.

    I never thought of approaching German through French, but do know the feeling of “reverting” into French rather than English when I try to speak German.

    As for getting help from students’ native language (in my case French) I do find it useful but would love to have the experience of teaching to multi-lingual groups where English is the only common language. Have you ever done that? I think it would be a very enriching experience. Maybe for a sabbatical semester someday…
    .-= Betty C.´s last blog ..Don’t be afraid of 1st grade! =-.

  • http://www.franceprofonde.blogspot.com Betty C.

    I never thought of approaching German through French, but do know the feeling of “reverting” into French rather than English when I try to speak German.

    As for getting help from students’ native language (in my case French) I do find it useful but would love to have the experience of teaching to multi-lingual groups where English is the only common language. Have you ever done that? I think it would be a very enriching experience. Maybe for a sabbatical semester someday…
    .-= Betty C.´s last blog ..Don’t be afraid of 1st grade! =-.

  • Forrest

    There is a nifty little book published quite a few years ago and now almost impossible to find:

    “A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish, and Italian”, by Oliver W. Heatwole, published in New York in 1949

    It has 52 lessons, arranged according to grammatical element, and teaches all three languages in parallel, focusing on the similarities but pointing out the differences as well. It was intended for high school students. Realistically, it probably never aimed at speaking fluently, but rather at imparting the basic grammatical structures of all three languages as well as a basic reading ability.

    Used copies turn up occasionally on Bookfinder.com or other book search sites, but they tend to be expensive, I think because there were never too many copies published.

  • Forrest

    There is a nifty little book published quite a few years ago and now almost impossible to find:

    “A Comparative Practical Grammar of French, Spanish, and Italian”, by Oliver W. Heatwole, published in New York in 1949

    It has 52 lessons, arranged according to grammatical element, and teaches all three languages in parallel, focusing on the similarities but pointing out the differences as well. It was intended for high school students. Realistically, it probably never aimed at speaking fluently, but rather at imparting the basic grammatical structures of all three languages as well as a basic reading ability.

    Used copies turn up occasionally on Bookfinder.com or other book search sites, but they tend to be expensive, I think because there were never too many copies published.

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

    @Forrest: What a cool book! I must find a copy!!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie

    @Forrest: What a cool book! I must find a copy!!

  • Dominic Desribes

    I agree about the first second language being what guides your thoughts towards other languages. I would still prefer to learn from English though.

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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 January 2010, I started focusing more on teaching and learning languages in general. 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 the university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling (though now my trips are usually in Australia) and being an American abroad.

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