What are some high-leverage languages? (learn one, get another for free)

Just wondering what languages folks have found to be high leverage languages, meaning languages that are gateways to other languages? (high payoff languages, if you will)

For instance, learning Portuguese gets me a relatively high degree of Spanish comprehension without any study in the latter language. Bahasa Melayu gets me Indonesian almost for free (though I have to watch out for the false cognates). I imagine Dutch and Afrikaans are similar. Serbo-Croatian probably gets one Slovenian perhaps?

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Chinese and Japanese writing is an obvious one. The grammar is worlds apart, but if you know the characters very well in one, you can understand much of the other’s written language, or at least, certainly enough to travel freely.

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I would say if you have a language in a language family(Romance, Teutonic, etc.) you could probably easily get started in another language from the same family. I certainly found an ease in learning Romanian after having studied Spanish first.

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Hokkien and Teochew to some extent I imagine? :grin:

Also while you’re correct that with my Afrikaans I don’t have a hard time in picking up Dutch compared to those without any prior exposure, learning both in the same time without a strong foundation on one of them is quite hectic to say the least because of the differences in grammatical structure between them.

I think part of the opposite experience would be to learn solely colloquial Hindi and Urdu as the colloquial forms are mutually intelligible while the formal register ones are not partly due to the amount of (new) Sanskrit loanwords in “Shuddh” Hindi and conversely Persian and Arabic one in “Khalis” Urdu. However the prevalence of Bollywood and to a lesser extent Lollywood keeps the vernacular mutually intelligible even though by reading the formal registers it may not looks like it. I would say it’s the opposite of say BM and BI where in spite of the joint effort of the Indonesian Badan Bahasa and Malaysian Dewan Bahasa to synchronise the official (resmi) registers, the colloquial language of both registers has diverged significantly.

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I can relate! So I’m an L2 Chinese speaker with maybe a Grade 2 level grasp of the characters, but even so, the few characters that I knew helped me greatly while traveling in Japan. For instance, I managed to find a tsukemen restaurant embedded deep inside Tokyo Station whose sign was exclusively in Kanji. Also, I managed to figure out a toilet that had two flush buttons (小 and 大) – Number 1 and Number 2, of course.

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Fascinating point on Hokkien and Teochew: I thought so too until I chanced upon a YT video of Teochew spoken on the mainland – it sounded like a foreign language. In the diaspora (my background) however, Hokkien and Teochew seem to have converged somewhat at least in the vernacular, so the level of mutual intelligibility is higher. (Teochew being the minority language, has tended to adopt Hokkien words) So it’s seemingly true that Hokkien gets one Teochew for free (and vice versa) but likely only in the diaspora (Singapore, Penang, maybe also Thailand and Indonesia?)

Also, my heritage Teochew is of the Swatow variety, which I understand is somewhat closer to Hokkien.

Fascinating point about Afrikaans and Dutch. I have similar struggles with Malay and Indonesian – they’re similar enough that the incentive to learn the grammatical intricacies of other isn’t that strong. And you’re right in that the respective colloquial languages are highly divergent – I’m still trying to a find a “why” for learning bahasa gaul since I don’t really consume media in that register.

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In my opinion, Spanish is the overall winner here. I think the Romance languages all share quite a lot of similarities. I believe more so than the Germanic languages for example. And I think Spanish has the highest leverage out of the Romance languages because about 80% of the vocabulary is similar to Portuguese plus the grammar also has a lot of similarities, then you have languages like Galician which is in between Portuguese and Spanish, so even closer to Spanish than Portuguese, and then Catalan which is more between Spanish and French, so Spanish also provides more leverage than for example Portuguese or Italian here. Italian is also fairly close and although it is not as close to Spanish as the other languages I mentioned, it is probably still closer to Spanish than it is to French or Portuguese. Then there is Occitan which I think is between Catalan and French but closer to Catalan. Then French is a bit different from Spanish, but it’s not really further away from Spanish than from the other Romance main languages (Catalan and Occitan are, of course, closer as I said). The language that differs the most is Romanian I think, but knowing any other Romance language will definitely help with Romanian and still allow you to catch a few words without knowing it.

So, to sum up, I believe Spanish gives you a good start to learn at least 7 other languages much more easily and you will also understand quite a bit in these languages even when you don’t speak them, you will probably be able to read between 70 and 80% in 3 of these languages (Portuguese, Galician and Catalan) without learning them. Listening may be a different issue though, as it can be challenging with the different pronunciation when people speak fast. And I didn’t even mention the other Romance minority languages (Ladino, Romansh etc.) which probably share many similarities as well. I just don’t know all that much about them. Of course, any Romance language will give you a good start to learn the others, I just think Spanish shares similarities with most of them and is kind of in the middle.

On top of all that, Spanish is also one of the most spoken languages in the world. With Spanish, Portuguese and French + English you can even communicate anywhere in North and South America as well as in Africa plus quite a few countries in Europe.

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Other than that, Turkish and Azerbaijani are extremely similar. They say that if a Turkish person arrives in Azerbaijan in the morning, they will be able to speak Azerbaijani in the afternoon.

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Just to add a bit more; the Sotho-Tswana languages in Southern Africa are also quite close and to some extent the Nguni languages as well although I wager Swazi is further than both Zulu, Xhosa or Ndebele. Even with my very rudimentary Sesotho I could make out some of the basic signs in Setswana when I was travelling in Botswana although again false friend is always lurking around. I don’t have any personal experience with the Nguni languages (Xhosa, Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi) so I can’t say much but again from anecdotes people that already speak one language could pick the other up quite fast although it depends on the area as well as dialect continuum may blur the distance between them.

Interesting to hear that! My own heritage is Cina Peranakan from my paternal side so they don’t speak any Chinese languages at home for the last three generations. However my grandfather that used to work in Medan for the KMT before the war said that Teochew is not hard to learn since he already know Hokkien but after I read your points, what you said make sense! I can imagine as well that the Southern Chinese languages has evolved separately in the diaspora from their basal forms in Southern China due to influence from other languages and isolation, and again dialect continuum influences the capability of the other side to understand the interlocutor and vice versa.

Regarding BI and BM, in the formal register they are still linguistically classified as registers of Malay anyway since BI does not have any significant grammatical divergence from Riau-Johor Malay barring some select features. I don’t really consume Indonesian media as well so I could understand your hesitation but I know my Malaysian workmates that works in marketing does that to broaden the outreach of their marketing campaign for example.

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Regarding the statement above with the Slavic languages, Czech and Slovak are closer to each other than Serbo-Croatian is to Slovene, actually.

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My understanding is that Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic have some mutual intelligibility. I don’t speak any Norwegian or Swedish, but I do speak some Icelandic, so I’m looking forward to being able to pick up Norwegian and Swedish relatively quickly after I master Icelandic.

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I learned Catalan in 2002, in only six weeks by chat. Catalan language helped me to improve my Italian to a B2 level and to improve my French to a B1 level.

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I studied Swedish for 6 months, and I could read basic Norwegian. I have not tried reading Icelandic. There are additional letters in Norwegian.

My Swedish friend and Norwegian friend would speak to each other in their native languages and communicated fine. They preferred that to speaking English to each other.

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I don’t get any language for free, that means without the effort of intensively studiying it. That is because I learn every language seperately from scatch by using textbooks and workbooks with audio.

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That’s a very interesting way to approach language acquisition. Sincerely curious, in your method do you ever notice similarities in languages that you’ve studied? Or do you completely isolate each one? Or, perhaps, you’ve not studied any related languages? I do apologize, I don’t remember which languages you’ve acquired so far. This is so fascinating to me.

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@PinAngel

To give you examples: At university I did courses in Spanish and Portuguese. The grammar of these languages is similar but I learned them seperately. Same with my recent endeavours first learning Danish and later Norwegian Bokmal. Like for Danish I worked also through Norwegian textbooks and workbooks, listened to the audio CDs many, many times (I had stored the audios on my MP3-player).

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Thank you for your answer. That makes sense.

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Norwegian and Swedish are very close. Danish pronunciation is quite different from Swedish, but I can read Danish pretty easily thanks to my Swedish. I’ve heard that Norwegian is the best language for being able to understand all three.

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It also depends where in Norway and Sweden they come from. It’s much easier to understand someone from Oslo than someone from Bergen.

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Our Nowegain teacher for my VHS course is originally from Kristiansand in South Norway. Should be close to the Oslo dialect.