They’re as thick as thieves.
They’re so similar that sometimes even their friends mistake them for one another.
Yes, there are some languages that have an awful lot in common.
While it’s totally awkward when they get called by each other’s names at parties, the similarity between languages is really helpful for language learners. After all, if you know one language, learning a similar language will be much easier.
So if you’re asking yourself, “what language should I learn?” similar languages may be the option for you. Whether you’re trying to learn several new languages quickly, or you just want to learn a language that’s not far from your native tongue, understanding which ones are similar is your first step.
We’ll show you four sets of similar languages that you can pair together for easy learning, some of which may surprise you.
Make friends with these linguistic besties and you’ll be on the fast track to multilingualism!
What Makes Some Languages Similar?
The reason that some languages are so similar is that they’re part of the same language family. We’d love to tell you that language families are formed when two languages love each other very much. However, language families are actually just formed of languages that share a common ancestor.
Related languages are also usually close geographically, though that isn’t always the case.
Due to their shared origins, languages within the same family often possess something called “lexical similarity.” Lexical similarity is a measure of how much vocabulary two languages share.
This can also lead to “mutual intelligibility,” which occurs when a speaker of one language can understand a speaker of another language with little effort. Many similar languages have some degree of mutual intelligibility, which can aid significantly in learning grammar and overcoming the language barrier.
If you’re learning a language, you might also consider learning a language similar to your target language since they have so much in common.
Why Is It Useful to Be Aware of Similar Languages?
One reason it’s useful to be aware of similar languages is because you may actually be able to understand one language by speaking another. You might even be able to do some language exchange right off the bat without knowing much about the similar language.
Additionally, you may have an easier time learning a similar language once you know its cousin. Since similar languages often share some grammar rules and vocabulary, you may already know key details, so it’s like getting a running start on the road to fluency.
Finally, being aware of similar languages will help you understand more about the roots of the language. Languages are traditionally similar because they stem from the same root language.
Therefore, if you learn two languages from the same linguistic family, you can see how the original language influenced its descendants. That’ll give you valuable insights into the ones you’re learning.
Friends Forever! 4 Sets of Similar Languages You Can Pair for Easy Learning
You can study many of the languages mentioned below at FluentU—and all you need is just one account to switch between languages as you wish!
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
Similar Romance Languages
Romance languages stemmed from a form of Latin. Romance languages include French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and Romanian. Yes, Romanian, though geographically distant, is related to these other Romance languages.
The degree of mutual intelligibility varies greatly between language pairs.
The most mutually intelligible pair is Spanish and Portuguese. In some cases, TV stations don’t even translate between the two languages, instead assuming that Spanish-speaking audiences would understand Portuguese and Portuguese-speaking audiences would understand Spanish.
Perhaps the most notable difference between the two languages is in pronunciation.
Other Romance languages also have some degree of mutual intelligibility. “On the Romance Languages Mutual Intelligibility” notes additional similarities between Italian and Spanish. All in all, the article declares Spanish particularly intelligible to speakers of other Romance languages.
Romanian is the most dissimilar from its linguistic siblings, making it more difficult for speakers of other Romance languages to understand.
Based on comparing a word list between languages, “The Romance Languages” asserts that many of the Romance languages are more similar than you might think. There are many “look-alike words” between the languages. This includes 70 percent of the words between Italian and Romanian and a whopping 89 percent of words between Spanish-Portuguese and Italian-French.
If you want to see the similarities for yourself, you can compare vocabularies side by side with ielanguages.com’s Romance Languages vocabulary lists.
ielanguages.com is a great resource for taking advantage of similar languages, as you’ll find tutorials for the Romance languages as well as several others that we’ll discuss later in this post.
Some of these tutorials are even paired together so you can learn two similar languages simultaneously (e.g. Learn French and Spanish Together). You can also get language tutorial e-books covering everything from comprehensive grammar rundowns to informal and spoken language. Basically, if you’re looking to become multilingual, ielanguages.com should be your first stop.
Similar Germanic Languages
The Germanic language family covers geography in Central through Northern Europe. They all stem from the Proto-Germanic language spoken around 500 BC in Northern Europe.
Germanic languages aren’t as mutually intelligible as Romance languages. Some northern and southern dialects of German aren’t even mutually intelligible.
While the degree of mutual intelligibility is significantly less than that of Romance languages, German, English, Dutch and Afrikaans do have some overlap, particularly in writing. This group of languages can also be called “West Germanic.”
Since Afrikaans is derived from Dutch, it should perhaps come as no surprise that these two languages are largely mutually intelligible. Though only considered partially mutually intelligible in written form, German and Dutch do also have similarities. You can see for yourself by perusing ielanguages.com’s Germanic Language’s comparative vocabulary lists.
There are also some surprising similarities between German and English, like sentence structure and word order.
So while Germanic languages don’t share much mutual intelligibility, they still share some vocabulary and grammar rules that make them similar.
Similar Scandinavian Languages
Though technically considered a Northern Germanic group, Scandinavian languages are much more similar to one another than they are to other Germanic languages.
Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic are all considered Scandinavian languages. However, while Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are fairly closely linked, Icelandic is more distant.
The Nordic Council notes that while there’s some mutual intelligibility, this seems to vary a great deal between groups of speakers. For instance, young Norwegians are able to understand more Scandinavian languages due to their familiarity with dialects. Young Danes, on the other hand, have much greater difficulty understanding other Scandinavian languages.
Again, you can see the similarities between languages for yourself at ielanguages.com’s Scandinavian Languages comparative vocabulary lists. You’ll note that many phrases are nearly identical.
Similar Slavic Languages
The Slavic language family is a large group of languages spread through Eastern and Central Europe. The language group is thought to have originated in the Early Middle Ages from the Proto-Slavic language.
These include Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Polish, Bulgarian, Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, Slovene, Macedonian, Czech and Slovak. These languages are further broken down into subgroups:
The East group includes Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian.
The West group includes Czech, Slovak and Polish.
The South group includes Bulgarian, Macedonian and the Serbo-Croatian languages of Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian.
Within each subgroup, there’s at least partial mutual intelligibility, though there’s not usually mutual intelligibility across subgroups. For instance, a Russian speaker may understand Ukrainian, but he/she is less likely to understand Czech. That being said, there’s a lot of overlap in vocabulary even across groups. Wikipedia’s Slavic vocabulary chart shows this quite clearly.
Mutual intelligibility is quite common within language subgroups.
For instance, Serbian, Croatian, Montenegrin and Bosnian are so similar that they’re often lumped together as one language: Serbo-Croatian. According to writer and linguist Robert Lindsay, Serbo-Croatian is also partially mutually intelligible with other languages, most notably Macedonian.
Similarly, Bulgarian is quite mutually intelligible with Macedonian.
Other pairings with a high degree of mutual intelligibility include Czech-Slovak, Russian-Belarusian and Russian-Ukrainian.
The Slavic language family is quite large, but there’s a lot of mutual intelligibility within it. If you learn Slavic languages, even if they’re in different subgroups, you’re bound to notice similarities.
While they may seem similar, each language is still unique and worth learning. If you pair a similar language with your target language, though, it’ll make learning them so much easier than learning two unrelated languages!
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