Speaking similar foreign languages
Is it easier to learn additional foreign languages if they’re similar to the one(s) you already know? For example, if you already speak Spanish as a second language, will it help you learn Italian? In my experience, knowing a similar language already can be both a help and a hindrance.
I grew up around Cantonese, and spoke it to an elementary-sort-of level, and best when I was living in Hong Kong. Since moving to the mainland, I have been around, and studied, Mandarin instead. The Cantonese helped in a lot of ways, as the grammar structures are similar, and some of the words were similar or the same. Unfortunately, knowing that a word is similar to one you already know doesn’t necessarily remind you what the new word is. Now that my Mandarin level is higher than my Cantonese level, and I have been away from Cantonese speakers, I find it difficult to switch languages.
On a recent trip to Hong Kong, I spent the flight reminding myself of all the ways the languages are different, and all of the phrases I could remember in Cantonese*. I didn’t do too badly, but I was far from being able to switch between three languages fluidly.
Do you know more than one foreign language? What are your methods for preventing getting rusty in a language you don’t use very often?
*Flights are a great opportunity to cram important language terms before arriving in a foreign language location! Don’t forget to put a phrase book or flashcards in your carry-on bag to look over before you land.