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Parallel Methods for Multiple Languages

Dear Professor Arguelles,

I am a Romanian native speaker, currently living in Canada. I am currently studying multiple languages at once, namely French, Italian, Spanish, and German.

I find that it is best when I learn these languages from material that is the same. I was wondering if you could recommend some methods that are from the same publishing company for each one and therefore have a parallel, or even ideally, identical structure and content. I like to cross reference the word/grammar for each language at the same time. It makes more sense to me to see what the same word means in each of these languages across the board.

Thank you for all of your videos. They help immensely to motivate and inspire me to teach myself languages!

With best regards,

Simona Iliescu

My reply:

Dear Ms. Iliescu,

Thank you for your question. I have addressed this in bits and pieces in various videos over the years, and I am glad to have the opportunity to now discuss this important matter more thoroughly in writing in one place.

The plain and simple fact of the matter is that learning material of the kind you seek – parallel structures for the lessons of multiple languages – would greatly facilitate the learning of multiple languages. Not only would this suit people like you who seek to study various languages at once, but anyone who learned one language using such a method who have a great advantage thereafter learning another with this method since he or she would already know the content of the course. This is so obvious that one would imagine publishing houses would produce such courses, if not to actively encourage polyglottery, then simply to boost sales as they could truthfully market the ability to learn “two for one.”

Alas, this is not the case. There are no current methods that I know of that do this. The only exception is Pimsleur Courses, which do indeed employ nearly identical structures for many if not most of their languages. However, they are all audio, which means you cannot look at the words since there is no textbook, and the range of learning they provide really never exceeds that of an extensive phrasebook.

In the 1950’s and 1960’s, though, there were a number of publishing houses that seemed as if they might go in that direction. Above all, the Linguaphone Institute produced self-teaching courses then whose introductions and prefaces sometimes spoke openly about the ability to learn multiple languages with their similar structures. These courses would alternate a descriptive lesson with a question and answer conversation about it. The first lessons in particular would be quite parallel in terms of being about the rooms of a house and what they contain, for instance, but they would diverge a bit more as the lessons progressed, and they were never exactly identical.

There was one set of courses that did have essentially the exact same story line for all four languages you mention, namely the Berlitz Self-Teaching or Comprehensive Courses, which you might be able to find on e-bay, sold in 1960’s style attaché cases. Here you would indeed be able to place all four books side by side to compare the lines. If you don’t mind learning from somewhat quaint and dated materials, I would recommend you track some of these down.

Furthermore, there is an even older classic reference book, namely Frederick Bodmer’s The Loom of Language: An Approach to the Mastery of Many Languages, which, while not an instructional manual, will indeed provide you with many parallel columns for these languages. I strongly encourage you to begin with this.

I wish I could provide you with more plentiful and more up-to-date resources, but the situation is what it is.

Wishing you all the best in your studies,

Alexander Arguelles

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My name is Alexander Arguelles. I have pursued foreign languages and literatures with a passion all my life. My goal is to share the knowledge and experience I have gained with others who would like to do the same. Find out more →

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