Learn Spanish to Help You Understand English!

by contributor · 6 comments

By Leslie Collins
Photo credit: lisibo

“I before E, except after C.” You surely remember that grammar rule—and exception—from elementary school.

Rules and exceptions like these are part of what make English so confusing and difficult to use eloquently. Even adults struggle to master the rules, structure, and tenses of English. Throughout adulthood, people are confronted with unfamiliar vocabulary and grammar rules all the time, but may be too embarrassed to ask questions. Help your children avoid this by encouraging them to learn Spanish.

It may seem counterintuitive, but if children learn Spanish, it can actually help improve their English comprehension! Listening to spoken Spanish or lessons with an audio language program can help them pick up Spanish quickly because they learn it the same way they learn English—simply by listening. When they hear the way Spanish verbs are conjugated, and the way the different tenses are structured, English can suddenly make sense as it never did before.

For one thing, learning a couple of key Spanish words can reveal the Latin roots of English words, making it easy to decode unknowns. For example, the Spanish word mal means bad. That small root always carries a negative connotation in English. It becomes obvious in words such as malevolent, malicious, malfunction, and malignant.

The Spanish inverse is bien, which means good. English words with positive connotations containing a similar root include beneficial, benevolent, benign, and benefit. Imagine how useful this knowledge will be during SAT time!

When learning a foreign language, it’s natural to try to equate new vocabulary to familiar English words. To construct the past participle in Spanish, your child will learn that he must precede the verb with a form of haber, which equates to the English helping verb to have. Then an ending to the Spanish verb that equates to the English -ed is added. An example of this is the phrase ha hablado, which means has spoken.

While distinguishing between the past participle, present perfect, future imperfect, and the many other tenses in English may have been confusing before, equating it to the same structure in Spanish will help make it easier for your child to identify and commit to memory in both languages.
As a first foreign language, Spanish can also open the door to other romance languages such as French, Italian, and Portuguese. These languages share cognates (words that sound alike in more than one language) with both English and Spanish. For example, bicycle is bicicleta in Spanish, so it’s easy to learn and remember. Once your child has learned one of these languages, the others will be even easier to pick up.

It may surprise you to learn that Spanish also shares cognates with languages such as German (queso and Käse, which mean cheese), and Russian (rosa and роза, which mean rose), making even those more difficult languages a bit easier to learn if your child knows Spanish first.

A natural language learning approach is best. For most people, using forcible methods is counterproductive. Here are some resources to boost your child’s natural language learning abilities:

  • iKnow!: Cloud-based learning service that offers discounts to educators, and provides progress reporting tools.
  • iTunes: If you change your location to another country (Spain, Mexico, etc.), you can find podcasts and other materials provided in Spanish, created by native speakers, and use them for listening exercises. Don’t worry—the menus and navigation will stay in English so you can find what you’re looking for!
  • babbel: An online interactive course that gradually adjusts to your child’s learning level. There’s also an iPhone app for learning on the go.
  • busuu.com: Interactive learning that offers online courses, and the opportunity for your child to practice what he learns with other members of the learning community.
  • Pimsleur Approach: Audio-based language courses to help your child learn Spanish vocabulary and become conversational in a very short time.

Whatever method you choose, helping your child learn Spanish will open many doors for her, and give her a more in-depth understanding of English that will be invaluable during her school years and beyond.

Has learning a new language helped you understand more about your native language?

Leslie Collins is a language expert who is raising a bilingual (for now!) son. You can find her occasionally getting nerdy with linguistics on the Pimsleur Approach Twitter account.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bekah September 26, 2011 at 1:38 am

It is so true! I credit my Spanish education with providing me with a lot of valuable English writing and grammar knowledge. For example, I couldn’t figure out direct objects or indirect objects in English, even though it had been repeatedly taught every year since 5th grade. When I took a Spanish class in high school, all of a sudden, the new context and the different way of dealing with the objects helped the forms make sense in English.


2 Corey January 3, 2012 at 7:27 pm

Thank you for your comment, Bekah! I totally agree with you! I finally learned my English grammar while learning Ancient Greek and Latin (and then even more with German). It is funny how after so many years of learning about our own language (which, by the way, bored me to death at the time) we pick it up years later via another language! LOL! But it makes perfect sense too: We learn things when we have use for them… learning a new language certainly makes grammar more important to understand! 😉


3 Juan Camilo April 16, 2014 at 9:09 am

Excellent article. My mother tongue is Spanish and also learning English has helped me (a lot) to speak and write better spanish 🙂

Saludos desde Colombia, Sur América.


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