Similarities between the Romance Languages The similarities between all Romance languages are striking, even to the novice. The Spanish and the Italians, and the Spanish and the Portuguese do not have great problems understanding each other. Having learned one Romance language you have an excellent basis for learning the next, not only as far as vocabulary is concerned, but also as far as structure and thinking processes.
For a start, the majority of English words ending in ‘- ion’, ‘- ary’, ‘- ible/ -able’ and ‘-ant/ -ent’ are very similar in all Romance languages: administration: amministrazione (It), administration (F), administración (Sp)
necessary: necessario (It), nécessaire (F), necesario (Sp)
possible: possible (It), possible (F), possible (Sp)
probable: probabile (It), probable (F), probable (Sp)
constant: constante (It), constant (F), constante (Sp)
present: presente (It), present (F), presente (Sp)
Understanding which words tend to be similar in English and the Romance languages gives you an immediately vocabulary of over a 1000 words in French, Italian and Spanish.
Here are some more examples of words easily recognised from one Romance language to the next:
school: scuola (It), école (F), escuela (Sp)
castle: castello (It), château (F), castilla (Sp)
escape: scappare (It), échapper (F), escapar (Sp)
cost: costa (It), côte (F), costa (Sp)
visit: visitare (It) visiter (F) visitar (Sp)
Changes in spelling.
Looking at the previous sets of words we can see that each language has put its own fingerprints on the original Latin words. Certain consonants change predictably from one language to the next – often because their sounds are very close, and easily distorted by changes in accent and spelling. Once you know which consonants are likely to differ from the English – or switch between themselves – you should find it easier to detect the ultimate similarities between words.
The ph – f – changes:
pharmacy: farmacia (It), pharmacia (F), farmacia (Sp)
telephone: telefono (It), tèlèphone (F), telèfono (Sp)
The b – v – p – f changes:
lips: labbro (It), lèvre (F), labio (Sp)
hair (chevelure): capelli (It), cheveux (F), cabellos (Sp)
fish: pesce (It), pêche (F), pez (Sp)
The c – ch – k changes:
change: cambiare (It), changer (F), cambiar (Sp)
kitchen: cucina (It), cuisine (F), cocina (Sp)
The Spanish ‘e’
Where the French tend to omit an ‘s’ at the beginning of the words and replace it with an é, the Spanish have a tendency to simply prefix the word with an e.
escuela – school estado – state
estudiar – to study estrangular – to strangle
Just to ‘rock the apple cart’ of ‘set the cat among the pigeons’ here are a few ‘false friends’ or falsos amigos. Even though they obviously cause translation problems, it is possible to see how the concepts are linked. Check the English word with its meaning in Spanish. Creatively seeking links between words and concepts is an important part of language learning.
constipated – constipado (Sp) ( to have a cold)
molest – molestar (Sp) (to disturb someone)
sensible – sensibile (Sp) (sensitive)
embarrassed – embarazada (Sp) ( pregnant)
eventually – eventualmente (Sp) (possibly)
parent – pariente (Sp) (relative)
assist – assistir (Sp) (to attend a meeting etc.)
preservative – preservativo (Sp) (condom)
sympathetic – simpatico (Sp) (nice, friendly)
disgust – disgust (Sp) (annoyance)
Lateral thinking With many other words the connection to English is not always so clear. But be flexible in your thinking and explore any vocabulary that may be distantly related to the same concept. You will often find that a word of similar origin comes out of hiding. Look at the following:
Sleep – dormir (Sp) (In English we say: ‘dormant’ volcano)
Horse – caballo (Sp) – a ‘chivalrous cavalier’
Goat – cabra (Sp) – the first sign of the zodiac is ‘Capricorn’
Friend: – amigo (Sp) – an ‘amicable agreement’
Excerpt from my book: Breaking the Language Barrier, Simon and Simon Publishing Ltd, 2001