Learning a language through another language

what do you think about the possibility to learn a new language through a language you have previously learnt?In other words using not your mother tongue.

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It’s killing two birds with one stone.

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That is a terrific way of learning . As a matter of fact i do this myself where i am learning Japanese through English .

I’ve done this with various language combinations and there is actually a name for it, it’s called “laddering.” It can be a useful way of maintaining one language while you’re learning another. Just keep in mind that it may take a little longer to grasp certain things in the language you learn this way, because the process won’t be quite as intuitive due the in between filter of the “other language” however, with a little extra patience and effort, this hump can be overcome.


This is precisely what I’ve been doing by using Japanese definitions for learning Korean, as they tend to capture the subtleties of words in Korean much more elegantly than English can. There’ve also been a bunch of times where all the top English definitions were inaccurate, while the Japanese ones weren’t.

I also sometimes use Japanese vocab (either pre-existing ones or my own) in Italian if the top English definitions are clunky, or if I run into a word that just has trouble sticking despite encountering it and looking it up many times.

For example, take the very common Italian word “così”, with the top English definition -vs- the Japanese definition I used:

“so, thus, like this, in this way”

After thinking of “così” in terms of そんなに (sonnani) and seeing it a couple more times, it finally decided to stick.

So yeah, using other languages in your definitions can definitely be a good idea.

…and I say “can be” above because the goal of looking up words is to bungie-in and bungie-out as quickly as possible so you can give the current language you’re studying as much attention as possible. So if using another language helps you with the current one, or you find that “laddering” (as another user mentioned here) is a worthwhile trade-off, then I’d say go for it. But if it causes too much of a cognitive burden and reduces your intensity, then you might not.

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I’ve never really studied a language through another language, but I did get some learning and enjoyment out of Dmitri Petrov introducing a few languages in Russian. E.g., “Learn Hindi in 16 Hours” (- YouTube). Of course he doesn’t teach the whole language in those 16 lessons, but he does present the sense of the language in a structured way. There’s also a very interesting TedX Talk he did about languages and learning (with subtitles in English, Spanish, et al.) at The language of the universe, the languages of humans: Dmitry Petrov at TEDxPerm - YouTube

Being interested in languages (as I assume most of us here are), this was a fun way to exercise some Russian listening skill.

Agree with everything said so far, but there is a catch you should be aware of: the language you use as the base (the one you know, whether your native or one you know well) will often “stick” to the new language, and that will have consequences. For example, my first language is Portuguese, but I learned Italian through English since I live in the US. The problem with that en-it connection is that Portuguese is a much better basis for Italian since they are closer. So, what will often happen is that I will try to express something n Italian, get stuck since I can’t think of a word in English that can get me to the Italian expression I want, just to later find out that the expression I was looking for was either identical or nearly identical to the one I know in Portuguese.

I know this sounds crazy, but there seems to be a neurobiological reason for this: for some reason the brain has to spend quite some energy to “turn off” a language once you want to transition to another. Good news is that this can be substantially improved with practice.