Mixing similar languages


I have recently started learning Portuguese, I have a fairly okay level of Spanish and should of really got to a higher level before moving on but anyway.

What I am experiencing is that the speed in which I am learning Portuguese is being greatly improved by being a somewhat experienced language learner and speaking Spanish but when speaking and listening to Portuguese all I can think of is Spanish?

Anyone have any experience with this and when will I be able to think in one of the languages and not get confused with the other?

Muito Obrigado

If you just got started then just concentrate on understanding. Do practice pronunciation but don’t expect your speaking to improve at the same speed. Practice understanding based on what you know, which includes your Spanish knowledge and take advantage of that understanding to move to interesting, real content as soon as possible, not necessarily instead of but in addition to more elementary material.
Besides understanding, your other main goal should be to get acquainted to the part of very frequent vocabulary that is different from Spanish. Pay close attention to that. You may even want to tag it and review it separately. I may words such as ficar, achar, puxar, fechar and so on. Also practice a lot of listening s.o you get used to the way native speakers talk.
After you get really comfortable understanding (it doesn’t matter that you feel you do it “from Spanish”) and you feel that your passive level in the language is good, I’d personally recommend the “back to back” method as a way to “separate the languages in your head”. That is, read and/or listen to some material in Spanish and then switch to some in Portuguese. You love anime, so try that. It doesn’t have to be the same anime. I personally would try different ones within the same genre, experiment with this to find what works best for you.
Oddly enough, I find that this back to back method really helps, it makes you more aware of the differences.

Disclaimer: I’ve never learned a pair of languages that are so close to each other as Spanish and Portuguese are and which don’t include my mother tongue so this method may not generalize to this particular case but I do think that it does

Oh, and don’t forget to get acquainted with notorious false friends, such as “exquisito” or “tesão”
You can find a few lists on the net

Thank you for much for your detailed reply! I have read that once I have obtained a decent level in Portuguese then the Spanish language will not interfere with my Portuguese at all. I guess I just need to keep learning and keep creating those neurons in my brain and building my comprehension like I did with Spanish :)!

" I have read that once I have obtained a decent level in Portuguese then the Spanish language will not interfere with my Portuguese".

That has been my experience learning many Romance languages.

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anything else you would like to add to that ? as you have very high level in your romance languages :slight_smile: ?

Now that I think about it, I really wish that I’d had a strong self control and not give in to my lesser inhibitions. When I started learning languages I was in a constant hurry and would jump between languages.

I’d do one month Spanish, get really exited about learning French, then after that I would get really stressed out that I’d lose my Spanish. This sort of jumping back and forth has really held me back in a way.

I feel if I’d focused say 6 months really heavily on Spanish then do the same with French, Italian, possibly Catalan, I would have achieved fluency years ago.

The consequence of me jumping around constantly lead me to burn out in a way. I didn’t give my brain enough time to consolidate certain grammar concepts and overall it was mentally draining. I forgot why it’s fun to learn languages.

What I have described applies in my opinion especially when you are at a beginner stage. Right now after studying romance languages, I have a sort of template of what Romance languages are all about.

So I can jump between them without getting to overwhelmed, now that I am in the advance stages of Spanish, French and Italian, I try to focus on enjoying content as much as possible.

Same can be said about Catalan at which I am still just a novice but while Catalan has features that makes it stand out there is a common thread that ties it together with Spa, Fra and Ita.


When you’re a beginner in both, sure, it’s confusing. All the more you study them it gets less confusing, if you study them both for long enough it’ll become increasingly harder for you to mix them up. Think of that not-mixing-them-up as a sidekick mini-skill of its own.

Another thing, when people say things like “oh I studied Italian for a year and French for 6 months and I’m mixing them up so much, they’re too similar”, more often than not, those turn out to be the ONLY foreign languages they’ve ever studied. Hell, I almost never mix up French, Italian and Spanish (I used to) but I manage to mix up German, Russian and Greek for heaven’s sake (when trying to speak or write fast) and they’re hardly similar. It’s because I’m not fluent enough in them as I’m in the first three. By the way, that needed level of fluency is not that high as it might seem. Personally my biggest problem at this moment is misunderstanding Russian, the amount of so-called false friends with Serbian is so ridiculous that it makes the FR/IT/ES/PT and EN/DE counterparts look like child’s play.

If you reckon your Spanish okay, go for it, I only wouldn’t advise it if you were a beginner in both.

Yes, I’ve had the same experience. It seems that you tend to mix up your last two languages even when they’re all not that similar. Probably because you’re less fluent in those. For a time, I tended to mix up German and Russian. Now, I never mix German with Russian, probably because I’ve focused so much in the latter for the last few years. But, when I speak German I don’t actually mix but I feel how Russian interferes “in my head” in the sense that I have to actually discard Russian words when I try to come up with a German word. This is a kind of second-level interference that I’ve experienced after I have reached an OK-ish level in a new language. It happened for a while with German and English, e.g.
Oh, and I do keep on actually saying “da” instead of “ja” when I speak German. Damn it!!!