Learning a new language is always fun, until it comes to trying to memorise new words and order of sentences. For those of you learning Asian languages like Japanese or Korean, you’ll need to learn new script. But if you’re interested in Western languages – French, Spanish, German, Italian, etc – then you’ll need to be aware of certain rules that may seem weird from an English language point of view.
Objects have genders
We are used to referring to things like ships as a ‘her’, but languages like French, Spanish and German – also Portuguese, Italian, Polish, German, Hindi and Welsh – also refer to plenty of inanimate objects such as chairs and tables by genders. This means they can be masculine (he), feminine (she) or sometimes neuter (it).
However, each language has its own preference for engendering objects. For example, milk is masculine in French, Italian and Portuguese, but feminine in Spanish and German. While the gender is usually indicated by the last letter of the word (ie. -o and -a) in Spanish, Italian and Portuguese, it’s not the case in French.
When you refer to someone in English, you use the pronoun you, regardless of how senior or junior that person may be. French has tu/vous, German has du/Sie, Spanish tu/usted, Italian tu/lei. Essentially, there are two different forms of you depending on power dynamics, and you need to choose the right pronoun, or risk causing offense.
This politeness distinction is found in many European languages and well as in other languages like Mandarin Chinese, Malay, Tagalog, etc. At least they’re nothing compared to languages like Japanese, with its numerous suffixes (ie. -san, -sama, -dono, etc) based on how important they are.
The use of cases
In German, there are many ways of saying the, including der/die/des/dem/den/das. This is German case system spells out the article the differently depending not only on whether it is singular or plural, but on its function in a sentence (subject, direct object, indirect object, possessor). In a sense, case gives us a way of keeping track of who is doing what to who.
Many European languages and many unrelated languages (like Turkish, Japanese, Korean, etc) also have case.
English uses four verb forms, like jump/jumps/jumping/jumped (which can combine with auxiliary verbs in certain ways as in “I have been jumping”), but Spanish has a hefty 51! Like Italian and German (and to some extent French), remembering them can be tricky.
Verbs in Spanish (Italian, and French) change depending on tense (like English), but they’re also dependent on aspect (the duration of an event), mood (the nature of the event) and person/number (the kind of subject they have).
Learning a new language always poses challenges for new learners. However, chances are that if you already have at least 2 languages under your belt, taking on another may not be as challenging as for those who only speak one language.