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Why Should Spanish and Portuguese Speakers Learn English?

Understanding Linguistic and Cultural Connections

Spanish and Portuguese are closely related languages. However, linguistic experts vary in their estimation of the degree of similarity. An article by the Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese estimates that the level of mutual intelligibility  is from 50% to 60%. Others suggest a higher figure of around 80%. Mutual intelligibility is greater between the written languages than between the spoken forms, mostly due to differences in pronunciation. Let’s consider some of the differences and similarities between Spanish and Portuguese:

  • Both are Romance languages, meaning they evolved from Latin. According to a study by the famous linguist Mario Pei, Spanish shows a 20% distance from Latin, while Portuguese is significantly further, at a 31% distance.
  • Spain was under Arab rule for centuries ,so it naturally acquired many loan words from Arabic. Portuguese, on the other hand, shows a stronger influence of the French language.
  • Spanish is almost alway pronounced as written; each letter generally represents a single sound. In contrast,  in Portuguese a single letter may represent various sounds, depending on the letter before it. Pronunciation rules for Brazilian Portuguese are also quite different from those for European Portuguese.
  • There are fewer vowel sounds in Spanish. Depending on the classification system used and dialect analyzed, there are between five and ten vowel sounds in Spanish. The number is much higher in Portuguese, which has up to 15 distinct vowel sounds.
  • Portuguese and Spanish share a great number of words that are spelled identically or almost identically (although the pronunciation almost always differs), or which differ in predictable ways.  This lexical similarity (meaning relating to vocabulary) between the two languages is usually estimated at around 90%. However, it can be much less in contexts where more everyday words are used.
  • There are also many “false friends” to beware of between the two languages. These are words that appear to be similar, but actually have different meanings. A few examples of many:
    • Spanish rubio means ‘blond hair’. Portuguese ruivo or ruço means ‘red hair’.
    • Spanish exquisito means ‘exquisite/sophisticated’. Portuguese esquisito means ‘strange/weird’.
    • Spanish rojo is ‘red’. Portuguese roxo is ‘purple’. ‘Red’ in Portuguese is vermelho.
    • Spanish vaso means ‘drinking glass (tumbler)’, while Portuguese vaso means flower pot or toilet (from vaso sanitário).
Language On School English students practicing their vocabulary; (Photo/LANGUAGE ON)

If you’re a native speaker of Spanish or Portuguese, you may be thinking about a plan for learning the other language. However, you might want to consider learning English first. West Palm Beach, Florida is becoming a popular place for native speakers of Portuguese and Spanish to study English. In today’s world, English has become the most widely used language for communication across cultures, both for business and other purposes. The Harvard Business Review has identified English as the fastest-spreading language in human history. Worldwide, English is spoken at a useful level by approximately 1.75 billion people. In many English language classrooms, you’ll find native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese studying together, so there is often a mutual exchange of each other’s language. Let’s consider some of the reasons why English is a great choice for learning a new language:

Boost Your Brain Power

It has been shown through extensive research that learners of a second language gain many “brain power” advantages. Overcoming the challenges of learning a new language activates the brain’s neuroplasticity, which means it can more easily acquire other new skills and adapt to changing environments. This also has long-term benefits as studies have demonstrated that the onset of Alzheimers and other dementias occurs later in people who speak more than one language. This delay is generally found to be between four and five years.

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In addition to these positive physical effects on the brain, learning a new language also provides psychological benefits. Many students find that the analytical skills needed to learn a new language can be applied to other subjects, including making better personal and emotional decisions. Skills such as dealing with abstract concepts and problem solving get a boost when you study a foreign language. Foreign language students also report an increase in personal confidence when they are able to communicate in the new language. Learning a second language can upgrade your brain just like installing a faster operating system on your laptop or desktop computer!

Spanish speakers learning Portuguese and Portuguese speakers learning Spanish will certainly enjoy these benefits. However, learning English will be slightly more challenging as it’s not as closely related to those languages as they are to each other. It stands to reason that this greater challenge will maximize the cerebral and psychological benefits of learning a new language.

Navigating the World – English for Travel

Travelers will find learning English really makes for more enjoyable journeys. You’ll find more options for travel and accommodations due to the strength of English on the Internet. With one out of every four people on earth being able to communicate in English,  you’ll be able to more easily solve problems you might encounter along your way.  In most places, the local inhabitants will welcome the chance to practice their English skills by suggesting some of the more interesting spots off the beaten tourist path.

Personal Growth and Enriched Connections

English, by various measures, continues to be the language of the Internet even as other languages increase their presence. If you can become proficient in English, you’ll have access to a lot more useful information. This includes everything from scientific and business research to entertainment news. W3Techs, an international web-scanning firm, counted all of the publicly accessible web addresses on the Internet. They found that a little more than half (55.6%) of the sites on the web use English as their primary language. Social Media also has a high percentage of English content. Among the top 250 YouTube channels, 66% of the content is in English.

One of the great benefits of the Internet is easy access to high-quality information beyond one’s own profession or field of expertise. Anyone can expand their horizons according to their personal interests. For example, those who want to keep up on the latest in science and technology can find first hand news of the latest discoveries. However, most of this information will be in English. More than three-quarters of scientific papers today are published in English—and in some fields, it is more than 90 percent, according to data compiled by Scott Montgomery in his book Does Science Need a Global Language? As a consequence, today 98% of publications in science are written in English, especially in the areas of natural and basic sciences. English dominates in other areas also, such as business and economic research.

LANGUAGE ON Students enjoying a picnic and making meaningful connections; (Photo/LANGUAGE ON)

Where is the best place  for Spanish and Portuguese Speakers to learn English?

Research has shown that an English rich environment, when combined with a concentrated  course of study,  will result in quicker progress. One study found that students who had between 200-240 hours of instruction while living in an English speaking country moved steadily upwards in level with each term. For this kind of immersive learning experience, choose from these school locations in different parts of the US. You’ll be able to select from a variety of courses to match your personal needs. When you study English abroad in the US, you’ll get the added advantage of being able to practice your new skills in everyday life outside the classroom.

The Language On English school in West Palm Beach is a great place for native speakers of Spanish and Portuguese to study English.  The school is conveniently located for easy access to the many beautiful recreational, shopping and dining options this area offers.

Whatever your native language is, you’ll find Language On is a fantastic place to acquire English language skills with all the benefits they bring. We look forward to seeing you there soon!

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