How to Succeed in Learning Romance Languages - What You Should and Shouldn't Do

April 23rd, 2023 - Vera

Learning a new language can be both exciting and daunting, especially when it comes to Romance languages. Romance languages are not only spoken in many parts of the world, but they also share a common root, the Latin language. Romance languages include Italian, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, and Romanian, and almost a billion people speak these languages as their native language, while 300 million speak them as their second language. In this article, we will explore the dos and don’ts of learning Romance languages.

Which Romance Language Should I Learn First?

Before diving into the dos and don’ts of learning Romance languages, it is essential to consider which language to learn first. If you are visiting a country that speaks a particular language or need to learn a language for work or communicate better with someone in particular, the choice of the language will be evident. However, if you do not have any specific reasons, the recommendation is to start with Spanish. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken Romance languages, making it easier to find people to practice with and learn from. Also, the language’s popularity means that it is more familiar to your ears, which helps with pronunciation and comprehension.

Moreover, Romanian is recommended to be learned last since it has the fewest similarities to the other Romance languages. Between Spanish and Romanian, other languages such as French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, and Occitan should be ordered based on your interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Note that many people choose to learn Spanish, Italian, and French first, with Portuguese close behind.

The Dos of Learning Romance Languages

Now that you have selected which Romance language to learn, here are some dos of learning Romance languages that will make the learning experience smoother and more efficient.

Do: Pay Attention to Gender as You Learn New Words

Unlike English, where nouns are gender-neutral, Romance languages’ nouns have a grammatical gender. A word’s gender determines what articles you use with it and how it agrees with other words, such as adjectives that describe feminine nouns getting feminine endings. Learning the gender of a noun should be a priority when learning the language, as it can help avoid confusion and incorrect sentence constructions.

One way to make the learning process easier is by using color coding. For instance, when labeling objects around your house to build your vocabulary, you can use color coding for different genders. Another way to make learning easier is by using VocabularyStickers, which are pre-made, durable labels that already come with color coding for gender (as well as for plurals). VocabularyStickers come with over 130 labels for everything from utensils to office supplies to clothes, making vocabulary building less daunting.

It is important to note that not all nouns follow the general gender rules in each Romance language. Some words either give no indication of gender or may even have an ending that doesn’t properly correlate with the general gender rule of that language. Therefore, it is crucial to learn the gender of each noun.

Do: Learn the Regular Verb Endings

Identifying verb types is crucial to understanding how to conjugate verbs in Romance languages. There are three verb types in most Romance languages, except for Romanian, which has four. For example, French regular verbs end in either -er, -ir, or -re, while Spanish regular verbs end in either –ar, –er, or –ir. To conjugate a verb, the verb ending is taken off to get the verb’s “stem,” and the appropriate ending is added depending on the conjugation rules for that type of verb.

Verb conjugation can be one of the most frustrating concepts to master when learning Romance languages. Therefore, making a habit of finding the infinitive ending will make the complicated concept of verb conjugation much easier as you move forward. For instance, one easy way to find

Do: Study Some Latin and IPA

Consider studying Latin and IPA to enhance your ability to learn the Romance languages. While it may seem overwhelming to add another language to your repertoire, Latin serves as the foundation for all the Romance languages. Learning it will allow you to identify patterns and similarities across these languages.

In addition, familiarizing yourself with the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) will improve your ability to comprehend and accurately pronounce words in any Romance language. IPA is a standardized set of symbols that represent sounds in syllables and words, and many dictionaries include IPA next to definitions. By learning IPA, you can apply these tips to all the Romance languages, as they use the same symbols for similar sounds.

Don’t: Forgetting Article Agreement

One of the most challenging aspects of learning a Romance language is understanding article agreement. In English, we use the same article, “the,” for both singular and plural nouns, and we don’t have gendered words. However, in Romance languages, articles must agree in gender with the noun they modify, and they also signal whether the noun is singular or plural.

For example, in French, “le chien” means “the dog” in English. The article “le” indicates that the noun “chien” is masculine and singular. If we want to say “the dogs,” we use the plural article “les” instead: “les chiens.”

It’s important to pay close attention to article agreement in your target language right from the beginning. You can practice by memorizing the gender of nouns and their corresponding articles. The more you practice, the easier it will become to use articles correctly.

Don’t: Instinctively Pronounce Words with Unclear Vowels

Romance languages are known for their pure vowels, or monophthongs, which are vowel sounds that remain the same throughout their pronunciation. This differs from diphthongs, which are two vowel sounds pressed together to make one sound. English speakers, particularly American ones, tend to not enjoy a pure vowel, which can lead to pronunciation difficulties when learning a Romance language.

To overcome this, it’s important to actively listen to the language’s sounds as produced by native speakers. You can identify pure vowels by taking a listen to some native speakers and comparing their pronunciation to non-native speakers reading a similar text. You can also watch native speakers to see how they form their vowels. Often, they’ll have much rounder lips than the average English speaker.

Don’t: Relying on English Grammar

When learning a new language, it’s natural to build a sentence word-by-word based on the sentence structure we already know in English. However, Romance languages are structured differently, and relying solely on English grammar can hinder your learning progress.

For example, in English, we use the verb “to be” for many sentences, such as “I am hungry.” In some Romance languages, however, the verb “to have” is used instead. For example, in French, we say “j’ai faim,” which means “I have hunger,” rather than “je suis faim,” which would translate to “I am hunger.”

To avoid relying on English grammar, it’s important to immerse yourself in the language and practice forming sentences using its unique sentence structure. You can also practice using language learning resources that provide exercises and activities that use the language’s unique grammar rules.

Don’t: Substitute One Romance Language for Another

While all Romance languages may share similarities, it’s important to remember that they are different languages with their own rules, vocabulary, and nuances. It may be tempting to use knowledge from one language to learn another, but it can lead to confusion and mistakes.

For example, in Spanish, the word for “I like” is “me gusta.” In French, it’s “j’aime.” While the meanings are similar, the way they are constructed is different. Using the Spanish construction in French will likely lead to confusion or misunderstandings.

Instead of substituting one language for another, take the time to learn the specific rules and structures of each language individually. This will help you avoid confusion and develop a more accurate understanding of each language.


Learning a new language can be an exciting and challenging journey, especially when it comes to learning a Romance language. By following the do’s and avoiding the don’ts, you can make this journey smoother and more rewarding. Remember to immerse yourself in the language, practice regularly, and seek help when needed. Don’t forget to pay attention to article agreement, avoid instinctively pronouncing words with unclear vowels, and try not to rely on English grammar. With patience, persistence, and the right approach, you can become fluent in a Romance language and open up a world of new opportunities and experiences.

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