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Learning another language through another language?

I'd like hear about experiences from users learning a language through a language that isn't their mother tongue.

The reason for this, is that I've been thinking about learning Karelian recently. But unfortunately, most material that I have is in Russian. Which has motivated me to study more Russian, and with that knowledge, try learning Karelian. I've always wanted to learn Russian so I figured it would be win-win situation.

( drawn using fire alpaca )

Is there anybody out there that learned some Spanish in order to take the Catalan or Guarani course on Doulingo? Post your stories if you have any, I'd love to read them!

June 19, 2017



Like a lot of people whose native language is not English and are using Duolingo to learn a language other than English or some main languages (for example, from French — my native language — there are only 5 languages available but when I signed up on Duolingo less than two years ago there were only 3), it's the main thing I'm doing with Duolingo.

The interesting thing is that I learn a little bit of English at the same time. The frustrating thing is when my translation is considered wrong because I made a small mistake in English (like using the wrong preposition) despite having perfectly understood the sentence to translate.

  • 1799

Exactly... from my native language there is only English available ;-) Luckily I already know it so I have wider selection of langauges to choose from :-)


It's called laddering - and it's a common tactic to learn more languages when the target language is not available in your primary language. I haven't had any reason to give it a try - so I haven't any helpful suggestions to offer.


I decided to learn French from Spanish, because I was afraid I'd forget my Spanish too much if I focused exclusively on French.

It's a weird and exhilarating feeling to be reading and learning a new language and NOTHING is in your native language. Very cool.

Once in a while I do use some resources that include English, like french.about.com, but mostly I stick to purely French resources (books, videos, songs, etc.) and of course I read sentence Q&A that are in Spanish, and the folks there post links to things that explain French in Spanish. Sometimes a concept is so different, however, that you just need it explained in your native language so you don't have to think so very hard about everything.

Oh yeath, my Kindle has a French -> English dictionary though, so when I read a French book I use English when I get stuck. That's just because it didn't occur to me to see if Amazon offers a French -> Spanish dictionary.


Interesting, I'm actually learning French through German for similar reasons. Not only am I learning French, I'm also strengthening my German skills along the way.


How amusing Lrtward, I'm doing the reverse...learning Spanish from French because I do not want to forget the French and I thought it would be a good way to momentarily scrub English from my mind in order to think more in French. Obviously I am not nearly as far along as you so I am quite interested in your experience.

Do you know of any French sites that explain Spanish grammar concepts? My Spanish is very rudimentary. I can find good sources in English, of course, but I am not sure where to look for FR -> ES.

It is cool that for many Spanish words my first thought is the French equivalent. :)

Mille mercis et bonne soirée !


I don't know of any French sites that explain Spanish, but I would imagine there will be some good links in the sentence discussions.

One thing I did early on was use Spanish search terms to look for information, like I'd do in English. For example, I might search for "diferencia entre an y année francés" - that will give me information on when to use "an" vs. "année" but in Spanish.


Good idea. Larousse does have a bilingual FR/ES dictionary: http://www.larousse.fr/dictionnaires/francais-espagnol and I believe you can get that on Kindle as well.


Hello. How do you add a language from another language without losing the first one? I want to practice Spanish by doing the English from Spanish tree, but I want to keep my Spanish from English tree going. My native language is English. Thank you for any help in advance.


Adding reverse tree won't cost your current tree. You can switch back anytime you want. All the process will be kept expect the strengths fade normally. Userscripts like DuolingoCourseSwitcher can make the switch more accessible. DuolingoCourseSwitcher demo


I saw that the script was not working anymore with the new version of Duolingo and then I just read that you don't need it anymore : https://www.duolingo.com/comment/23161515


I'll read this, thanks!


Thank you K3Pan1c, have a lingot!


Never heard of "laddering" before, thanks for the info.

  • 1799

In my opinion (and experience) you better be pretty advanced in your second language before you learn a third language through it.

In general though it is a good idea, since it allows you to not compare the new language with your native one. So this way you can learn a languge independent of your native language which is very liberating and useful.


I think it's a fine thing to do. I've done it on Duo and quite enjoyed it. Some people get sort of snippy about their less-than-perfect e.g. English answers not being accepted in the Duolingo context b/c "I'm not here to learn English." Don't be like those people ;) But, unfortunately, (I'd love to see any minority language of Russia here), I don't suppose Karelian will be making it to Duolingo anytime soon, so you're looking at trying to make sense out of Russian-language grammar resources with seemingly quite limited Russian. Obviously, that is going to be a very large challenge (although the machine translation options for Russian are reasonably good if your resources are online). Learning Russian if you don't already know a Slavic language is a very large challenge. I wish you the very best of luck, of course. I've contemplated doing something similar for Georgian, as English-language resources are reasonably limited and generally somewhat unsatisfactory. However, I haven't started on the project yet, so unfortunately I don't have any reflections to offer at this point.


Thanks, I'm going to need as much luck as I can get for this. My Russian isn't very good, but I intend on improving it ( preferably after I can get a better grasp of German ).

Since you are a level 25 in Russian, may I ask if you can recommend any good resources for learning Russian outside of Doulingo? ( e.g. : video series, books, other websites )


I have read good things about this site: https://pushkininstitute.ru/learn. However, I haven't used it myself. https://3ears.com/media provides videos with accompanying transcripts for a wide variety of levels, and lingvist.io is also definitely worth a look (probably more at the finished-tree stage). I do think the Duolingo Russian course is one of the best on the site, but unfortunately it certainly doesn't get one as far along on the communicative skills as other (i.e. Romance or Germanic) courses because Russian's vocabulary is so much further from English. When I joined Duolingo, I already had a pretty good grasp of Russian grammar, but with very significant vocab limitations. What helped me was Immersion, allowing me to work sentence-by-sentence and just look up (and re re look up) lots and lots of words. Of course, one can still do this on one's own. With an understanding of Russian grammar, Wiktionary or any other standard English-Russian reference, http://www.morfologija.ru/ for declined forms, http://context.reverso.net/translation/ for words and fixed expressions, and http://www.multitran.ru/ for more obscure words, there isn't too much you can't decipher.


Wow thanks, I'll be sure to view those links later.


Currently I am learning Esperanto, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, German and Russian. All through English, in order to improve my English.

Here is the story: At first I was study English, but later the French and Portuguese got my attention, so I started to study them, and them it appeared a problem: I was studying more French than English. That couldn't be happening if my goal was to improve my English. So I came up with a solution: now English would be my priority language.

So this is how I study nowadays: Now I have English and Esperanto as my priority languages, so I must study them first and everyday, in order to don't neglect them and improve them. so I study the others after, if I want and if I have time.

So this is my conclusion for every other language.

Spanish: I am advancing a lot since it is my native language.

Esperanto. I am advancing a lot since it is my priority language.

Italian: It's phonetic system is very easy.

French and German: I am learning them very slowly.

Portuguese: I can understand it but I can't speak it yet.

Russian: This internet game "mope.io" made me want to learn it, so only there I can have immersion, practice and learn more.


I've actually heard that it's a good idea overall. Especially if you're in the habit of thinking in your native language and translating it into the one you're trying to learn.


English is not my first language so I am pretty much forced to do this (I am C1 in English). I think that as long as you can understand the contexts in base language, you shouldn't really have any problems with learning new languages through it.


I learn different languages whole the time by using other languages (mainly English) than my native language. It was last year it become possible to learn Swedish (my native language) here. But it's not possible for Swedish speakers to learn another languages here through Swedish. Then English is the main choice. I think it's good. My grammar skills in English have improved a lot since then.


Well I’m studying Guaraní because here in California, every Spanish interpreter who is worth his salt speaks an indigenous language as well. Syntax is hard when laddering

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