I am hoping to learn multiple languages (specifically, French, German, and Russian) in the near future, and I was hoping that knowing some linguistics would accelerate the process.

My Questions:

1.) What are some topics in linguistics that I can study that would help me learn multiple languages?

2.) What are some textbooks that are well-suited for studying the topics in question 1? (Note: I know there has been several textbook recommendation questions in the past (such as this). My question differs from these questions because it is focused on language acquisition.)

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    Your hope is misplaced. That's like reading about physics to get better at playing football. Mar 26, 2021 at 10:12
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    @AdamBittlingmayer I think it depends. Learning linguistic terminology, and some basic morphology has definitely helped me a lot with understanding how to inflect stuff in various languages I've tried to learn. Obviously that doesn't help much with practical understanding, where vocabulary is far more important, but it's still useful
    – Tristan
    Mar 26, 2021 at 13:31
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    And it's assymetric - knowing many languages helps more with learning linguistics than knowing linguistics helps with learning languages. Mar 26, 2021 at 18:15
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    In my case, reading (parts of) The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language helped me understand some finer points of English grammar, but I guess it's hard to generalize - you have to be already an advanced level before you can benefit from a grammar book in/about the target language.
    – jick
    Mar 26, 2021 at 21:10
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    Sigh It depends more on the person than on anything else. Some people are language sponges -- they pick it up as fast as it comes in. Linguistics helps these people immensely, since they can find the patterns. If you're not a sponge, study phonetics; you should understand the sounds of your own languages and the languages you want to learn. Learning how palatalization works will definitely help with Russian, for instance; and learning some reasonable system besides French spelling to represent spoken French is priceless.
    – jlawler
    Mar 28, 2021 at 15:08

3 Answers 3


If you haven't learn that at school (and many people apparently did not), you should certainly learn about the syntactic roles of various words in a sentence.

As a moderator of one language course at Duolingo, I see the problems of many people, who did not learn the concepts like predicate, modifier or attribute or perhaps a complement. Seeing that "This car is big." and "This is a big car." could be different sentences with different translations to a foreign language. To see that two "this"es are two different kinds of words that could be translated differently to a foreign language. It helps to be able to name those concepts to be able to read how they are applied in a foreign language.

The knowledge of the basic parts of speech is also extremely helpful but most people actually come with some basic familiarity with them.


I don’t think there’s much in linguistics that will help you in concrete ways.

One exception is learning phonetics, so you can consciously notice and access sounds not in your mother languages. A good hands-on (well, mouths-on) introduction to how to make these sounds is A Practical Introduction to Phonetics by Catford. Caveat: you will make funny noises while reading this book and people will look at you. It’s 2021 so be sure to dig for online videos and stuff so that you can actually listen to the sounds too.

Other than that, the only major field I can think of that could help you with language aquisition, is the field of language acquisition. Nation’s Learning Vocabulary in Another Language and Krashen’s body of work might give you some good strategies on how to go about it. (N.b. these authors have conflicting positions; even if you restrict yourself to those who work with experimental results, this is a field with very different, often strong, opinions, so I wanted to pick 2 with different conclusions.)

  1. These topics in linguistics can help you understand other languages better and make them easier for you: phonology (the sounds of languages), grammar (how to create correct sentences, words, etc.) or more specifically morphology (formation of words), syntax (structure of sentences).
  2. I mostly depend on Wikipedia, though these may help you: Introductory Phonology by Bruce Hayes, Introducing Morphology by Rochelle Lieber, Introducing Syntax by Olaf Koeneman and Hedde Zeijlstra, Introducing Phonology by David Odden.

I read the three Introducing books for a while, and they're good. The Introducing Phonology also includes word samples from other languages. But they're approximately 1200+ pages in total.

Google Books links:

  1. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=QT8W4zDHKvwC&printsec=frontcover&dq=introductory+phonology&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjPopaO-tTvAhX-xosBHZYLCqMQ6AEwAHoECAIQAg
  2. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=fm-gCgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=introducing+morphology&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwivtOua-tTvAhWcyYsBHe5pBE4Q6AEwAHoECAMQAg
  3. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=eMloDgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=introducing+syntax&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjx6sWh-tTvAhVxw4sBHeRPBwUQ6AEwAHoECAIQAg
  4. https://books.google.com.ph/books?id=V-VRAgAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=introducing+phonology&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjfsLqn-tTvAhUVL6YKHffQA7MQ6AEwAXoECAgQAg

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