I speak Spanish at an intermediate level, and I'm attending an intensive course with a lot of grammar (the finer points of using ser & estar, the subjunctive etc.). I'm considering starting learning Esperanto. My problem is that quite a few Esperanto constructions look to me as broken Spanish.

For example, Esperanto uses the verb "estas" in all persons, but it resembles Spanish "estás", which is only used in the second person singular. Moreover, Esperanto uses "estas" in contexts where in Spanish a form of "ser" is appropriate, and not "estar".

Another problem is that the Esperanto article is "la" (which looks the same as the Spanish feminine article), but all nouns end with -o (like many Spanish masculine nouns).

I'm pretty sure that if I read more Esperanto, I will get used to it, and all these constructions will stop appearing as strange to me. But here is the point: can it also interfere with my ability to tell grammatical from ungrammatical Spanish? My biggest concern is that if I often see sentences such as "vi estas la amo de mia vivo", then Spanish sentences such as "tu estas la amor de mi vida" will also start to look correct. For now, the Spanish sentence looks completely wrong to my eyes, and I would like it to stay that way.

Can learning Esperanto interfere with my Spanish? Should I wait until I get to the advanced level with Spanish, or am I worrying unnecessarily? I'm most interested about experiences with Spanish and Esperanto, but if you have experience with interference (or lack thereof) in another similar language pair, you are also welcome to post an answer.

2 Answers 2


Nice question! Ironically, I found myself in the same exact situation as you. I've been learning Spanish in school for about 5 years now, and last year, I began to learn Esperanto. Like you aptly pointed out, Esperanto does seem like a simplified, almost broken, form of Spanish.

For me at least, I'd say I'm slightly more experienced than you in Spanish, and if you're learning the subjunctive mood, I think you're definitely advanced enough to consider taking on Esperanto as well.

Personally, to keep the two separate, every time I resume learning Esperanto, I make a conscious effort to think about what language I'm learning or speaking at the moment, and this helps me relate to the grammar/spelling of that language.

As a side note, seeing as how you're at an intermediate level, Esperanto shouldn't disrupt your understanding of estar, ser, or la/el.

  • Thanks for the answer! I'm sure it won't disrupt my understanding of the Spanish grammar, but I'm afraid that on the unconscious level, Spanish constructions that now rightfully seem broken to me now will start "feeling" correct. It may be a problem in situations when I speak or write without really thinking about grammar.
    – michau
    Oct 22, 2016 at 13:07

Linguistic interference or language transfer can work in any direction: from L1 to L2 (or L3), from L2 to L3, from L2 to L1, etc. So your knowledge of Esperanto can transfer to your Spanish, and your knowledge of Spanish can transfer to your Esperanto, both in positive and in negative ways.

Knowing a second language is usually seen as an advantage when learning additional languages; see e.g. Second versus Third Language Acquisition: Is There a Difference? by Elaine C. Klein (1995). (There is a bibliography on third language acquisition on Eslkevin's blog. It contains several entries on interference and interlanguage.)

Moti Lieberman's video What Do You Start with in a Third Language? L3 Acquisition (on YouTube) mentions findings from several studies, e.g. studies on the influence of a Germanic L1 and a Romance L2 on a Romance L3, versus studies on the influence of a Romance L1 and a Germanic L2 on a Romance L3. The influence of L1 seems to be bigger than the influence of L2, but he also mentions that several aspects of language transfer in third language acquisition are still unknown.

Studies on L2/L3 interference appear to focus mostly on the influence of L2 on L3, rather than the opposite direction. For example, Marie-Claude Tremblay did a study on Canadian students with L1 English and L2 French who were learning L3 German. The (somewhat tentative) conclusion was that L2 has a greater influence on L3 when learners had had more exposure to L3. Below a certain L2 proficiency threshold, interference seemed very marginal, and higher L2 exposure influenced learners' ability in overcoming lexical difficulties in L3. (Note that proficiency is not the same thing as exposure.)

Katharine Lammiman did a study (undergraduate work) on someone with L1 English, L2 Spanish and L3 Portuguese who had spent some time in Brazil. The following influences of L3 Portuguese on L2 Spanish were mentioned:

  • influence on the use of past tenses,
  • influence on the use of "por" and "para",
  • influence on the position of pronouns (before or after the verb).

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