Are Arabic and Spanish related?

These past few days a fascinating video was circulating on the internet. (No… it wasn’t a cat video this time!)

In the video you could see a couple holding up some signs with Arabic and Spanish words and pronouncing each word one by one wowing viewers with the fact that they were almost the same!

We could see and hear aceite (oil in Spanish) and الزيت (az-zayt, or oil in Arabic), azúcar (sugar in Spanish) and السكر (a-sukar, or sugar in Arabic) and so forth, you get the idea.

The similarities were uncanny.

Does this mean then that Spanish and Arabic are related?

Well, not really. These words are similar merely because of the influence Arabic had on Spanish due to the presence of Moors in the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages and these eerily similar words were borrowed from Arabic by Spanish speakers.

As languages do not exist in isolation, there are many examples of these so-called loanwords in other languages, as well. Think tea in English borrowed from the Hokkien 茶 (tê), robot from the Czech word robot or emoji from the Japanese 絵文字 (emoji).

Despite having these very similar words, we cannot really say that these languages are related to English: they all belong to different language families. Hokkien is Sino-Tibetan, Czech is Balto-Slavic and Japanese is Japonic.

So, if not having similar vocabulary, what means that a language is related to another one?

Just like in the case of human families, the answer is: a common ancestor.

For example, in the case of Germanic languages (such as English, Dutch and well… German) there was once a common ancestor that “sired” these languages: this is now referred to as the Proto-Germanic language. Historical linguists theorise that this language was spoken after 500 BC, so a pretty long time ago.

To determine whether two languages stem from the same proto-language, linguists look at a number of things, such as:

  • similarities within the most basic, everyday vocabulary, such as words related to familial connections, agriculture or animal husbandry
  • the structure or the grammar of the languages or if the grammatical constructions used by the two languages are in some way similar
  • irregularities in a language which often come from older versions of the same language – if they are similar to another language, it might be a good indication that the two languages are related
  • systematic differences are also a fairly reliable sign, for example if two languages have similar words that always differ in a specific sound

If we go back to the example of Germanic languages, most people can easily tell that these languages are related, even without a degree in linguistics. There are many similarities amongst words, the grammatical constructions are not unlike and often it’s easy to guess what a sentence in German or Dutch means, even if we don’t speak the language.

However, sometimes it is not so easy to tell which language family a language belongs to or there doesn’t seem to have a good reason for it to belong to the family linguists say it belongs to. Take Hungarian, for example, a Uralic language sitting in a sea of Indo-European languages. How did that come about? And what about Basque that doesn’t fit into any category and so linguists call it a “language isolate”?

These are all very exciting questions for linguists – and we hope you’ve found our article interesting, as well. If you’d like to learn more about how we can decide if two languages are related, watch this video here: How do we determine what languages are related?

And if you’ve had enough of linguistics for today, watch this cute CAT video with Maru and Miri, the world-famous Japanese cats!

Language of the Month: Ukrainian


украї́нська мо́ва
Language family: East Slavic (part of the Indo-European family)
Number of speakers: 40 million native speakers
Writing system: Cyrillic
Official language in: Ukraine
Recognised minority language in: Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia


The history of the modern Ukrainian language goes back over a thousand years to a language called Old East Slavic. This language was spoken in the 10‒15th centuries in the medieval monarchy of Kievan Rus that stretched from the Black Sea in the South all the way to the White Sea in the North.

Throughout the centuries, various regional languages started to emerge in the state, including Ukrainian and Belarusian, which is one of the closest relatives of Ukrainian. (Although both languages were affected by various other languages over the years, there is still a degree of intelligibility between them today.)

Throughout its turbulent history, Ukrainian was greatly influenced by Polish and it shows some effects of the Tatar and Turkish languages, as well.

Up until the 18th century, Ukrainian was a mostly spoken vernacular. However, the wave of Romantic nationality that spread across Europe also reached what’s Ukraine today and played an important part in creating modern Ukrainian, with Ivan Kotliarevsky writer, poet and playwright being in the forefront of the movement. He published his mock epic, “Eneyida” in 1798, which is considered the first literary work published in modern Ukrainian.

In the soviet era (1922-1991), Ukraine – or the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic as it was known then – was part of the Soviet Union. In these decades the status of the Ukrainian language was ever-changing, starting from a short era of Ukrainianisation in the beginning to its use being persecuted in the later years.

In the last 30 years a revival of the language could be observed and there is a thriving, rich literary culture in the country.


Hello! Вітаю (Vitayu)
My name is… Мене звати… (Mene zvati…)
Yes Так (tak)
No Ні (ni)
Please Будь ласка (bud laska)
Thank you Дякую (d’akuju)


With regards to its pronunciation, unsurprisingly, Ukrainian sounds very similar to other Slavic languages like Polish and Belarusian. But how could you recognise it if you are not familiar with this language family?

According to Elena, one of our translators working with Ukrainian, “to someone who has never heard any Slavic language, Ukrainian would sound melodious, expressive and rich in intonation.”

To Andriy’s ears, Ukrainian is “rather euphonic, with a balanced number of fricative, sibilant and obstruent consonants” (think a good mix of sounds like p, t, f, s, sh).

If you’d like to give pronouncing Ukrainian a try yourself, check out this website: Ukrainian Alphabet: Full Guide With Examples & Pronunciation. You may also find some other useful resources on this website for learning Ukrainian.

As Elena says, a learner of Ukrainian has mastered the Cyrillic alphabet, the next step is to memorise all the different case endings. Conjugation and various cases might pose a bit of a challenge for English speakers wishing to learn the language. Luba and Andriy agree with her, they both cite conjugation as one of the main differences between English and Ukrainian. For example, nouns have 7 different cases and are also conjugated for different numbers (singular and plural). Verbs are not that straight-forward either, as there are 4 tenses, 2 voices, 3 persons and the two numbers.

AND that’s not all! Ukrainian also has three grammatical genders: masculine, feminine and neuter which all have different endings.

Apart from providing us with some grammatical guidance, we’ve also asked Elena, Luba and Andriy to recommend us some great pieces of Ukrainian literature to introduce us a bit more to the language and culture of the country.

If you haven’t heard Ukrainian before, have a look (or rather listen) at Serhiy Zhadan’s poem, “Птах” (“Bird”) that is a retelling of the story of Noah’s Ark. Some consider this contemporary poem to be an alternative anthem of Ukraine. (Unfortunately, there is no English translation of the poem yet, however, listening to the words in Ukrainian is quite captivating, even if you don’t speak the language.)

Andriy’s favourite line is by Taras Shevchenko: “Учітесь, читайте, і чужому научайтеся, і свого не цурайтеся” which could be translated as “Learn and read, learn from others and do not shun your own”.

Luba’s favourite poem is “Любіть Україну” (“Love Ukraine”) by Volodymyr Sosiura which you can read it in English by clicking here.

If you are interested in learning more about Ukrainian culture and literature, you may also want to check out a British academic and translator, Uilleam Blacker’s Twitter page.

A (translation) miracle at carnival

a (translation) miracle at carnivalTake an Italian children’s book author, a mysterious mask, a project manager, a translator and an editor, add a bit of Venetian magic to the mix and wham! – you are in the middle of one of First Edition Translation’s most intriguing projects of the past few months: localising the Italian edition of A Miracle at Carnival for English readers.

The setting for the story is enchanted Venice where Olivia, the daughter of a traditional mask-maker is tasked to deliver a mask to an enigmatic Contessa who lives on a neighbouring island. Throughout her journey, Olivia meets stranger than strange characters… Just like Olivia on her mission, we also went on a quest where we met several exciting editorial translation challenges along the way… and chatted with the team behind bringing this project to life. Continue reading A (translation) miracle at carnival

Karima’s first three months

This is your second time with First Edition as you first started with us in 2011 and have been “away” for 8 years. Is it a different experience now? Has anything changed compared to the first time?

Eight years, three children, a global pandemic and remote working – not to mention the new management – mean that my second stint at FE is certainly different to the first! Continue reading Karima’s first three months

Brigitta’s first 200 projects

Brigitta's first 200 projectsBack in September 2020 a new team member, Brigitta Bacsai joined First Edition’s busy commercial team. She is a seasoned translation project manager with several years of experience in the industry, however, her first half a year – or 200 projects if you like – at First Edition have still brought some surprises for her and provided some learning opportunities.

Read our brief interview with Brigitta to find out more! Continue reading Brigitta’s first 200 projects

Meet our new team member, Karima – again!

Last month we greeted a new team member, Brigitta at the Commercial Department and today we are glad to welcome another new (well… returning) team member at our Editorial Department. Everyone, meet Karima!

Some of you might remember her from 9 years ago when she first joined First Edition. Karima has now returned once again to her role at our Editorial Team.

We’ve asked her to tell us a bit more about herself and what she has been up to in the last few years. (We are nosy like that!) Continue reading Meet our new team member, Karima – again!

Meet our new team member – Brigitta!

Brigitta BacsaiWe would like to welcome a new team member at First Edition today, Brigitta Bacsai, the latest addition to our busy commercial team. Some of you might have already been in touch with her this week, as she might have answered your enquiries, queries and helped you get things done. Continue reading Meet our new team member – Brigitta!

Meet the Translator – Sabine

Last year we started a new blog series, “Meet the Translator”, in which you could read about the translation professionals behind the scenes: those people who use their years of experience and vast knowledge to prepare the translated version of your important and invaluable documents. So far, you could “meet” Adriana who has been part of our team since 1990, Tim, the finance-director-turned-translator and Kerryann who always knew the best profession for her was something to do with languages.

We would like to restart this wonderful series to show you who work on your translations with us. This week, we brought Sabine to you, who is not only great with words but has a knack for farming. Continue reading Meet the Translator – Sabine

Typesetting 101 for Buyers

Typesetting 101

Back in the olden days, so-called sorts or types – which represented individual letters and symbols – were selected and placed in a form one by one to make up a page. The aptly named typesetters specialised in this onerous task.

With the advent of the digital era, the manual aspect of the job has gotten a bit simpler, however, this does not mean that anyone could do it. If you want the best results, you’ll need specialist typesetters! Continue reading Typesetting 101 for Buyers

James’ book corner – Death and the Penguin

death and the penguinAs you might expect from the team at a translation agency, we are avid readers who often enjoy translated literature. This week James has brought us an interesting lockdown-read, Death and the Penguin by Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov. Continue reading James’ book corner – Death and the Penguin