Learning a single foreign language is tough enough, much less two (or more) at the same time. Yet, there are those who swear by this method, claiming that it’s not that different than focusing on just the one. Still, there are some caveats that come with that claim and, if you’re one of those planning to learn several languages at once, there might be a couple of things to consider first.
In today’s blog post, we’ll take a look at what are the best strategies for learning multiple languages at the same time and what you should keep in mind before you start.
Before you make the choice
As with much in language learning, your success depends on making the process work for you. There are those who prefer to learn several languages at once and those who like intensely focusing on one instead. So, much of it comes down to what you feel more comfortable doing.
However, you should keep in mind that most of the people, who attempt to (or do) learn multiple languages at the same time, are usually already seasoned language learners. Polyglots, who have had years of practice with languages, might find this strategy more engaging. And even among them, there are plenty who prefer to stick with just one. So if you’re just getting started with your first foreign language, it might be better to give this strategy a pass.
Depends on your goals
Another reason why you might be discouraged from learning several languages at once has to do with intensity and immersion. If your goal is to become as good as possible in as short of a time as possible, you should immerse yourself in your one target language. Focus on learning just that, for several hours a day if possible.
If, however, that is not your goal, for example, if you simply enjoy the process of learning, love the thrill of basic-level learning where you can feel yourself improving every day, then learning multiple languages at the same time might very well be suited for you.
Consider your options
Another question you should focus on is what languages to choose. For example, should you focus on learning languages that are closely related to each other? Sure, it might make it easier to learn the related grammar but you’ll surely also mix up the similar-sounding vocabulary. Of course, often your language needs are dictated by something other than pure choice. In any case, just make sure that the languages you choose to learn are the ones you’re most motivated about.
In addition, you should think about whether it’s a good idea to start two completely new languages at the same time. It will surely be easier to first build a language core in one and then add to that your new language. That way, you’re also not focusing on the same level skills in both of the languages, making confusing the two less likely. However, if you really want to give your brain a workout, starting on two new completely unrelated languages at once will definitely do that.
How to make it work
So, if you’ve made the decision and you’re confident that you want to attempt learning multiple languages at once, there are a few things you should keep in mind.
Create a fixed schedule
The danger in starting on two languages together is that, at one point, you’ll simply naturally veer in the direction of one and the other will fall out of favour. In order to avoid that, you should create and stick to a pretty fixed learning schedule.
Now, that doesn’t mean you should devote an equal amount of time to each language. If one of your target languages is very similar to your native one, you’ll find that a lot easier to pick up than one very different to yours. And your learning routine should reflect that. Just make sure that the effort you put in is somewhat balanced.
To learn is to make mistakes
And that is doubly true if you’re learning several languages at the same time. Especially in the beginning, you’ll surely mix up the vocabulary and other bits of the languages. You shouldn’t let that discourage you, however. With enough practice, your brain will eventually get used to switching between the languages quickly, making mistakes few and far between. Before that happens, though, get ready for occasionally only getting vocabulary from language B swirling in your head when you’re trying to converse in language A.
You’ll take it slow
If you are already an experienced language learner, you might have come to expect a certain pace in your progress. Be prepared to kiss that goodbye in your endeavour to focus on multiple languages. It’s only natural that you’ll see slower improvement when you’re juggling several tasks at once, so consider yourself warned.
But if you manage to keep your cool and not get frustrated with your slow(er) progress, there is no reason why you can’t still enjoy your new challenge.
Use your existing language skills
The best way to make your life easier when learning multiple languages at the same time is to use your existing skills. If you’ve decided to add a new language to your existing core, a great way is to use your more advanced language to learn the new one.
For example, you can change your Duolingo language settings to your stronger target language and then use that to get started on the new one. Or consider watching media in one language with subtitles in the other. If you’re starting on completely new languages at once, you can combine vocabulary lists to cover both of the languages, for example. There are plenty of ways you can combine your efforts to learn multiple languages at the same time.
Conclusion – Learning multiple languages at once is challenging but doable
You would definitely see quicker results by focusing on just one language at the time and immersing yourself in it as much as possible. Even if you did that on two successive occasions, it would probably still be quicker than learning several languages at once. However, if you’ve decided to take on the challenge, simply learn to enjoy the process, don’t get frustrated, and keep using your existing language learning skills to make the best of the situation.