Learning Tips

Studying Different Languages Simultaneously: Benefits & Tips

Edit84If there’s ever a particular response that I’m guaranteed to receive when I tell people that I’m into language learning, and what I’m currently studying, it’s invariably something along the lines of: “How can you study so many languages at once?”, followed by “Don’t you get mixed up?  Isn’t it confusing?”.  I’ve also noticed some other language learners expressing concerns at getting muddled when considering whether or not to take up another language. Don’t get me wrong, there is most definitely merit to focusing time and energy on just the one language (and it may be more suited to certain personality types and work styles).  And I agree that’s probably not a good idea to have a billion different languages on the go from scratch.  But it’s not all bad over here on the multi-language-learning track either: there are useful aspects to learning more than one language.  If you refuse to allow yourself to be intimidated by the prospect of mental linguistic oversaturation, you can turn language ‘confusion’ into a positive aid for your language learning.

Firstly, instead of getting stuck in the more negative “I’M GETTING SO CONFUSED HELP ME AKFJZASKFJZAFJKD” mindset, take a look on the positive side: how can the language I’ve already learnt help me with my new one?  Well…

  • Drawing on already learned language study behaviours:  your brain is essentially akin to a muscle, getting stronger with increased use.  Language learning, just like anything else, gets easier the more you do it.  If you’re used to writing out 10 Chinese characters a day, what’s going to stop you from doing the same with Japanese kanji?
  • Learning from previous mistakes: if you did something inefficiently the first time round, you can make it work for you with your next language.  If you focused way too much on grammar and not enough on conversation, you can formulate a better approach for your new language.
  • Making connections: I reckon this is the best part of multiple language learning.  Instead of thinking about how confused you’ll be, think of how your brain is branching out.  Now isn’t that a wonderful image?  You can connect concepts from any language.  Even if there’s no grounds for these connections from a linguistic point of view, the only thing that is important is that they make sense for you and help enhance your understanding.  For example, in my Mandarin notes, I’ve written that 不行 = (quelque chosene va pas in French.  Of course, the more similar your languages are, the more connections you can make, and the more epiphanies you can have 😀
  • It sounds impressive: what’s not to like?

And now for the trickier part: how can I juggle all this?   I was lucky enough to be able to learn three languages during high school, but I am now mostly on my own, meaning that it’s up to me to balance my study.  Below are just some principles which I like to apply to my own learning.  They may or may not work for you, and I can’t guarantee complete prevention of the onset of “language fade”, but they help me a lot, and are mostly quite easy to put into practice:

  • Make the most of opportunities: if you have the chance to learn a language in high school / university, take it.  The structured environment and time already put aside for the language makes everything so much easier =_=
  • Choose similar languages: choose languages from the same language families!  You’ll understand everything so much faster if there are similarities or overlaps – a Korean topic marking particle is much less mind-boggling when you’ve already encountered a Japanese particle.
  • Use an “old” language to learn a “new” one: definitely the best way to killl two birds with one stone.  Most language texts are published in many different languages.  If you want to learn Japanese and already know Korean, buy the Korean edition instead of the English one.  Something else I like to do, is to look for shows subbed in my target language e.g. watching Korean variety with Spanish subs.  Alternatively, if you’re searching the internet for help on a topic, type in the terms in another language.  By doing this, I’ve found an amazing French website that helps me with all my JLPT grammar.  These are just some suggestions – the possibilities are endless!
  • Convert “bits” of time into productivity:  this applies to all language learning.  Any pocket of time can be converted into immersion!  If you like to listen to music while commuting, subscribe to a podcast.  If you watch a lot of TV, find a show in your target language.  If you like to read, pick up a foreign novel and have a dictionary on hand.  Everything counts!!  Plus, you’ll feel less guilty if you haven’t been able to put aside time for more serious study (grammar points, writing notes etc).
  • Time management: I like to print a weekly planner that has the days divided into 1 hour slots (the Internet is full of these).  Block out times when you aren’t available and then fill in the rest.  This also allows you to monitor the spread and balance of your languages over a broader (but not too broad) timeframe.
  • Break down each language: Sure, you can just write that you’re going to study French at 2pm.  But wouldn’t it be better if you knew that this would constitute 30 minutes of watching the French news, followed by 30 mins of French grammar?  If you write out all the different types of study you want to do for each language, number them, then slot them into your planner, you’ll be a lot more productive because you’ll know ahead of time what you’ll be doing, instead of scrambling around being like WHAT DO I DO WITH MY TIME.  For example, my task list for Italian looks like this: 1) Italian Grammar in Use  2) Pronti Via textbook  3) Duolingo  4) Reading immersion.  You can see in my picture how this numbered task system works.

Hopefully this post is helpful / insightful to you guys. If anybody is engaging in some multiple language learning as well, please let me know how you do it – I’d love to know about your learning style!

Until next time ^^


9 thoughts on “Studying Different Languages Simultaneously: Benefits & Tips

  1. You are right.. After your last but one post I explored Duolingo and I like it! I’m studying Spanish at the moment, next languages are French, Portuguese and German on that site. All of them in English, because almost every language learning webiste is Eng-based. It’s a pity Chinese and Japanese aren’t even in incubation.
    Whilst for Mandarin is better to understand French, as 我的老师 told me, given that a lot of resources are written in that language, e.g the French website you found.
    I’ll print a weekly planner too 😉

      • It’s amazing, in a week or so I reached level 8 in Spanish and now I’m on v. pres 3 but found a bit hard the past tense. But yeah, while doing Spanish I left Chinese and when I resumed it my head was ok what does it mean 比赛? :/
        definitely have to schedule my time and try to do different languages every day

  2. I’m impressed that you find the time and consistently stick to it. When I come home from work and uni I mostly feel exhausted. But I think it’s a good system to print a weekly schedule.
    Don’t people learn multiple languages at school or is that just where I’m from? In Denmark we study English and at least one more language – even in state schools. I studied English (from fourth grade, now they start earlier), German (from 6th grade), and French (from 7th grade). It’s a bit odd that when in school you don’t think twice about studying several languages at once, but as an adult many will not even want to try.

    • In Australia, it’s pretty rare that people study languages at school, which is why I envy Europe’s emphasis on multilingualism!! In fact, in my state, the number of people taking a foreign language for their final high school exams is at an all time low 😦

      At my school, it was compulsory to take French for one year in Year 7, from then on, any language subject was only optional.

  3. Great post! ^^
    I learned English by myself (my native language is Portuguese) and now I’m learning Korean through English. I’m doing what you said, working and improving my “old” language while learning the “new” one… All the good resources are written in English (compared with Portuguese), so I had no choice, haha! I really feel that my English is a bit better now… ^^
    I’d really like to try learning Japanese now, along with Korean, but I really don’t have much free time =\
    Anyway, I just wanted to give my 2 cents on this issue ^^

    • Thanks for the comment – I’m always interested to know how my readers are going about their language study ^^ Hopefully you’ll be able to make time for Japanese in future!

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