Comitting to a new language

Since any language requires a sustained effort and concentration, I wonder at what point in your study of one language you decide to add on another?

In my own studies, I am quite far along in French and German. I’ve been going at these for years now, but it seems I am still never content with my level. I want to be able to understand authors like Hugo, Balzac, Flaubert, Goethe and others with ease. I can read such authors with reasonable ease, but there are still always words I do not know. So, I am torn between really trying focusing all my attention on these languages until I reach this goal, or reading and listening to them “on the side” while focusing on something else like Spanish.

How do you strike a balance between developing languages you already know and adding new languages?

I had to smile when I read your second paragraph. How well I know the wish to understand it all. I am not alone, how reassuring! I know Germans who would not understand Goethe or Schiller or even the latest Sebold, Franck or Schlink with ease. (For French read Montaigne, Schmitt, Nothomb). I struggle sometimes with my own language.

As to balance, that depends on you: what is comfortable? How much effort do you need to put into climbing the highest peak of any languages - can you ever get there? Another language might give you a different insight into your previous ones.

Like you I have two languages I concentrate on: French and Spanish, and I delight dipping into Italian, Swedish and Russian. I have now promised myself to only do what I feel like doing, there is not ‘must’ anymore.

Enjoy discovering your balance!

I can sort of relate to your dilemma. Even though I’m not as interested or far along in terms of classical literature. I know what I could do to improve on my French, but I want to try other languages (or get back to ones that I have already started) and I feel that it would be so much easier (with regards to improving my French) if I had daily opportunities to use it (which can be difficult to organise and fit into one’s schedule). I think I will enjoy going back to Spanish and perhaps dabbling in an entirely new language and, as Sanne said, it might give me some insight into my previous endeavours with French.

Like SanneT, I basically try to stop worrying about reaching perfection and do what I feel like doing. Sometimes I feel I need a break from languages I’ve been tackling for years and need something fresh. It might be a way to avoid burnout, especially if I feel I’m not progressing much. I’ll be honest and say that often these new endeavors don’t go very far, but you learn something about culture and people every time you start a new language, so I don’t see it as wasted time.

I personally find it easier to pick up a new language if the ones I’m working on are on a fairly advanced level. That way they seem to ‘interfere’ less with each other. If you feel like learning Spanish, for example, I’d say go for it. Your French will actually help you there, and your progress in Spanish might even make you feel less frustrated by what you think is lack of progress in French. It seems like you are at a level when you just have to read and read in French and German, so there is no need to abandon that. Besides, you don’t have to spend a lot of time with a new language – you can spend 30 minutes a day learning that and still concentrate mostly on French/German.