I apologize in advance, my posts on topics such as language tend to get wordy. If you don’t feel like reading through all my musing, but you’d still like to help, my question is in the last paragraph of this post.
I’ve been learning Japanese for a few years now, for the last few months predominantly on LingQ. Recently I’ve decided to bite the bullet and start learning German, as I can no longer ignore the fact that speaking German would be a great boon to my career (unlike Japanese, which has so far been purely my passion). This is something I’ve been resisting for many years (and by many years I mean a little over two decades)
I still have a long way to go in Japanese, but I’ve gone too far to stop (or take a break) now. I want to become fluent in Japanese, by any definition of the word. This means I have to learn the two languages simultaneously.
Not long ago I started learning German on LingQ. I went through a few beginner lessons, and when I got bored with them I transitioned to reading a book in German. This proved to be a bit too difficult, so I’ve switched to something easier - watching an Austrian TV show and listening to an audiobook while driving. I want to start reading on LingQ again, but some of my previous experiences are discouraging me.
Like I said, I won’t back down from learning Japanese, so I have to do them both simultaneously. I’m not as disciplined as I’d like to be, and if I give myself the freedom to choose, I usually default to doing Japanese, whether it’s listening or reading. So I had to try and deliberately add German to my routine. I’d do things like read one lesson in Japanese, then one lesson in German. Or I’d do Japanese for 30 minutes, take a break, watch a bit of YouTube, and then do German for 30 minutes.
Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. And sometimes the experience was really trippy.
I remember lying in bed one night after doing a lot of LingQ-ing in both languages. My brain was running on autopilot, trying to process the information it had absorbed - it was sort of de-fragmenting. I remember constructing a sentence in Japanese, then constructing the same sentence in German, and being acutely aware of the different patterns. My brain did this over and over again, categorizing the patterns, separating the two languages and designating separate spaces in my memory for each them. Petty much without any conscious effort. It was hella cool.
Other times I’d run into problems. I’d read a lesson in Japanese, then I’d start reading in German. I quickly realized I couldn’t get past the second sentence, because I had just read a verb, and my brain was telling me it can’t be a verb, because there’s no way a verb can be in that part of a sentence in Japanese.
Other times I’d be running pretend German conversations in my head. It took a lot of effort to make sure the next sentence I would “say” was not in Japanese. Especially if I tried to speak about Japan or Japanese in German. That would usually just cause me to switch instantly.
Truth be told, I have previous experience with a new language interfering with an one that was already inside my head. I grew up in a part of Slovakia where the Hungarian minority if pretty much a majority. Moreover, I had a Hungarian relative who’d babysit for me for long periods of time at an early age, right about the time kids start developing language. Rumor has it I could speak Hungarian before I could speak Slovak. I never advanced my vocabulary beyond that of a small child, but I could comprehend Hungarian and even form grammatically correct sentences. Then, in junior high, I started learning English. I loved English, I absorbed it like a sponge. But it had a detrimental effect on my Hungarian - the English grammar patterns seemed to have overwritten the Hungarian patterns. Shortly after I started taking classes in English, I tried to speak in Hungarian to the aforementioned relative. What came out of my mouth was a mixture of the two languages - English sentence structure applied to Hungarian vocabulary, with English words mixed in, in place of similarly sounding Hungarian words. I realized I had lost the ability to form complex sentences in Hungarian. I can still understand spoken Hungarian, to the extent my limited vocabulary permits, but I’ve lost the ability to actually speak Hungarian for good.
Later in life I had a similar experience with Japanese pushing out what little German had managed to stick inside my head (at the time I was actually glad about this). But now it worries me - I don’t care much about Hungarian, but I care about both Japanese and German, and they seem to sort of occupy the same space in my head. I know that with enough exposure to both languages, this issue will eventually sort itself out. But I’m not sure about how to do it with as little interference as possible.
So I’d like to ask, how do you study two (or more) languages at the same time? Do you alternate on a daily basis, or a weekly basis? Or do you study both languages in the same day? Do you use some sort of palette cleanser before you switch from one language to the other? Do you use any mental exercises or tricks, to help you keep the languages separate in your brain?
Any advice would be appreciated.