How to deal with two languages at the same time?

I am interested in learning Mandarin and Japanese, but from what I know, learning both separately would take a whiiiileee. So my question is, how to bite that ? I already bought some books for Chinese but honestly I have no clue where to start. Should I learn characters first, and pronunciation then ? And what if I add Japanese ? How much time should I spend on each of them ? Also, what is the best way of learning them ? I would be thankful for help.

It’s too hard to begin learning 2 languages at the same time. Spend some month on only one of them before starting another language.


I agree with Ress. Especially for two East Asian languages that you are starting from scratch! It’s probably best to pick one and give it a good 6 months to build a strong foundation.

I would pick Chinese, because the characters and vocabulary foundation will give you a good head start in Japanese later. Just start with any book. Back in the day, 15 years ago, I started with Colloquial Chinese which introduced pronunciation and basic conversation, then slowly introduced characters. That got the ball rolling.

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Learning the letter and pronunciation for Chinese is very improtant, trust me. Then practice more, the easier you will feel.

As I see it there are two things to consider about learning multiple languages at once:

  1. Confusing the two languages
  2. Time management

I am studying two languages at once. One’s level is in the C’s and the other is in the B’s. I have never had any trouble in terms of confusing the two languages, and I suspect this is because I had such an advanced level in the first language before I began the second. Now, however, I am horrible at making myself work on the C level language intensively, and instead focus all my intensive study time on the B level language. My solution has been to use the C level language for entertainment. As my B level language advances, I find that I need a more diverse range of input, including entertainment media. Time management will therefore become more important as my two languages reach equilibrium in terms of level.

When you start learning two languages from scratch, you will be beginning at that point of equilibrium, where time management is of the utmost importance. In addition, you will risk confusing the two languages massively, especially considering the common origins of the characters.

I say choose one of the two languages, and stick with it until at least level B1 in order to ensure the two languages won’t be confused, then begin working to develop good time management skills.


Learning both japanese and chinese at the same time might get a little too heavy for you as both of them require serious amounts of time before it amounts to anything useful. But if you insist, the only way for you to manage to do so is either if (a) you are willing to spend many years before reaching B2 or above at a low daily volume (say 1 hour for each per day) or (b) you got 6+ hours a day to spend on language learning.

Optimally you’d want to spend more than 8 hours a day on the languages in total so that on a yearly basis youd reach about 1500 hours a year for each language. At that rate you should reach B2-C1 within around 2 years.

As for characters and pronunciation, different people use different methods according to their specific language goals. If your primary focus is speaking, you might want to use almost nothing but pinyin for chinese but otherwise you should learn them in conjunction imo.

Personally I would not learn two languages with an exotic script at the same time as it requires too much time for me

I say go for it. If you don’t have a deadline I don’t see why you couldn’t. Just remember to bring your patience with you. I cannot stress that enough. Asian languages can be really slow going in the early throws because everything is foreign and you have build it all up from scratch.

The key is consistent time management. Make sure you have some sort of regular study, like 30-60 minutes of focused reading and study for each language. If you focus on japanese and only poke your toe into chinese for a few minutes each day you won’t progress much.

Also, don’t force yourself to jump around. If you are feeling in the zone with Chinese just keep going. You will start to see how day in and day out just keeps you progressing.

So with Chinese.

Step 1. Learn the pinyin: the sort of “alphabet” for chinese. Definitely check out yoyochinese, she has pinyin lessons for free

and walks you through how to pronounce all the letters and tones you need to know. Once you understand the pinyin, you can start reading on lingq because you can activate the pinyin to be displayed above each character. Listen and listen more. Here is Steve’s helpful video 6 Hacks for Learning Chinese - YouTube

Also Chinese is significantly better on lingq. The japanese is really rough because the translation technology is pretty lousy for japanese overall.

I honestly can’t recommend LingQ to people for Chinese unless they are already fairly intermediate.

There are too many pinyin errors (strangely choosing the most archaic pronunciations of characters that are never used) and so many false “words” marked blue. This complaint has been made for years and they’ve done nothing to fix it.

Even with my known word count now, I still find myself having to X out the majority of random blue nonsense on the page. I can see how that would be terribly confusing for a beginner with a low level of vocabulary and familiarity with the language in general.

I do pretty much all my reading in Chinese with the Pleco app on my phone. Same pop-up dictionary style and vocabulary saving. It doesn’t count known words or highlight words you’re trying to learn, but there aren’t any bugs to worry about.

They seem to be about the same to me. Useable, but far from perfect, and not as good as the other languages.

I saw some pronunciations I found weird as well when I tried lingq.
For Android users there is another, lesser known app for Chinese called Pinyiner. Its free and the popup dictionary works perfectly. Its what I’m using right now.

My mistake, just from dabble in the beginner material the chinese seemed to be less confusing, but I’m assuming once you get into the real material the pinyin problems poke up.