Learning two languages at once? I need advice!

Hello everyone,

I have been studying Mandarin Chinese now for about 4-5 months. I dedicated my summer to studying and improving my Chinese as much as possible. When I started I knew absolutely nothing (not even how to say hello). However, I have now completed Fluenz 1-3 and 1 and a half levels of Rosetta stone (which I have suspended). After finishing Fluenz, I moved to Assimil and completed the first volume three weeks ago. At this point in my studies I am on lesson 62 in the second volume of Assimil Chinese with Ease. I listen everyday to the dialogues on my mp3 player and when I am biking/running, or driving to school. When I can, I try to read the text along with the audio.

However, I recently have been getting a bit of a desire to start a new language (even though my Chinese studies is still far from finished). If I had to guess I would say my Chinese level (on the European scale) is probably between A2 and B1. I studied French in high school for two years (only because it was required to go to a university) so I’m thinking of picking that back up and starting it with Assimil.

HOWEVER, I don’t want to start yet if it’s going to hurt my Chinese progression. Mastering Chinese is still my primary goal. I have somewhat of a French foundation already from 2 years of high school so I think it might be okay to pick it back up. (I’m also considering Dutch, German, and Spanish)

If there is anyone out that there has experience learning two languages at one time like that I would love to hear advice from you.

Thanks everyone, I really appreciate it!

I am studying Mandarin (for about 2.5 years) and have also thought about studying Spanish simultaneously or maybe starting up German. However, I came to the conclusion not to do so and just focus on Mandarin indefinitely, until I feel very comfortable in the language which may be well into my dotage. It sounds like you are off to a good start and probably have a good ear for the tones, etc. You have gotten past the stage that knocks a lot of people out. I’d say getting through intermediate level to advanced is very challenging for any given Westerner not used to tonal or character based script That you’ve gotten through the beginner stage is great but by now you’re probably realizing this is a difficult language. For me, entertaining the idea of learning another language simultaneously (as with your French, I’ve a base in Spanish) was probably my subconscious saying, “I want the comfort of a Latin-based language” even though on a conscious level I was saying to myself “it would be interesting to explore…”: This may not be the case with you, you may be committed to going on & juggling another language without interfering with your Mandarin study. A matter of: “Know thy self.” I know the cop out lines I feed myself and the “let’s get Spanish going again or maybe German?” was one of them. Perhaps it was also a Pimsleur, Rossetta, Assimil, teach-yourself “I conquered beginner” stage head-rush thing I yearned for. In the end, I dumped the idea.

In my estimation, to get to B2/C1 border one should be able to recognize 3,000 characters and about 6,000 words. In addition one should know a fair number of chengyu. English is a rich language at the high level, but it seems Mandarin is even richer. If one sticks with textbooks without diving into the water of native material, one likely will end up with a a false sense of ‘mastery.’ While we want to feel good about accomplishments, it’s also sobering to know how much there is to learn. Chinese language is very old as is the culture and so the thing is, even reaching advanced level just means you only have a base for learning things native Chinese-speaking people know at a young age. Advanced level is about like being in 7th grade for a Chinese who of course will know far know many more 地道语言 than the “advanced” foreigner. You mention mastery (C2 level) and your desire to get there. In that case, I would say forget French for right now, even if you’re linguistically gifted w/ divine concentration. I say this because Westerners with C2 level Chinese are in such small numbers. Generally, C2 level Mandarin speakers are not polyglots…I don’t know of any but I imagine there might be a few out there. Some have studied other languages before Mandarin but it seems usually they’ve let the other languages go in order to maintain their Chinese.

According to most of those who actually get to mastery, learning Chinese well involves major commitment. Some will tell you otherwise, but I haven’t heard cogent arguments from them. If you want to get to B2 low C1 level, that’s not mastery but it is a very good level. You can take on French but it will prolong the amount of time it will take you to get there. So It really depends on what level you want to get to and when you want to get there by.

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Unlike milestones I don’t have any experience with Mandarin. What do you mean by “mastering Chinese”? Does this mean C2 for you? How important is C2 for you? And why do you learn the language? Is it just a hobby or do you want to use it for professional purposes or move to China?

I wouldn’t be able to learn just one language. I already learned three languages at school (English, French, Latin) and although I didn’t maintain my French afterwards and was never interested in Latin, I probably got used to learning several languages at the same time. Being able to read a novel in a foreign language is a very important goal for me which usually results in the fact that my passive skills (especially reading) are far better than my active skills. That’s fine for me. I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on just one language, I need some variety. That’s certainly easier when you already speak (or read) two or three languages well. For example, I may study Czech intensively for one hour but then I prefer to relax while listening to some English audio or read a Spanish book.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to learn two new languages at the same time and spend an equal amount of time on them because it would slow you down. However, your Chinese level seems to be pretty good already and you made a lot of progress in a short time, so in my opinion, it wouldn’t harm you if you started to learn French, especially as you’re already a bit familiar with the language.


I think it all depends on what you want to achieve. If you enjoy the process of language learning - go for it! If you need to reach a specific level within a specific time frame (in order to travel or work) - concentrate on one language at the time.

I have been unable to work for quite a while due to some heart issues (which have been resolved now). I started learning Russian in order to have something to fill my days. However, I found that concentrating full time on one language may be fatiguing. I simply lost interest after so many hours. Being inspired by Steve, deca glossai and others, I wanted to learn more. So (like you) I decided to relearn my third language from school - German. I had never used German after leaving school 25 yrs ago. I started relearning German via LingQ. I just picked a few texts at random and started. Pretty soon I found that I knew many, many words, and that reading was fun and easy for me. I guess it was a great relief not to have to wright assignments, take tests, etc. Now, I have stopped using LingQ for my German studies, and are just reading pocket books from the German best seller list. I also have a tiny grammar book that I bought but never opened (yet).

For September I decided to try our Dutch. Just as a 30 day trial. It is really fun and interesting to get that feeling of accomplishment for the first texts I have read and listened to. For Dutch I found a few sites just to get some basic overview over grammar, but my focus for September is really on using LingQ and see how much I can learn. I am planning on another language test in October.

So, as Steve probably would say, do what interests you and what you feel are rewarding. If you hate it, you will learn nothing. If you like it - or better love it! - there is no limit to what you can fit in.

Good luck!


I like polyglot Luca Lampariella’s method of studying 2 languages concurrently over a 2 year period, building up his language ‘core’ and (in his case) reaching ‘fluency’. At the same time, he ‘maintains’ previously learned languages. In a nutshell, he concentrates more study time for the more ‘difficult’ language of the two, such as Japanese eg. non-European language (since he’s Italian), than the ‘easier’ language. ie. Dutch. He gives a good plug for LingQ, and recommends it especially for intermediate+ levels. After approx. 2 years, he then picks up another 2 languages to study, whilst putting in a little maintenance work for the previous languages.

I noticed though that he made an exception for Chinese, which he called his 3 year project.

If you’ve never heard of the famous Luca, here’s his blog: http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/
Many of his 10+ languages were learned this way.

I’m studying both Japanese and Chinese, which I wouldn’t recommend doing usually as a combination, and certainly not if from scratch. However, I have university studies for both under my belt, and found I got my mojo back by doing both together, rather than trying to do Japanese with a European language simply because of the standard consensus.

Japanese is my first love so I don’t want to put it aside, and I really like Chinese, so I won’t put it on the back burner either.
I’m concentrating on beginner material in both languages at the moment, so my LingQ stats don’t reflect exam levels passed.
However, I concur with Steve elsewhere of the benefits of revisiting beginner material - it’s incredible how much you notice! I even picked up a thing or two studying the beginning Assimil Japanese lessons, even though I found the audio painfully slow.

All the best for your study adventures.