Learning two languages: my thoughts

Hello all,

I have been randomly thinking about learning two languages, and would love to hear what people think about this. My thoughts are that it really depends not only on the languages themselves, how different they are from each other, but also the goals you have in mind.

E.g. I am thinking of learning Spanish and Italian at the same time, and because I am a heavy input learner for a long time, it almost feels like a benefit to learn similar languages. Whereas if I planned on speaking early in both languages, then I can see how there would be confusion when trying to speak.

So for a heavy input learner, at least for the first long while, learning any two languages should not be a problem, because mixing them up purely when reading and listening is unlikely, as the goal is comprehension. Thoughts?

Rom

This is a recurring subject that appears many times and I think that if you search in the forum you’ll find other interesting inputs. There was also a link somewhere about a youtuber that finally said the truth about his experience and how much time he wasted learning 2 languages at the same time.

Every time you learn a new language your brain needs to fit a new system inside itself and usually this is like an earthquake on every other language that you know, including your own. If you don’t have solid foundations on the languages you speak, it’ll be a mess and you will lose a lot.

My opinion is to learn very well one language each time. And when you feel confident enough you go for another one.

Talking about Italian and Spanish. Many people think that these 2 languages are very similar so they are very easy to study. Wrong!

The problem is that sometimes is more difficult to learn 2 languages where many words are ALMOST the same because your mind needs to remember that in many words the difference in only in 1 letter.

Other words are identical but they have completely different meaning (and this is only one problem on similarities).
Spanish SALIR : to leave
Italian SALIRE : to climb
Spanish SUBIR : to lift, to pull up…
Italian SUBIRE : to suffer, to undergo…

Believe me when I say that I hear many Hispanics or Italians making a mess when they speak these languages because they don’t pay much attention or they think they know the right words or verbs. And they don’t look good at all, they look low education unless they just learn it for going on vacation a couple of weeks. (but that’s not studying a language).

When I speak Spanish I always put a lot of attention in visualizing or remembering the words while I’m speaking, stretching the pronunciation, paying attention to the orthography. Otherwise it’s too easy to mix them up. Imaging for a foreign that will have limited vocabulary and knowledge on both languages, the risk to misunderstand them and mix them up is hugely high. Imho.

So, I would choose one language and once I’m ok with that I would go to the other. I think it’ll be easier this way.

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Thanks for your reply, and the obvious time you have taken out to write it :D.

I see your point, and agree that there are words that look similar that can throw you off with a different meaning. Although I would say that the overwhelming common vocabulary is much better than the occasional ‘false friend’, in terms of making progress.

I definitely agree, speaking is going to be a frustrating mix if studying both, although my thoughts were looking at someone who enjoys starting with a looot of input, I would say that if they are delaying speaking, then having heavy input in both could actually be an ok idea.

A bit like if Steve, with his Russian, decided to learn Bulgarian and Macedonian at the same just reading and listening, but delaying speaking, perhaps it could be beneficial for his overall comprehension.

You’re welcome.

At the end it’s your choice.

There are also lots of other differences, for example how we use verbs in the past. As Spanish people were in the South of Italy, the way they use verbs in the past is often different from how we use it in the North. Also subjunctive is different, I believe way more strict in Spanish than in Italian. And I don’t remember others now.

I mean, sure, if you like lots of input is fine but at the end of the day you just split the time that you have available in half. It doesn’t really change anything. If you have 1000 hours available, that’s what your brain will use for 1 language or 2 languages. But I believe, and that’s my opinion, that having the same time and years, it’ll be more effective to do 1 + 1 than 2 at the same time. The learning of the second language will be faster than the 1st.

It just a feeling based on my limited experience but I’ve never studied 2 languages at the same time. I have improved one language while studying another one but not starting with 2 at the same time.

Good luck with your project. :slight_smile:

No, I completely agree :D. I really only focus on one language at a time, and this is the first time a strong desire to learn both has come over me haha. What will probably happen is that I will start learning both, and I will be swept away by one more :smiley:

All of your points make sense, I completely agree :D. And yes, whilst saying this I just watched a video of Richard Simcott, the famous polyglot, who is currently dabbling in more language right now than I ever plan to learn in the next decade haha :smiley:

I’d agree with the conventional wisdom that you should get to at least an intermediate level in one language before starting a new one. Really, I think it’s best to get to a level where you can have a way of maintaining the first language without “studying.” So, if you can listen to podcasts or audiobooks regularly in Spanish, then I would start Italian.

That’s what I’ve done with my languages at least.

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I did two languages for awhile but I felt there was some internal background noise that kept me from focusing. If I was going to try again I would choose a languages that has less words in common as false cognates can become a problem.

I do plan on focusing on Italian or French next year after I have a strong hold on Spanish. I travel to Mexico a lot so it makes more sense for me to keep focusing on what I need. Next summer I will be traveling to Italy so I will spend at least 6 months preparing for that language. Also given there are so many words that are similar learning Italian 6 months from now would not be that difficult.

Finally, I am focusing on developing my learning lab in one language at a time because books, flash cards, journals, and magazines take me time to find the best ones for me. When I feel comfortable with my resources and have used and abused them then it will be time for me to move on.

I do work full time and have a family but learning a second language has become a part time job for me. I feel that in 6 months I will be prepared to take on Italian. While I continue to build my Spanish collection I will pick up Italian books at thrift stores so that I will be prepared to learn.

Enjoy your journey.

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I learned French and ASL in college and feel like it made things easier.

I agree with you and I’ve made a similar point in other threads. Learning similar languages at once can be very helpful as long as you don’t try to activate them at the same time. All the confusion happens at production, as you can see by the examples of “false friends” in this thread. You can go on to learn both as long as you are very careful to:
a) Designate one of them (as least for now) as your priority
b) Be sure not to activate the second one. Consider it as a kind of unusual variant of the first language, as if it were very slangish or very technical or very regional kind of language that you certainly don’t want to use in your speech but you’d like to be able to comprehend Just as a low intermediate English learner might want to be able to recognize and understand in context the adjective “innocuous” but only make an effort to activate “harmless”. Or understand “lorry” if you encounter it but only activate “truck” and so on.
As a comparison, consider the difference between, say; Malay and Indonesian. They are mostly the same language but there are differences. Because they could be consider variations of the same languge it’s not unusual to learn both at the same time: I do. On the other hand, some vocabulary is different enough that it would be inconvenient to learn both variations, so most people (myself included) make an effort to activate one of them and just recognize the other one. I can imagine people studying Iranian Persian and Afghan Dari at the same time, using the same strategy. There’s no reason not to do the same with languages that are clearly different but closely related, it’s just a matter of degree of similarity.
Just a word of caution: of course progress will be slower in your preferred language for some time, simply because you won’t have as much time available for study, sincd you have to divide it between both languages. For that reason, you may find (as you say above) that you end up concentrating most of your time in your primary language and only going back to the secondary one occasionally, which is what I also often do in the case of Indonesian/Malay.
Anyway, in your case I think it makes sense for you to start both languages and then decide after a while which one you want to concentrate on. Later on, you’ll end up finding a balance in the study of the two languages that works for you.

Thanks for the response, I completely agree ^_^. Trying to activate them at the same time, at least in my view, seems to be where the major issue in confusion comes about. So trying to maybe just focus on input for a while in two seems like a fairly nice idea, since it stops me endlessly wanting to start the other one haha, my curiosity is satisfied. And yes, it is very normal to probably lean towards one of the languages, and then probably just go with whichever interests me.

Your points on Indonesian and Malay were so interesting, I had no idea that they were similar ^_^. Thanks for that :smiley:

I would love to start learning Spanish/Korean but…I can’t. I’ve invested too much time in Japanese to let it derail. I think I’ll start a new language in a couple years though!

So I did the exact opposite of what you and the conventional wisdom say.
I took 3 languages that were at about the same level (A1-A2) that were not only similar to each other, but also similar to my native language. None were a priority, each got roughly 1/3 of my time. Maybe 40/30/30 with German getting 40 and Swedish and Norwegian each getting 30. I also began weekly italki conversational output/activation around this time (I had been doing this but it was not regimented before).

From the experience I have gained in this, I would not advise anyone to do it. If you do, you will (probably) sort it out, but one might find the overall experience frustrating.

My schedule has been since last October:

  • Monday - Norwegian
  • Tuesday - Swedish
  • Wednesday - German
  • Thursday - Norwegian
  • Friday - Swedish
  • Saturday - (Catch Up)
  • Sunday - German

On each respective day I almost never cross the streams. I switch all my devices to the TL, log into my all my accounts for the TL, etc., etc.

My time has been with the TL of the day has been increasing, but let’s say it has averaged 5 hours per day, and at least 10 per language per week.

With this regiment I have made an astonishing amount of progress in all 3. This month I have read my first books in all 3 using LingQ “monolingually”! Just with a monolingual dictionary in the TL and lingqing unknown words manually after the fact with the dictionary definition.

I was always very careful in output to not use words if I knew I was importing it from another L2. In those cases I’d always just plug in the English word. Even then it is really only since June that I have reliably not been “accidentally” using words that are close cognates (ikke vs. inte) or are entirely imported incorrectly. It still happens, and probably will happen forever, but it’s not a race anymore for all 3 to get out of my mouth at the same time.

Doing this has almost certainly slowed down overall progress and has made the whole process far more confusing. But all that said I do not regret it. I happen to be lucky enough to live in an area that has native and near-native speakers of all three, and my level has gotten to a state that when conversing with those speakers they do not switch to English. I get to take some unaccredited classes (read: book clubs) in the fall and volunteer at or participate in events that use all three!

Observations:

  • German is much easier to keep separated, but when I have been reading Dutch it is kind of astonishing how much “pull” or “gravity” it has over the Dutch. Especially word order.
  • I would highly recommend anyone interested in both Norwegian and Swedish to focus on nynorsk and any of the non-Oslo dialects.
  • The ability to look at a random word you’ve never seen before and be able to figure out its meaning and import it is really cool (and extremely easy to misuse).
  • Whenver I think about something that is culturally part of the TL, it is extremely hard to not talk about in the TL. (E.g. Stefan Löfven losing a vote of no confidence.)
  • My fiancé has been patient enough to tolerate this madness, but YMMV. That is, none of this should be considered advice :).
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Hi,

I have been learning Korean for about 4 years and tried to begin learning Japanese a few months ago, but gave up very quickly.

I did not give up because of the similarities between the two languages, but rather because of the sheer volume of work involved.

I am a native speaker of French who is fluent in English. I have found Korean to be a very difficult language to master. I consider myself good at languages in general, but boy, this is very challenging. It has taken me four years to reach a mid-intermediate level and I find that I still have a long way to go, which is why I though adding another language to the mix was going to prove impossible.

Of course it depends what your goals are, but beware that you will have to find the time and energy to devote to both languages. Ideally, you should practice them both every day and you might find yourself losing motivation if you are under too much pressure.

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I’m a native English speaker studying 11 languages. I study languages together because that is like opening a treasure chest with a key instead of a crowbar. Warnings of confusion from studying multiple languages at the same time are overrated. It varies from learner to learner and language to language, of course, but I think the real problem with studying multiple languages is time management. The more languages you study, the more time it takes and the slower the progression in each. It’s a different level of acceptance that language learning is a marathon, not a sprint.

Languages from the same family will have more in common than they do differences. So, if you want to study multiple languages at once, start by comparing similarities. Then, note the differences in the details – and by “note” I mean write down what you’ve noticed, so that it sticks better in long term memory. You may never read those notes again, but the process of writing helps most people think more clearly. So it can help resolve confusion as well as bolstering memory.

Also, multiple languages can be learned at the same time regardless of level. But level will determine how you compare them. You can use an advanced language to learn or navigate a beginner language. (Using a well-known non-native language to learn a new one is called “laddering” or “language stacking.”) They don’t even have to be from the same family to do this. But you cannot use a beginner language to learn another beginner language. Instead, you can use two new languages to navigate each other.

So, for example, if you want to learn Spanish and Italian, first make the time to do it. You need a flexible schedule you can sustain, whether that’s rotating them on alternating days, or doing one in the morning and one in the afternoon, or finding creative ways to do them simultaneously. Since Spanish and Italian are both Latin-based languages you can definitely use them to navigate one another. If you already know one, the other should be easier, so that you are mostly looking for differences in small details. If you start both as beginner level and something gets confusing, pause and write them side-by-side to see where and how they are different. When you can briefly summarize how they are different, confusion shouldn’t be a problem moving forward, even if it means a little extra practice remembering those differences until they’re solid. :slight_smile:

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ちりも積もれば山となる・dust accumulated becomes a mountain(I literally have this written on my wall :sweat_smile: ). Never underestimate the power of consistency it may be difficult at first but totally doable you just have to find an amount that is good for you. and keep it fun. I’m currently learning Japanese, Korean, BSL and speak English, Yoruba

Thank you for the great reply ^_^. I completely agree, sometimes it is not a matter of mixing languages etc, but simply the time and energy needed for the language, which is very fun but still takes energy.

I have been learning German, then added French after a few years, and now Spanish after a few years, and the problem is not the languages themselves, but the time and energy needed to juggle all three, and how they interfere in terms of motivation, like I am unlikely to read a book in all languages of the same genre, so now there is variety needed between languages lol.

Your language journey sounds amazing, congratulations on your Korean journey so far, how awesome :smiley: