When should I begin another language?

I have been studying Korean for about nine months, but I have really been consistent and efficient with it about half that time. I’m really enjoying it, but I am also itching to improve my Spanish, which I had for several years in school but haven’t used or been exposed to very much since then. So I’m not an absolute beginner, but not far above that. Given where I live and what I do for a living, I have many more opportunities to use Spanish and it would therefore also be more immediately useful to me (as opposed to Korean, where I have more cultural interest but less regular contact with native speakers beyond the Internet). Having never really learned a second language to anything that could be called fluency, I’m not sure if I should start spending significant time on Spanish while still dabbling in Korean or stick with Korean until I have a significantly higher level of comfort with it. I don’t want to squander my efforts in Korean thus far, but I do want to eventually get to a comfortable level in both.

I realize there are differing opinions on this, but that’s ok. I’m interested in any advice more experienced language learners have to offer.

I’m sure other people will jump in here and share their ideas, but if you want to see some of the past discussions on this topics, here is a search I did: Login - LingQ

1 Like

Thanks for that, Jingle. I did a similar search, but it seems like most of the discussion has been about learning multiple languages at the same time, more than when you should move on when you’re primarily focusing on one at a time.

For example, in one of those threads, Steve responds by saying, in part, “I think it is best to concentrate on one language at a time until you achieve a comfortable level.” So my question is more about when you know you’re at that “comfortable level.”

There came a point where I felt I had learnt german. I wasn’t native standard, but I didn’t need to do lessons anymore. I guess I felt this because I was understanding most of the german things I was reading, listening etc.I just needed to integrate german into my life with german tv, radio and books as well as writing in german forums.

At that point I moved onto learning chinese, french and my native welsh.

1 Like

I agree with Steve about it being better to concentrate on one language, but probably not on what level to switch. I recommend going until your level is high enough so there is little or no need to maintain it. This is C1/C2. That way if you devote all of your time to another language, you will loose little or none of the first language.

In your case, counterintuitive, but it’s probably best to drop Korean for the time being and study Spanish 100% of the time you have available. All the lessons learned when you studied Korean will probably make you a much improved student of Spanish, so you’ll be able to learn it pretty quickly.

What about your Korean? If you’re A1/A2, it makes no sense to “just maintain”, because it will take you as much time to maintain as it does to learn. Better to leave it and come back later. If you’re B1/B2, it’s going to take about a half hour per day to maintain it; you can decide if it’s worth it, but from a pure efficiency standpoint, it probably isn’t.

1 Like

That’s what I’m afraid of. I really don’t want to lose Korean, even if I could learn Spanish pretty quickly. I will be back in Korea for a visit in less than a year and want to be at least B1-B2 when I go. I’m probably B1 right now, or at least very close to that. instead of dropping it, I’d rather get to a level where I can maintain and even slowly improve my Korean with two or three hours a week of effort (which actually isn’t far off from what you said). My plan, absent some contrary insight from this post or another source, was to put in another 100 days or so of Korean, basically until Spring. Then start Spanish, if I could maintain Korean by reading the news, listening to some podcasts, having an occasional conversation, etc.

Having said all that, is it really true you have to be C1 to be confident about maintaining a language? It seems to me if that were true, there wouldn’t be many polyglots at all. A lot of folks who speak 6, 8, 10 languages seem to be C1-C2 in two or three at most and intermediate in several. Or am I wholly mistaken about that?

[Edit: I just went and reread the common framework scale descriptions on Wikipedia, and I’m certainly at least B1, based on that.]

If you’re in the B 1 or B 2 levels, I guess you can do some Spanish and some of your current language. I’ve been doing this technique for about some time, since I’m a B 2 in French, and learning some languages as well( like Russian, German, and Slovak) You can also switch your main learning language to Spanish, and try to maintain Korean with some reading or whatever you like to do. That is only my opinion to this thread

1 Like

“is it really true you have to be C1 to be confident about maintaining a language?” Is this a straw man, or did you just not understand my post? I don’t understand your question (confident?), so hopefully this will clear things up:

To maintain your level in a language, A - not worth the trouble, B - 30 min, C - little or no time.

I don’t see this as conflicting with what you said about polyglots.

No, I get what you’re saying. I was just wondering how someone who is C1+ in a couple of languages and B2ish in three or four could really maintain that many languages if they had to average a half an hour every day in those three or four. It seems to me that’s where most of the polyglots widely known on the Internet are, more or less. But, that’s a situation I’ve never been in, so I’m just asking out of curiosity. I wasn’t challenging you. Confident was a poor choice of words. I meant I wouldn’t be confident I could maintain more than one language if I needed three or four hours a week in each one to do so.

It’s impossible to say for sure, but if they aren’t maintaining a B language, their level in that language is decreasing. There are many things someone can do to maintain. The daily 30 min is a conservative estimate, based on my personal experience with difficult B1 languages. One could get by with significantly less for an easy B2 language, but I always give conservative estimates.

In my opinion, there is no reason to avoid learning Spanish simply for the sake of not forgetting what you’ve already learned in Korean. Since you’ve already achieved a decent intermediate level in Korean, I would suggest to continue to spend a majority (maybe 70%) of time improving Korean until you feel comfortable/advanced (capable of communicating with Koreans roughly fluently:) In the meantime, you can take out more or less 15 minutes everyday to start learning the basics of Spanish. (I wouldn’t recommend dropping Korean completely and studying Spanish 100%) This is just a suggestion, but that’s what I’m doing with Polish and Japanese :slight_smile:

Edit: I just recalled a video from Steve that somewhat contradicts my previous statement, but might help:Multiple Languages - Forget and Relearn - YouTube

1 Like

I made a decision like this recently. Spanish is my 2nd language, Kichwa is my new language. For me the key factors affecting my decision were (1) exposure to Spanish had become habitual, I don’t have to make an effort or remind myself to do some listening or reading, and (2) sufficient motivation to start Kichwa. Motivation to me seems quite important because the early stage of learning is quite difficult as everything is (relatively) new and difficult. And for me motivation is more than just the sense of “I want to speak X”, but more like “I want to know this language so that I can…” Both of these factors are quite subjective, but I could just tell (about six weeks ago) that the time was right.

1 Like

I don’t really need to do anything to maintain Mandarin, and I only study German sporadically. I also have a greater interest and need for Mandarin, living in China, but I enjoy German and want to improve. So what I’ve been doing is reading novels alternating the languages.

Of course I can handle much more challenging and longer Chinese novels, so I usually spend more time completing a novel in Chinese. But, I haven’t found that my German gets rusty or anything when I get back to it. It’s not months spent away from the language this way.

This isn’t really “studying” either. Just pleasant exposure. If you are at a level in both languages where you can read novels, appropriate for your level and relatively short, you might find this a good method to maintain and improve both at almost the same time. Meanwhile, you can still do daily news skimming and listening in both languages as a background activity. I personally wouldn’t want to abandon either language for the sake of the other for an extended period of time.

1 Like