Many language students can become very enthusiastic once they begin to grasp the basics of their target language. Some people get so overzealous that they begin to study two languages at once. This may seem crazy to some students, but studying two languages at the same time is actually very possible. The real question is: what languages are best to learn together?
This can be a complex question, and many people are tempted to learn languages that are similar to one another (such as Spanish and Italian). This type of language pair is extremely bad for multiple language learning. The reality is that in order to learn a language properly, you will probably be studying grammar and vocabulary for at least an hour every day.
This means that if you’re learning two languages, you will be spending two hours studying each day. If these two languages are similar to each other in terms of grammar, syntax, spelling, etymology, or even just pronunciation, it can become very easy to get mixed up.
For this reason, it is recommended that if you want to study two languages at once, you pick two languages that are vastly different from each other. Choosing languages that have nothing in common makes it less likely that you will make mistakes between the two languages. Learning Italian and Spanish together would be a predictable nightmare, as it would become a constant struggle to keep the genders and vocabulary straight.
In order to give you a good idea of what you should be focusing on as a multiple-language learner, we’re going to review a few points here that will give you a deeper understanding of what it means to learn two languages at once. By the end of this article, you should be able to form an effective game plan for choosing which languages to study, as well as how to start studying them effectively.
How We Learn Language
The core of this problem is the mechanism by which humans learn a language. Although many of us learned our native tongue through a painstaking combination of natural absorption and classroom repetition, the vast majority of language learning happens through passive listening and contextual practice.
Studying grammatical structures and spelling mnemonics until you’re blue in the face is simply no fun, and will exacerbate the difficulties of learning two languages at the same time. Naturally absorbing grammatical structure and pronunciation through native materials is a much easier ride; as long as you do it right.
There’s a problem here, though, what if you’re learning two languages at once? If you’re switching back and forth between Portuguese and Spanish TV channels in an effort to learn both, it’s much more likely that you will simply become mixed up between the two languages.
Basically, the more similar two languages are to each other in terms of syntax, vocabulary, and grammar, the more likely you are to mistake one for the other while you’re learning both. Imagine trying to think of a sentence in French, only to have German words come out of your mouth. This is the type of difficulty you will most likely encounter if you choose to study two similar languages.
Learning Two Languages At Once
When learning two languages, in order to avoid the pitfalls mentioned above, it is important to pick two languages that will not give you extra trouble. If you take the time to learn the history of different languages and how they relate to each other throughout human history, it will most likely give you a good idea of which languages are similar to each other. From this vantage point, it will become easy for you to identify languages that you are interested in learning, without biting off more than you can chew once you actually begin to study.
While selecting the right languages is definitely the largest factor in multiple-language learning, there is also something to be said for methodology. Being able to properly structure language lessons for yourself that are able to teach two sets of grammar while keeping them separate and constructive is an essential step. Oftentimes, people can become overwhelmed trying to get a handle on all of this themselves.
One of the most important things to remember is that learning a language is hard. There will be times when you feel discouraged, or stupid, or as though it is impossible for you to make progress. This is a natural part of learning any new skill, and learning a new language is one of the more intensive skills a human can possibly teach themselves. This means that even though you may make constant mistakes between the two languages you select, and even though you may go weeks without feeling like you’ve made any progress, continuing to study is the most important thing.
Even if your methodology has been completely wrong, you will never be able to correct it and continue learning if you don’t constantly get back up and keep studying. Becoming discouraged is the final boss of language learning. Remember that the only thing that can possibly stop you from learning a language is you giving up.
Although learning languages side by side is totally possible, there are some obvious pitfalls that any serious language student should learn to avoid before trying to learn two languages at once:
- You will make mistakes. Even when learning a single language, making mistakes as you learn is an important part of the learning process. Being able to identify mistakes and correct them in order to practice good habits is the bread and butter of language learning. The importance of this is doubled when learning two languages.
- You will need to study almost twice as much. When learning a language, it becomes necessary to spend at least an hour a day practicing grammar and studying. When learning two languages, although you won’t need to spend twice as much time studying, you will spend much more time in your study periods compared to somebody learning just one language.
- You will need to draw from two different sources. A large part of learning a new language is obtaining native materials and textbooks from which to study. When studying two languages, you will need to study two sets of grammar, and practice using two sets of native materials. This makes multiple languages learning both more expensive, as well as more intensive than learning a single language.
- Verifying and practicing will be twice as difficult. When studying a language by yourself, the most important thing for you to spend your time on is making sure you aren’t practicing bad habits. It can be very easy to learn the wrong answers to your questions, and not realize your mistake until much later. Making sure you aren’t mistaking grammatical rules between your two new languages will be a huge part of your focus if you intend to learn two languages at once.
As you can see, there are a lot of things about learning multiple languages that make it easy to become discouraged, or even practiced in bad habits. While it will no doubt be more difficult than learning single languages, the specific challenges of learning multiple languages are far from insurmountable, and those of us who feel driven enough to properly study multiple languages simultaneously are few and far between.
Whether you choose to study Polynesian along with your Portuguese, or Navajo along with your Norwegian, you will no doubt afford yourself very stimulating pieces of knowledge. If you successfully master two languages at the same time, how many other people in all of human history can say that they have done the same?
What Languages Are Easy To Learn Together?
When selecting two languages to study simultaneously, the most important thing is to choose two languages that will not be easily confused with each other. Choosing, for example, Spanish and Italian, is a bad choice. When you study the grammar and vocab for these two languages, the similarities will cause you to make mistakes, and it will be difficult to keep the learning straight as you move forward.
In terms of language choice, the most important factor is the differences. If the two languages you eventually choose even use different scripts (like Greek and Mandarin Chinese), it may take more time to memorize, but there is almost no chance of you mixing up Cyrillic script with Chinese Hanzi. You will make fewer mistakes, and keeping the two languages distinct from each other in your mind will be that much easier.
There are a few questions related to multiple language learning that are probably on a lot of readers’ minds as they peruse this article:
How hard is it to learn two languages? Learning two languages at the same time is a lot of work, even more so than learning a single language. However, it is very possible to study properly enough to keep the two languages separate in your studies, and the advantages can be very very nice.
Which languages should I learn? Like we’ve said before in this article, the most important thing is to choose languages that won’t give you trouble. Studying the history of different languages and how they have developed through human history will give you a good amount of insight on which languages are similar to each other.
How can I avoid burnout? When studying any language, it can be very easy to become overwhelmed, and stagnate. Many people start to find it difficult to repeat the same flashcards every day, or to turn page after page of their textbook working through arduous exercises. If you keep your language studies centered around native materials and things that are fun to study, it can become a lot easier to stay interested in continuing your language studies.