Is it possible to learn more than one language at the same time?
Well of course!
In this podcast episode, we have some solid tips to help you stay sane and make progress even if you are learning more than one language.
Listen to the full episode including news & updates, or skip to 21:45 to go straight to our tips.
Our 5 Tips For Learning Several Languages At The Same Time
These tips are based on our own experiences as experienced language learners, and include our verdicts on the internet's most common "rules".
DO Make Peace With Slower Progress
It's undeniable. When you're splitting your time between several languages, you'll save a lot of time by cutting out the worry. The key is to build and maintain a schedule, to build that habit, so you can focus on action instead of worrying about how much progress you're making.
Remember that the best way to make progress in language learning is to concentrate on how you spend your time well. The idea of "saving time" itself can be contentious. If you're learning languages because you love them, it's unlikely you'll ever be finished.
DO Commit To The Schedule
Having a set schedule saves time that you may spend deciding, also saves energy. It comes to decision fatigue.
I wrote about decision fatigue in the Language Habit Toolkit:
At a certain point in the day, > decision fatigue> sets in. This term, coined by psychologists studying irrational behaviour in humans, describes the many unhelpful actions you many start to take when you’re tired of all that thinking. It can lead to a loss of willpower, and even a loss of perspective on the choices that people do make.
In a multi-language situation, decision fatigue can zap your energy when you need it most. Take control by following a clear plan so you never have to think "Should I focus on this one or that one now?"
This doesn't have to be elaborate or complicated - for example, I’ve done “French Thursday” for example, using one day a week to take a break from looking at the Welsh language and instead study French.
DO Use Multilingual Resources
If your languages are at different levels, try studying one language through another, for example through buying from local language publishers, using Glossika, Speechling, or even Duolingo's courses.
DO Use Your Environment
Sometimes, just being in a different environment can help you gain more focus on specific target languags. Lindsay has done this in the past, for example studying Japanese every time she drove. Try moving around in your home or selecting a favourite café or walking route for interaction with a specific language.
DO or maybe DON'T Start 2 At The Same Time
It's definitely more demanding to start two brand new languages at the same time, so be aware that a project like this would require a lot of time and some support.
Polyglot Luca Lampariello has written about this, recommending learners build a language core. It essentially means moving past the levels where you’re still wondering how to string sentences together or make questions.
BUT - does that mean it's impossible to do? Heck no!
It is an ambitious undertaking, but it's definitely not impossible. We found that the key to starting more than one language at once is to stay realistic and confident, and to set very clear goals about the purpose of learning each language.
For example, you may study one language to become "travel fluent" for a trip, but another one because you want to add it to your life for good. With a project as big as language learning, it's important to make sure that your goals are solid.
DO OR DO Choose Languages From The Same Language Family
Here's another debate from the internet: Should you learn languages that are closely related? Or is that confusing?
Or should you choose two completely different languages?
Either way, we found no evidence that you would be likely to "do it wrong". Building confidence and working at different levels in different languages is beneficial, and you can definitely mix an "easy language" with a "hard language".
But ultimately, language choice should not be about easy vs. hard. It should be about which language you WANT TO learn right now, what you will enjoy the most.
And when it comes to confusing and forgetting the vocabulary, our experience says that this will happen no matter what you do.
Either way you do it, it's definitely a DO. Just give this a go, consider what you are most interested in, and trust that good planning, consistent tracking, and regular reviews will guide you through.
DO Relish The Challenge For Your Brain
Keeping several languages active can have better study results than switching around. Beyond that, it's also bound to give you a wonderful feeling of hard work and reward, and will challenge your brain.
Benny Lewis has a good anecdote about this. Here he describes an experience of progressing and improving in both Spanish and Italian:
"At first, I was indeed producing a kind of “espaliano” when trying to speak either, but forcing myself to speak Spanish constantly every day, while also doing the same for Italian while I was learning and improving it meant that I learned how to compartmentalise each language in my head.")
Learning languages gets easier with each language you tackle, and a lot of this is related to your improved learning skills and confidence.
Abraham Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe", and in the same vein it's helpful to spend some time and energy on learning how to learn productively.
So, How Many Languages Do You Speak? 😝
Have you tackled more than language at once? What are the strategies you are using to avoid mixing them up? Share your tips with us in the comments below!