One of the things that often come up in my conversations with other language learners is the question of how to learn and maintain multiple languages at the same time.
Below, you will find my tips, as well as a summary of what other language experts think about learning and maintaining several languages simultaneously.
I’m going to start with the logistics of how to ensure you’re not mixing up the different languages you’re learning. I’ll then give you some examples of how you can structure your time to make sure you’re devoting equal amounts of time to each one of your languages. Finally, I’ll summarise tips from language experts on whether it’s a good idea at all to learn multiple languages at the same time.
Before you read the blog post, though, make sure you watch my video about learning (just!) two languages at the same time. Don’t forget to subscribe to the 5-Minute Language YouTube channel as well!
How to learn multiple languages without mixing them up
Associate each language with a different routine
Lindsay Dow at Lindsay Does Languages says it’s useful to associate each language with a different daily routine. For example, you can listen to one language when driving to work but a completely different one when having breakfast.
Use personas to avoid mixing up your languages
Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months recommends using personas when practising each of the languages you’re learning. If you act/think like one person when speaking French and a completely different person when speaking Italian, you’re less likely to mix them up.
Think of your target languages as something that gives you a new identity every time you speak that language. For example, when I speak German, I feel very scientific and intellectual. I don’t make many hand gestures. When I speak Spanish, on the other hand, I do make a lot of gestures and I speak in a very musical way – almost singing. Feel and think like that identity/persona and you’ll be more likely to recall the right words.
Build a language core in each language
Luca Lampariello from The Polyglot Dream recommends building a language core in each of your target languages before moving on to the next stage.
A language core is the basic understanding of your target language, including its sounds, sentence structure, basic vocabulary and grammatical concepts. Luca also says you shouldn’t rush this stage of language learning – it’s an investment for the future so rushing through it won’t pay off!
Choose languages with different levels of proficiency
Bill Price at How To Learn Languages says you should avoid starting two languages from scratch at the same time. Instead, choose different levels of proficiency to avoid overlap. Learning every language involves learning basics such as ‘hello’, ‘how are you’, ‘what is your name’. If you learn these things at the same time in more than one language, you risk becoming disengaged and mixing up the new words and phrases.
Devote fixed-time periods to each language
Donnovan Nagel at the Mezzofanti Guild says that if you’re learning more than one language at a time, it’s worth focusing on only one of the languages for a set period of time, such as a few days or weeks, and then switching. He says this way of learning is more efficient than switching between two languages throughout the day.
As with a lot of other things, multitasking in language learning is not always the best thing you can do!
Change your environment when switching languages
Lindsay at Lindsay Does Languages also recommends that you should change something about your environment when switching languages – change the room you study in or your position, as these may help your brain ‘reset’.
How to schedule your multiple language learning
Another thing you might be wondering about with regards to learning or maintaining several languages at the same time is how to ensure that all of them are on your schedule and that you find time to study them to the same extent.
This takes a little bit of planning, and it’s worth thinking carefully about how you want to do it to make sure your learning is effective.
Below, I give you some examples of things you can do if you’re learning, or trying to maintain, three foreign languages – French, German and Spanish.
- Watch TV shows and films in your target languages, scheduling each language for a different day of the week. You can, for example, have French Fridays, German Saturdays and Spanish Sundays.
- Commit to watching the news in each language at least once a week.
- Read in your target language – every time you want to find a recipe when cooking, look for one in French. Every time you need to look something up on Wikipedia, do it in Spanish. Read your daily news in German. If you want to pick up a novel, have a schedule of reading one in French, one in German and then one in Spanish, and then start all over again.
- Do regular language exchanges – at least one per month in each language.
- Listen to music in French, the radio in German, and podcasts in Spanish. The following month, swap the order of things.
- Chat to people on social media – Facebook is great for joining groups and discussions on pages. Make sure you’re involved in at least one discussion in each of your languages. Review the threads you’ve commented on at least once a week and add further comments.
- Have a schedule for learning new grammar and vocabulary. You can spend a whole week on one language and then move on to another one the following week. Or you can do months – January is French, February is German, March is Spanish, and so on.
- Check out my blogpost about living the languages you’re learning for more tips on how you can incorporate language learning into your everyday activities.
Should I learn multiple languages at the same time?
This is a good question to ask yourself before you embark on your multilingual adventure. My tip would be: it depends what your goal is. If you’d like to be fluent in a language, I’d recommend that you stick to one language until you’ve reached a certain level of fluency – then you can just maintain that language while learning another one. Otherwise, you might risk spreading yourself too thin.
Ron from the Language Surfer also has some tips on whether you should learn more than one language at a time. He says that when taking that decision, you should consider what your goals are – for example, if your goal is fluency and you want to progress as fast as possible, you should probably only focus on one.
If you’re trying to decide whether juggling two languages at a time is for you, check out his tips.
Benny from Fluent in 3 Months suggests that it’s not a good idea to choose more than two languages at a time and that the languages should be quite distinct (for example, an easy language and a difficult language). He also says it’s best to study both languages every day.
Chris from Actual Fluency also reckons that learning one language at a time is the most efficient way of approaching multilingualism. His blog also contains a number of tips from language learners on how to learn more than one language at a time.
Have you ever tried to learn multiple languages at the same time? How did it go? Share your experiences in the comments below!
Do you need more motivation?
If you need a little bit more motivation to keep up with the different languages you’re learning, check out the Motivation Journal. It’s a simple tool I’ve created for you guys to help you keep motivated, stay on track with your goals and celebrate your language learning achievements. It might come in handy when juggling multiple languages at the same time 🙂
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