The Multilingual Challenge: How to Learn Two Languages Simultaneously

Learning several languages at once is a challenge, but also a fantastic opportunity for personal development. Knowledge of foreign languages is today one of the most sought-after skills. But does learning two or more languages at the same time give the expected results? Or maybe it is better to postpone the struggle with one language until later?

The best way to find out about learning several languages at the same time is to look for information from people who are passionate about languages. Every person with experience in this field will say that learning two foreign languages at a similar level is very difficult, especially if you start completely from scratch. In general, what are the most important things to remember when undertaking this difficult task?

  1. Vary the levels

When taking up two foreign languages, it is better to vary the levels. For example, if you have mastered a language to a good or even communicative degree, it is worth starting to learn an additional language only afterwards. Otherwise, you will not necessarily cope with the same meanings of words in two languages at the same time: some philologists believe that when learning two languages, you should not treat them the same but focus on one of them first. Therefore, it is worth treating one foreign language as our priority until we have mastered it at an intermediate level.

2. Do laddering

Laddering is an interesting method of learning two foreign languages at the same time. The idea is that when learning a second foreign language, you should use the one you already know. Thus, learn a new language from books and textbooks written in the language you know better. For example, when learning Chinese, use a textbook written in a different language you studied before. You can also use bilingual flashcards with words or whole phrases.

Prepare them yourself and write down words with the same meaning in two languages at the same time. Remember that you must already have at least intermediate knowledge of one of the languages.

3. Consider learning two languages of the same language group

Some people think that in order to master two foreign languages, it is worth trying a practical approach. This refers to learning languages belonging to the same group (for example Germanic or Slavic languages). As usual, this solution is most effective when you have already mastered one foreign language quite well. Thanks to that you will automatically start looking for similarities between the languages, which on the other hand can sometimes be also quite misleading and cause confusion. Everything depends on your individual predispositions.

4. Define your objective, develop a plan

Identify the purpose for which you are learning each of your two chosen languages. Are they similar to each other or completely different? Do you want to master both for the same reason or you are more interested in one of them? Determining your learning goal will help you with the next item on this list, which is developing a learning plan: a lot depends on whether you are starting to learn both languages completely from scratch or have already learned one of them before.

Consider in what time you would like to reach a certain level of proficiency in each of the languages. Decide when you will dedicate your time to learning. This is very important, because learning two languages at the same time requires a lot of self-discipline and great time management, and we all have our bad days, when the motivation is gone or we come back from work completely drained of energy. Deciding in advance on which days and at what time you will improve your language skills will make it easier for you to stick to your plan.

5. Be systematic and consistent

When learning two foreign languages at the same time, you feel very motivated at the beginning, but after a while your motivation may start to fade. For this reason, set your priorities right from the start. Think about which foreign language you are most interested in, so if you have difficulties, you will know what to give up for a while. School and language courses are not everything: remember, even the most innovative and brilliant method or the most committed teacher will not help you much if you do not take care of systematic learning by yourself. When you learn two foreign languages at the same time, it is doubly important. The difference when learning two languages is that you have to plan the linguistic immersion more carefully and divide the precious time for both of them, which unfortunately cannot be stretched into two.

When learning languages, regularity is also key. The best effects come from regular contact with a foreign language, even 15 minutes a day. Remember that you should find at least a few minutes every day to master only few simple words. It is not easy, but it is worth trying. It is also worth noting that most polyglots who start a new language use the 80/20 ratio, which means that 80% of their time is devoted to one language, and 20% to another. Thus, learning a second foreign language can be treated at the beginning as fun, something casual, what makes the entire process enjoyable.

When should you say “no” to this challenge?

Learning several languages at once is very tempting. Who wouldn’t want to boast a few new entries on their CV or simply immerse themselves in a new country and culture? However, it’s not an easy task and sometimes may simply fail. Learning several languages at once should be carefully considered and planned since it requires more time and commitment.

There are several arguments that may speak against simultaneous learning:

First, in order to learn a language well, you need to do it systematically. If you cannot cope with learning one, it will only become more difficult with two. The same goes for time: if you don’t have time to repeat Spanish vocabulary, you’re unlikely to find enough of it to learn Chinese.

Second, learning a new language can also be difficult if you are still immersed in another one, for example at work or during a trip abroad for several months. If you study one language very intensively, then it is better to postpone learning the other.

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