Maybe you've been studying German for years, but now need to know Spanish for an upcoming business trip to Mexico. Perhaps you're a college student studying French, but an interesting Arabic class has caught your eye. Or maybe you're just impatient and would like to learn both Chinese and Japanese as quickly as possible for an extra challenge.
Either way, you're faced with an interesting situation: You want to learn two languages... at the same time.
Learning one language is hard enough, so the very idea of learning two languages at once is enough to make most language learners tremble. For the more adventurous, however, learning two languages at the same time sounds like the perfect way to satisfy their language-learning appetite.
In this post, we'll look at whether it's possible to learn two languages at the same time and, if so, how you can do it.
Learning Two Languages at Once
Whenever I’m asked about learning two languages at the same time, my answer is always the same: Learning two languages at the same time is definitely possible. Starting two languages at the same time, though, is not a great idea.
When you first start learning a language, it can take a little time for you to get a feel for how it works and how it should sound. So if you’re starting to learn two languages at the same time, the things you’re learning can quickly begin to overlap and become confusing!
This confusion can get even worse if you're learning two languages from the same “language family” - that is, a group of languages that are linguistically related to one another. The Latin-based (or “Romance”) languages are a great example of a language family. They are made up of Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan, among others.
If you start to learn two Romance languages at the same time, their similarities can quickly trip you up. You might find yourself confusing similar-sounding Spanish and Italian words, for example, or mixing up the different pronunciations.
But if you already have a basic understanding of one Romance language when you begin to pick up a second one, those similarities can become life-savers! For instance, if you’ve already worked hard to understand the difference between the “knowing” verbs connaître and savoir in French, then understanding the difference between the “knowing” verbs conocer and saber in Spanish becomes a cinch.
When you do it right, learning two languages at the same time can actually be a very rewarding experience. It teaches you to be more alert, flexible, organized, and proactive, and refines your language-learning skills in a way that makes learning future languages even easier. Plus, every language you learn carries the benefits of language learning.
So whether you are looking for a challenge or are required to learn two languages at the same time, we’re here to tell you that it is possible! And we want to give you a few more helpful tips on how you can do it.
How to Learn Two Languages at the Same Time: 10 Helpful Tips
1. Start with a maximum of two languages. It is actually possible to learn two, three, or even more languages at the same time! When you’re first starting out, though, it’s best to stick to just two. This helps to keep things manageable and will increase your chances of success.
2. Try to reach the survival level (A1) in one language before starting on the next. By the time you make it to A1 in a language, your brain has already started to map out a picture of how the language works. This means that you’re less likely to start confusing the grammar and vocabulary of this language with another one.
3. If you MUST start two languages at once, try to choose two very different languages. Learning two languages that come from different linguistic families will help keep you from overlapping the vocabulary and grammar rules of each language.
4. Try to choose an easy language and a difficult language. Choosing two languages with different difficulty levels will make it easier for you to differentiate between them. Plus, your progress in the easier language will give you a confidence boost!
5. Set a priority language. If you make one of your languages a priority over the other, you will make progress in it more quickly. This will not only give you greater motivation, but it will also help you to pick up your lower-priority language more easily.
6. Stay organized. It’s important that you set out a schedule for yourself, make workable plans, and manage your time wisely.
7. Set concrete goals as you go. Give yourself specific, achievable goals in each of the languages you’re learning. This will spur you on and ensure that you keep moving forward.
8. Study both languages as often as possible. If you don’t use it, you lose it! So make sure to practice and use both of your languages as much as you can.
9. Study each language in a different location and/or with different tools. Separating your languages physically and/or visually will help you to keep them separated in your brain. For example, you might try to always study one language in your living room and the other in your bedroom, or you might highlight your Japanese resources in yellow and your Korean ones in green.
10. Study each language separately. To help yourself keep your languages separate, it’s important to make a clean break between them as you’re studying. If you were to learn Russian color words and German color words at the same time and in the same sitting, for instance, then it’s very likely that you will start to mix them up!
Learning multiple languages at once takes serious dedication, time, and motivation. However, it is definitely possible. These tips can help make it a little easier for you, and Rocket Languages is here to help!