Before we dig into the actionable insights here, it’s worth asking: why would someone want to learn multiple languages at once? It’s challenging enough to stick to one language long enough to make a dent in it, let alone two.
To be sure, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with focusing on one language at a time, especially if you’re the kind of person who prefers to do a couple things really well than a lot of things sort of okay. In fact, polyglot Luca Lampariello personally recommends it.
When To Double Up On Language Learning
Everyone has different reasons for learning a language, and under certain circumstances, it might very much behoove you to learn multiple languages at once.
- You need working knowledge of two or more secondary languages for your career or studies.
- You travel a lot and you’d like to have a conversational grasp on the local language in any given country.
- You’re a dabbler at heart, and you’d rather be able to connect imperfectly with just about anyone you meet rather than speak one language perfectly.
- You love a good mental workout. Intense language studies have been shown to increase cortical thickness and hippocampal volumes — aka create measurable brain structure changes.
- You get bored easily, and you believe you’ll have an easier time staying engaged for the long run if you can switch to another language when you’re feeling burnt out.
Of course, none of this is to say that you can’t achieve fluency or proficiency in a language if you’re not giving your undivided attention to it. But you should expect to make slower progress on each individual language while ultimately making faster progress as a whole — meaning your Turkish won’t advance as quickly as it would if you were only learning Turkish, but you’ll spend less overall time getting to your desired level of Turkish and Spanish than you would if you had tackled them separately. Make sense?
If you’ve weighed the pros and cons and decided you kinda like living life in fifth gear, here are a few tips to help you learn multiple languages at once.
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
By this we mean: you probably shouldn’t try to learn more than two languages at once. Also, be mindful of the languages you choose. Many language experts agree that it’s best not to study very similar languages simultaneously.
Also, if one of the languages you’re learning is very difficult for an English speaker to learn, you might want to pair it with a language that’s a bit easier. Here are some of the hardest and easiest languages for English speakers to study.
Develop A Strong Core
You might want to start with one language first, advance enough to take the training wheels off, then add a second new language into the mix. Lampariello recommends developing a strong “language core” in one language first, as rushing through the early basics with multiple languages can lead to overlap or confusion — or the possibility of neither language ever fully cementing itself in your brain.
Commit To A Routine
Successful language learning requires consistency over time, so you’ll want to think realistically about how you can weave your practice into your schedule in a sustainable way. You don’t need to devote hours every day, but you should plan to spend, at bare minimum, 15-20 minutes daily on each language.
It also helps to get some mental distance in between study sessions. Studying one language in the morning and the other at night is one way to accomplish this, as is changing up the scenery. You might have an easier time keeping the languages “separate” in your mind if you study them in different settings.
Get Ambidextrous (When You’re Ready)
After you’ve nursed each language to young adulthood, it might help to change up your approach by getting your English-speaking brain out of the way altogether. Try switching up your primary language in your language-learning app, taking Turkish courses from the perspective of a native Spanish speaker and vice versa, to run with the earlier examples given. You can also try reading the same poem translated into both languages, or translating a Turkish text into a Spanish text and vice versa.
As immersion is always a helpful complement to any language-learning regimen, it’s a good idea to consume news, movies, books and podcasts in your learning language. When you’re ready to up the difficulty level, try watching a Spanish movie with Turkish subtitles. Get creative. Switch it up. Your brain will thank you for it.