Is it possible to learn more than one language at once?


Being enchanted by a language is normal. Once we discover the pleasure of learning a language and of discovering and exploring a new world of different culture, history, traditions, mentality and ways of expressing things, we realize that is very rewarding. Hence our desire to learn a new one.

It is absolutely possible to learn two languages at the same time, and this doesn’t take any special talent. Everyone is capable of doing it, but, as you can imagine, this also requires more strategy and planning than learning only one language.

If you are currently studying more than one language or you are planning to do so, in this article you will find some useful tips to learn multiple languages at the same time in the easiest and most effective way.

Tip number one: Associate a different study routine with each language. For example, if you take a bus or a train to work, that could be your study time for one of the languages you are learning. Say you are learning German and Russian, you will only study German on your way to work and on your lunch break, so that you associate going to work and being at work with one language and then you can say you will only learn Russian when you are at home. In this way you have got two different environments that make it possible for you to create a distinction between German and Spanish and therefore you are less likely to get confused by the two languages because you know that when you are on the bus or on the train you are studying German and when you are at home you are studying Russian.

Tip number two: Use personas to learn foreign languages. What I mean by that is you create almost a separate personality when you learn each of the two languages. You can pretend that anytime that you practice the languages you are a different person. For instance, when it comes to study German you can think of a character from your favourite film and you can imagine that you are that person, with his/her specific traits and way of talking and using body language. Do the same when you learn Russian: impersonate a character from a film, a TV show, a book or even a famous Russian singer. This will help you create a distinction again because you are almost stepping into the shoes of different people whenever you learn each of the languages.

Tip number three: Choose languages with different levels of proficiency. It is easier to learn two languages at the same time you are at a different level with each of them. If you are learning German and you are intermediate, it is easier for you to learn Russian if you are a beginner because you brain is facilitated in creating a distinction between German and Russian. This is particularly true when you are studying two languages that are quite similar to each other and that belong to the same language family, like French and Italian or Portuguese and Spanish.

Tip number four: Schedule your learning. Learning two languages when you are working full time, or you are a student, or you do not have much free time is obviously a challenge, but it is doable. It all comes down to organisation, time management and planning. What you can do is to schedule one language one week and then the following week doing the second language, or you can have days during the week which are devoted to a specific language. Try not to learn both languages on the same day because that might get your brain a little bit confused. It is always good to go to sleep, get up, have a fresh start and focus on one of the two languages.

Tip number five: Choose two languages that are not too similar to each other. Once you have started studying Spanish you may be tempted to choose Portuguese, or you may be tempted to start with Dutch after exploring a little German, but learning similar languages simultaneously is not the best strategy. Many polyglots recommend selecting two languages with different characteristics if you want to learn them simultaneously. This way it will be easier for your brain to organize the information and not get confused. So, try choosing two languages that are part of different language families so that sounds and structures are different. If you really prefer two similar languages, you can always go back and learn the second one once you have mastered the first.

Tip number six: Learn the basics of one language before you start with the second one. If you love languages you may want to immerse yourself in the study of two (or three, or more) languages at the same time. While this may satisfy your desire to try new things, it is not a winning long-term study strategy. In fact, it is better to start by learning one language first and add a second one later. That way, having the basics of an idiom already, you won’t be trying to organize too many new concepts all at the same time.

Tip number seven: Define realistic and achievable goals. When you are learning two languages at the same time it is essential to set your goals. Setting goals will help you keep up and keep your motivation high, so take time to think about what you want to achieve by learning both languages. Is one for work and the other for a trip? Or is one related to your family and the other to people you hang out with? Whatever the reasons, write down what you hope to get from both in a period of time between six months and a year. In doing so, you will find suitable goals to keep up with your aspirations. It’s important that these goals are realistic because learning two languages means that your progress will be a little slower than with just one. If you are learning a language to have a better connection with the place where you live, try to make it your goal within six months to have a simple conversation about hobbies, food or family with a neighbour. If you want to get in touch with your family, try setting a goal at six months as a goal to write a letter of a couple of paragraphs to a distant relative. These quantifiable steps will allow you to work towards what you want to achieve from both languages.

How many languages are you and your language exchange buddies learning at the same time? Let us know in the comments below if you use a specific method to study multiple languages at once and if you have more tips, feel free to share them with us.

Written by: Martina Sassi, Staff Writer

Leave a Reply