How to Learn 2 Languages At Once (Without Dying)

Ever wanted to learn more than one language at any one point in time? Read on to find out how!

Learning one language by itself is already time-consuming and tiring. You’ve got to invest so much time in it, taking every little pocket of time and devoting it to learning that language. But what if, for efficiency’s sake (or whatever other reason I’m sure you have), you’ve got to learn two languages at the same time? By the way, this isn’t rare. Most language exams are scheduled around the same time, and if you’re really tight on time you need to somehow manage two at once or you’ll end up with four days to study for DELF after completing TOPIK. Yes, I am speaking from personal experience. No, it was not a happy one. 0/10 would not recommend.

Don’t. Please. Do not.

I hope you weren’t alarmed by the heading of this section. The truth is – as much as possible, try to avoid it. One language is taxing on your brain. Two languages will make your brain grow KABOOM.

It’s awful and terrible to learn two languages and I genuinely discourage you from doing so – or at least think very very very hard before you do it. To illustrate my point, here is an example.

French and Spanish, now... The world had never seen two languages more alike. Being a French speaker made learning Spanish infinitely easier than it would’ve been, but I wasn’t trying to get fluent in both at the same time. While preparing for my French exam, I still had to go for weekly 3h long Spanish sessions, and inevitably I began mixing the languages up. It wasn’t rare to see Spanish words in my French essays or vice versa, and eventually I had to pay as little attention to Spanish as was physically possible to concentrate fully on French.

Besides, learning two languages that are very similar in terms of grammar structure or vocabulary can be incredibly detrimental, contrary to popular belief. (See: French and Spanish; Korean and Japanese). The misconceptions and errors you have about one grammar system usually carries over to the other, and it only gets worse as your understanding of each individual language gets muddled more and more.

But what if I’m learning two very different languages simultaneously?

Even so, I would still not recommend you do it. I know French and say, Japanese, are very very different, but when you focus on learning a language (that is, you are actively learning it), it never quite disappears from your brain and you never really go out of [insert language] mode.

If you’re studying French, your brain isn’t just going to switch out purely because you’re studying Japanese at the moment. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. Humans work in strange ways, so your Japanese lesson will likely be filled with an annoying voice speaking French in the back of your mind. (I’ll never live down writing keshigomu – Japanese for eraser – in French class.)

This, obviously, results in issues. Many, many issues. Though significantly better than learning two similar languages together, learning very different languages requires you to grasp completely different language systems and swap in and out at the snap of a finger, which isn’t an easy feat either.

I really have to. Please help.

If you’re learning both languages at equal intensity, my best advice is probably to split the week into two: one half for each language. This way, you only have to switch as much as possible to the other language twice a week, instead of every day.

If both languages are at unequal intensities – like when I prepared for my TOPIK exam, I learnt Filipino on the side, spending twenty minutes a day on it while the rest of the day was spent on Korean – then it’s really a lot better and they don’t clash too much. Though I must say the results aren’t spectacular, and I could’ve done a lot better concentrating on one language at a time.

All in all, the conclusion is to not learn two languages simultaneously if you can help it, and if you really have to, pick languages that are very different and if possible, learn them at different intensities. Trying to learn similar languages together is a death wish.

Good luck and pick your battles! Every language is a new battle; don’t fight unnecessary ones and because language learning isn’t like an action movie in which the enemies jump up one by one to fight the protagonist (you), the languages will mob you and you will die. Thank you for reading until here!

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