Learning Two Languages at Once

Joe   Monday, October 11, 2004, 03:59 GMT
Hi everyone. I've been reading the Forums for about a week, I've discovered them in the past but I finally started to take a look since this seems to be a great place to be if you love learning foreign languages.

Anyway, I'm currently teaching myself German. I've used the Pimsleur programs with great success, I'm going to be starting on German II soon when my order arrives. To supplement it I have my wonderful Langenscheidt's, the Internet, and Teach Yourself German Grammar and German Verbs (I haven't touched those two yet, I just bought them three weeks ago at the college bookstore but with my classes I've just been reviewing the Pimsleur German I that I learned over the summer until II gets here)

I have decided to double major in a language. My first major is International Affairs. I plan to go into a career in the international arena, I'm leaning heavily toward foreign relations, but I may go into international consulting. I don't know yet. Anyway, as for my language, at first I thought I would double major in German, but the University of South Florida's German program isn't as available as French or Spanish (in terms of class availability, like you can only get German I and III in Fall, II and IV and so on in Spring)

So I have decided to go for French. I've always wanted to learn French, it's on my list (which is kind of long actually!) It's an international language, great for international affairs and business, and also discovering I'm of part Belgian Walloon ancestry, also now is more interesting personally.

Anyway, I don't want to have to drop off learning German. However I know I wil be having to devote my time to French. By the time I start French I next semester (I've never taken French before) I should be done with Pimsleur's German III and be at a good enough stage where I can then just review that on drives home and such to keep it fresh, but not burdening myself with new material.

Have any of you learned two languages at once? I would think the only good thing is since German is a member of the Germanic family and French is a Romance language, it shouldn't interefere with each other.

Ultimately I want to be competent-near fluent, if not fluent, in Italian and Dutch and be fluent in German, French, and Spanish. I've seen that some of you are fluent in many languages, even moreso than that, so it's possible, isn't it!

Another random question while I'm at it; for those of you who know two similar languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian; Dutch and German, etc.) do they interfere with one another? Do you have any tips on how to make sure you can keep them separate?

Thanks everyone!
Easterner   Monday, October 11, 2004, 12:29 GMT
It is definitely possible to learn two languages at the same time, but you should take care of a few things:
1/ If you start learning a new language, for at least a few months it should be your chief concern as far as foreign languages go. For a start it is good to have a course material complemented with a tape, a dictionary, and at least two or three sources where you can find authentic materials (I mean, in case of self-study, which is my favourite way of language learning). Of course you can maintain your proficiency in other languages you already know, but try to deal with the new language at least an hour a day (not just study, casual reading will do just as well). It is not a very good idea to start learning two new languages at exactly the same time, especially if they are very similar, unless you really have to.
2/ When you are learning a new language, and there is another one where you have at least a basic knowledge, you can as well concentrate on one of them one week, and shift to the other the next one. Or, alternatively, you may do study in one and reading or listening casually for relaxation in another at the same time. Definitely try to concentrate on any of them during a few subsequent days.
3/ Interference can be a problem if you learn two related languages. For me, this was the case with Italian and Spanish. However, you can also use this in a constructive way. If you notice an interference (e.g. when trying to speak), follow it up by writing down in two columns how you say that particular thing in one language and in the other. For example, if you want to say "We can meet tomorrow" in Italian - "Possiamo incontrarci domani" - but keep remembering "man~ana" (Spanish for tomorrow), write down the correct sentence in Italian and also in Spanish, so that you may remember more easily when that problem comes up again. You can also do this for any grammatical construction, and you may even keep a diary of "solving" the interference issue each time you encounter one.
Joe   Monday, October 11, 2004, 21:54 GMT
Thanks, Easterner.

Well I figured that when I start French I in January German is going to have to take a back seat. I figured I would still review my Pimsleur tapes and stuff since that wouldn't be any time wasted (driving in the car)

I plan to supplement my French in class as I go along by talking and writing in French, using French media and other stuff on the internet. Similar to what I'm doing with German.

French is going to be the more structured language, since it's my major. So you figure I'll be taking French I-III, French Conversation I and II, French Composition, etc. Classes like French literature are done in French. So I'll be pretty immersed in that.

Language learning of course does take a lot of time, and you improve over the years. So I plan to continuously learn. Maybe in the end I'll learn even more than the five I plan to learn. I don't want it to be a "jack of all trades, master of none" scenario, however. I'd like to pretty much master all of them.

I know Steve K. is really experienced in learning languages. I've read some of what he's written, and what was inspiring enough is that at 17 he was monolingual and now he speaks a great amount of languages, including non-Western ones like Mandarin.