(FAQ) Can I learn two languages at once?

Here's my experience: I find that languages like to mingle and confuse each other a lot, even when you study them separately. Basically, whenever you search for a word in one language and it's hard to find, it has a tendency to come out of your mouth in another language. As such, I tend to avoid studying them at the same time whenever possible, and I'll do whatever I can to minimize overlap, by making sure I don't use the same images whenever possible, by *never* using the same mnemonics, etc. Beyond that, languages seem to benefit from a lot of focus and intensity - the closer you can get to immersion, the better. So if you have 2 hours of time to devote to language learning, why not devote both of those hours to *one* language, rather than splitting the time across two of them. You'll reach fluency faster, and once you hit a decent level (say B2 or better, C1), then that language will stick pretty damn well, and you can drop it for a while and move on to a new language without completely losing everything from language #1.

* Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.

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7 comments

  • So you'd find a gato picture and then later a separate Katze? And do you really use different gender mnemonics?



    * Originally posted by Holly.
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  • Yup, definitely different pictures and different gender mnemonics. You also may find that gatos, Kätze and cats all look slightly different and are used in slightly different ways when you look for them in Google Images.

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
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  • I'd like to add some creative input from my own experiences. For a few months now I have been learning Polish and Russian side-by-side. Anyone who knows anything about either one or the linguistics connecting both knows that they are extremely similar, and even use most of the same grammatical constructs. This could easily jumble you up if you aren't careful, especially since they sound the same to most people.

    Well, here's how I do it. First of all, you need to spend a quality chunk of time comparing and familiarizing yourself with the sounds of each language and how they compare to the other. Listen very intently to identify the different speech patterns and accent, and in no time at all, you should be able to distinguish the sounds.

    Also, As Gabriel suggested, spend chunks of time on a single language. I find that with learning two, it becomes easy to learn them both in a single day if you follow my one-hour rule: if you spend a quality chunk of time learning one of your languages and want to then learn your next one, abstain from anything foreign language related for at least an hour. Try to do distracting things in your native language, like watching tv or reading a book. This makes the language switch much easier.

    I can give a great example for the need of this rule: after a two hour long session of Russian conversation with my teacher and fellow students, my teacher started talking to me in Polish. I had no idea what he was saying because I thought he was still speaking in Russian!

    So my greatest advice to you dual-language learners: learn to separate the languages you're learning. Make one feel foreign to the other. Apparently it's working for me, as I had a dream in Polish yesterday. Weird, but informative.

    Happy learning!

    * Originally posted by ntapsak.
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  • Question on the mnemonics for different languages. I understand you can use mnemonics for many different things, and the example from the FF book is gender. Well I've learned Italian in the classroom, but I've also learned Portuguese and now am currently doing Spanish using the FF method for the later two. I used the exploding meme for masculine nouns and burning meme for feminine nouns for Portuguese. I understand if you're learning Spanish and German, the gender rules aren't consistent (I believe German also has a neuter gender) but with the Romance languages the masculine/feminine gender rules are not only identical, but for many words they are the same (e.g., la mano).

    So would it still be wrong to use the exploding/burning memes for both my Portuguese and my Spanish? Am I just playing with fire (pun intended) and in that case should I immediately switch my gender mnemonics for Spanish as I continue to learn? I only use consciously use mnemonics for irregular gender words anyways (e.g. la mano, el agua) rather than all nouns, but should I manually go back and re-assign mnemonics to those Spanish words in my brain or should I just wait until them come up again in the SRS system and re-assign the mnemonics at that point?

    * Originally posted by ipsofacto.
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  • Generally, I'd recommend changing your mnemonics for any new language you start. Languages like to interact and mix - especially when they're closely related languages - and the more you can do to make the learning experiences unique, the better it'll be in terms of keeping them apart.

    I think even with the extensive gender overlap you're seeing between Spanish and Portuguese, I'd still recommend going with new mnemonics - but only use them when you run into problems. So if you assume a gender in Spanish based upon your prior work on Portuguese (i.e., la mano), and you're correct, then don't worry about consciously applying a new, Spanish mnemonic. But if you're learning completely new words, or words that don't match up to Portuguese genders, THEN apply those mnemonics. (And no, you don't need to manually go back and re-assign mnemonics to everything in your brain. Just use them when you have problems, and apply the new ones to new vocabulary that you learn.)

    Best regards
    -Gabe

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
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  • Great that's basically what I've done. Portuguese has exploding/burning mnemonics, and now for Spanish I use melting/shattering for masculine/feminine.

    Thanks.

    * Originally posted by ipsofacto.
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  • Here is how I use two languages at the same time. And I find this VERY helpful-

    "Casa" in Spanish means house.

    "Casa" in Japanese means umbrella.

    Since I know some Spanish... when learning the word in Japanese I say to myself in English, "it is bad luck to open your casa in the casa!

    If I have enough language skills, I might say this sentence in Spanish.

    Usually I learn very quickly when I can use this method.

    Since I had to "work hard" to learn a second language, when I tie this work to learning a new language, it really seems to strengthen the whole memory process.

    And now, when learning Thai, I throw in both Japanese and Spanish mnemonics.
    Easier still!

    * Originally posted by Seishindo.
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