When I first started this blog, I was studying Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese all at the same time. It gradually turned into more of a Korean-only blog, but I have been sort of maintaining my basic-level Mandarin, and I have recently started getting back into studying Japanese (let’s see how long it lasts!). So, how do I do it? How does one successfully study multiple languages at once? Learning more than one language at the same time poses some unique issues outside of those that one would face learning just one. Today, I’ll touch on what I think, based on my own experience, are some of the most important things to remember and do to learn more than one language at a time. Remember, this is all just based on my own experience; others might have different takes, but this is mine~
Starting out with differing levels
One reason why I feel that my first attempt to learn Japanese failed was because I was still in the very basic stages of learning Mandarin. In my opinion, the beginning level is where progress should be the fastest as you start building up your foundation, and building that foundation requires undivided concentration and a lot of practice and repetition. My Korean was advanced enough that it didn’t really impact things in this aspect. However, studying basic Mandarin and Japanese at the same time, I got confused sometimes. I was slogging through the basics way too slowly because I had to divide my limited time between the two.
Unable to give my Mandarin and Japanese foundations the attention they needed to really start strong, both suffered. I decided to prioritize Mandarin, and now that I’ve gotten beyond that critical minimum, I am able to devote more time to Japanese. My advice would be to avoid starting two languages at the same time. Make sure you build a solid base in one language and feel confident that it won’t interfere with (or be disrupted by) introducing another language into your study schedule.
Finding the time to study even just one language can be hard enough if you’re leading a busy life, but you have to be especially on your time management game if you want to go for more than one. Consistency is key—languages are very much a use-it-or-lose-it deal, so try to schedule set study times for each language in each week. On the off days for a language, you should still try to fit in even a few minutes of vocab or grammar review just to keep your brain in focus! Making a schedule can help you ensure that you get that vital study time in. Also, you can use it to make sure you don’t accidentally pour a ton of time into one language and as a result leave the other to wither away.
Exposure, exposure, and more exposure
Of course exposure to a lot of input of the target language is crucial even when learning only one language. However, making sure you get a good amount of exposure to each of your languages when you have multiple languages you are working on at once can be a bit tricky. You can set time aside for consuming media like TV programs, music, and other things for each language, but that usually only gives you exposure to one at a time.
There are ways to get exposure to multiple languages at once! For example, I study Japanese using only Korean-language resources, and I constantly draw parallels between Korean, Mandarin, and Japanese. My Chinese language exchange partner and I communicate primarily in Korean when we are just chatting and not actually studying. Also, I have found multiple penpals and language exchange partners on various platforms that speak two or sometimes even all three of the languages I am currently focusing on! I especially recommend trying to study using languages other than your native language. It might help you see certain constructs and concepts in ways that are hard to express in your native language. Also, find language exchange partners that you can speak with in multiple languages. That way, you can make the most of your practice time as well 🙂
Ultimately, learning more than one language at a time is a challenge. However, it is certainly doable if you make sure that you give each language the time and attention it needs and do your best to keep interference between languages to a minimum, especially at the starting stages. Finally, make sure you get a lot of exposure and practice, and you’ll be good to go!