How to Learn Multiple Languages at Once

*Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.*

So, you want to learn multiple languages at once?

You’re brave!

Or at least, most people may think.  However, you’ve probably noticed that many popular language learners and polyglots are learning several languages at the same time with what seems to be no trouble at all.  And you’re wondering, why can’t this be me?

I know first hand how that feels!

Foreign language learning can be so fun that it almost becomes addicting.  For me, I know that when I learn a new language, I fall in love with the language I am currently working on learning but it’s so easy for me to get tired of having just one project on my plate.

I get it: you have a growing list of beautiful languages you want to learn, and you want to learn them now.  But how do you learn so many at once without getting confused and make the time to do so?

Whether you are studying the hardest language to learn or the easiest language to learn, you’re going to run into a few of these sticky situations.  But don’t give up, because there are definitely ways to move around this plateau quick.

So put down your favorite language learning app for just a few minutes, because I’m about to tell you how I learned more than one foreign language at once, and how you can too.

You’re about to see…

  1. How to learn multiple languages from scratch to fluency
  2. The best resources to use for several languages
  3. How to not get confused between however many languages you are learning
  4. and how to make the time to study them all

Are you ready?


My Top 10 Tips for Learning Multiple Languages to Fluency

First, let’s talk about the different ways (and best ways) that you can learn several languages at the same time, and eventually, to fluency.

I have had quite some experience with studying multiple foreign languages simultaneously.  I started learning Mandarin Chinese when I was ten, but when I was fourteen, decided I also wanted to learn Korean.

I studied Korean with Chinese for about a year, and then decided to drop it until I graduate high school.  I am a junior right now, so hopefully after next year I will pick it back up.

Anyways, after I dropped Korean I decided to pick up and learn Spanish.

Ever since October 2017, I have been actively studying Chinese, Spanish, and now Portuguese at the same time.  The biggest question I receive is how do I not get them confused, especially Spanish and Portuguese? How do I find enough time in the day to study 3 languages? Do you study each differently or at different times?

Basically…

What the heck do I do???

And it’s not only me.  So many polyglots and language learners are getting asked the same questions, so much so that last week I did a livestream on my Instagram with Dutch polyglot Kamila Tekin from Polyglot’s Diary over how to learn multiple languages at the same time on a budget and with a busy schedule.

All in all, this is a very common problem.  I’m so happy that so many people are wanting to explore the world, new cultures, and learn new languages! But I’m very sad that so many are getting discouraged because they don’t know how to handle more than one language at a time.

So, without further ado, here are my BEST tips and tricks for learning multiple languages at the same time.


 

1. Use Separate Notebooks

One of the biggest tips that I have for you is to use separate notebooks.

I personally have 3 different notebooks for my languages: a pink one for Chinese, a bright aqua one for Spanish, and a baby blue for Portuguese.

But the best part about using separate notebooks is that you get to be creative with each one in a specific language.  What I mean by this is that you have a full 70 pages (or more) to fill up with one language.  You keep all of your grammar there, vocabulary there, journal entries there, lesson notes there, etc.  It’s like a bullet journal for each language.

This makes learning languages extremely fun and it helps your brain when you don’t have to go back and forth between two or more languages in the same spot.  This has helped me dramatically.

2. Color Code

This is my second tip for learning several languages!

Not only do I recommend you use separate notebooks, I also recommend you to use separate colors.

Mixing up languages and confusing them is something a lot of language learners face, and to best eliminate that problem is to separate them and use as much variety as possible.

By color coding I mean using a certain color pen for French and a different colored pen for Russian.  For example, you might use all blue for French and all red for Russian.  This means blue/red notebooks, blue/red pens, blue/red flashcards, and everything in between.

This way, when you’re wanting to speak in one of these languages, all you have to do is think of the color and all the right vocab and grammar comes to mind.

3. Use Different Courses

Another thing I found when learning Chinese and Korean at the same time was that my approach for learning Chinese won’t always work the same with learning Korean, and that started with courses.

First of all, Yoyo Chinese was my primary resource for learning Chinese, so they didn’t even offer Korean.  But I had also used a variety of other courses such as Rocket Languages.

For Korean, I found that Rocket Languages was the perfect fit! And it made it so much easier to differentiate between Chinese and Korean since I was using different materials.

So, the key thing to take away is this:

  • Know that your strategies for learning one language won’t be the same for learning another
  • Using different courses makes for even less risk of confusion

4. Use the Same Apps

While I recommend using different courses, I recommend using the same apps.

I know, this might sound a bit confusing and contradicting, but here’s why…

When you’re on the go, you have all your languages with the power of one tap.  Apps such as Memrise and Duolingo are my favorites, and I use these two all the time.  They offer good lessons that provide you with great vocabulary, grammar, and fun practices, and are a great way to solidify everything you’ve learned in your primary course.

That is the main reason: because you get to use easy, happy-go-lucky lessons to still get some quality study time in but also solidify everything you’ve already learned.  It’s like a bit of extra reinforcement, and you can study any language anywhere.

If you aren’t sure of the right apps and resources to use, you can download my cheat sheet of the top 10 resources ever language learner must have for free!

5. Translate from One to the Other

Something I love to do that I find helps with all my languages is translating from one of my target languages to another target language, instead of my mother tongue.

For example, when I’m writing a journal entry in Chinese, I might also try to write a journal entry with the same meaning in Spanish.

The goal is that you want to be able to express yourself freely and equally in each language.

If you follow my Instagram, you would have seen that I had my first ever Portuguese lesson with a tutor from italki yesterday, and I absolutely loved it.  I loved everything from my teacher to the way she taught me.  But something that she did which really stood out to me was that she gave me files, documents, and word lists translating Spanish words into Portuguese, instead of English into Portuguese.

She noticed that I was struggling to differentiate the pronunciations of letters in Portuguese such as the “j”, “h,” and “rr” because I kept saying them like they were Spanish words.  So that’s when she stopped all English translation and instead made me differentiate them from Spanish.

And let me tell you, it was so much easier and faster! Plus, it also helped my Spanish and aided in me not getting the two mixed up.

6. Establish Priorities

Listen, I know you want to learn all these different languages right now, and I’m not discouraging it…but you need priorities!

What is your number 1 dream language? That can be your priority language.

Or, what language have you already spent so many hours on that you don’t want to go in vain? Maybe that can be your priority language.

Also, remember that priorities can change with time.  But for now, nothing will get done efficiently if you don’t have goals and priorities set.

So, whatever your number 1 priority language is, that should be the language you spend most time on.  Then your number 2, then your number 3, and so on (if you’re brave enough to be learning more!)

7. Maximize Every Second You Get

How much time do you spend at the end of class with nothing to do?

Or how many minutes or hours do you get on your lunch break?

How much time do you spend getting ready in the mornings, or simply waking up?

All of these minutes, hours, or even seconds can be used to strengthen your language skills.  Realistically, if you are an average person with a busy 8 hour day packed schedule, you don’t have the time to dedicate an hour of serious study to two or more languages each.

But if you used every “free” minute you get, then think about how many Duolingo lessons you can get done, or how many songs you could have listened to, or how many text messages you can send to your exchange partner on HelloTalk.

Minutes make the hours and the hours make progress.  They are more powerful than you think, so use all of them!

8. Don’t Start them All from Scratch…”Level It Out”

This is what I like to call “leveling it out.”

If you have never learned a language before, it isn’t wise to start learning three from scratch.

Instead, start one, and wait until you are upper beginner or intermediate to start your second.  Get a solid base in the second, and then start the third.

This way, you are less likely to get confused because you already have a strong history with each language and you aren’t learning the same topics at the same time.

I was intermediate level Chinese when I started learning Spanish, and now I am advanced Chinese, intermediate Spanish, and I am starting Portuguese.  I haven’t run into many problems yet!

9. Get All 4 Aspects in Equally

If you’ve been around the language community for a bit, you probably know that there are four main aspects or “building blocks” to any and every foreign language:

  • Vocabulary – how many words you know and how well you can put them into grammatically correct sentences
  • Reading/Writing – how literate you are, both on blank sheets of paper and reading full sheets of paper
  • Listening Comprehension – being able to understand what native speakers are telling you and understanding the music and TV shows you watch
  • Speaking – how fast and comfortable you can speak and how well you are understood

The point I’m trying to make here is that if you want to learn all of these languages to fluency, you MUST focus on all of these four aspects for each language.

Don’t just listen to French and speak Russian.  Don’t just seriously study Japanese and read articles in German.

You need to be well rounded and do activities involving all four in each language you’re learning.

10. Study at Different Times

Another commonly asked question I get by people is do I study all 3 languages at the same time?

My simple answer is no, and I have two reasons for saying so…

First of all, I am not motivated to start studying a second right after I studied one! If I just finished an hour of Chinese or even just one new video lesson that takes 5 minutes to watch, my brain just doesn’t feel like transferring over.  So 50% of the reason why I answer “no” is because I just don’t want to.

Secondly, it does make it a bit more confusing and personally, the few times I have switched languages instantly, I feel like the studying I did on the first just left my brain because the second is more fresh on my mind.

So, study at different times! You’re more likely to have more fun and be less confused.


So…should I learn multiple languages at the same time?

One of the most frequently asked questions in the language learning community is this.  Should I be learning more than one language at the same time?

Many people say no because of confusion and a slower process in learning whereas if you focused on one, you’d get fluent faster.  But others highlight the benefits of learning multiple languages, such as more brain activity, better memory, and much more, as well as the fact that if done the right way, it’s not as confusing as some people make it out to be.

I say that it is definitely a good thing to learn more than one simultaneously.  Besides, I’m doing so myself.

But the key thing to take away is that it should be done the proper way.  If done without caution, you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.

So take these tips and turn them into your next language mission! Good luck!


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