As with so many questions in life, the answer to this question is more complicated than it at first seems and leads to as many questions as it does answers. How much time do you have? How committed are you? Why do you want to learn each language? These questions all come into play when you start to evaluate your rationale for tackling more than one language at a time.
In this article, we consider these questions in more detail, looking at the pros and cons of learning two languages at a time. But first, we look at an even more important question that will help you understand your reasons for wanting to try learning two languages at once.
What Is Your Motivation?
This is really a question of why it is important to you to learn two languages at once. In a world where finding speedy solutions seems to be prized above all else, what could possibly make sense about slowing down swift progress in one language by adding a second language to the mix?
Perhaps you have a practical reason – maybe you have been learning French for a few months for personal reasons, and now you have an opportunity to work with a company based in Switzerland. German may now be the more advantageous language to learn, but French still has its benefits in a multilingual country like Switzerland (where French, German and Italian are all official languages). What a conundrum: no wonder learning two languages seems like the ideal solution!
Whatever your reasons, you next need to assess how you might achieve your goal of learning two languages, which raises yet another question: ‘Do you have the time, focus and commitment required to take on this challenge?’
Time to consider this from the perspective of the pros and cons.
‘Go For It!’ The Pros of Learning Two Languages at Once
With an optimistic point of view, the answers to how you achieve your goal might look like this.
Time: Set achievable goals in terms of how much time you can dedicate to each language each week, and how much you can expect to learn. Give each language its own regular time slots throughout each week, and aim to create a routine that you stick to the majority of the time. If it is hard to see regular achievements, this will impact your overall motivation and enthusiasm.
Focus: Two languages will divide your focus, so aim to make time for regular – ideally daily – in-depth practice. If immersive daily sessions in each language are a challenge, perhaps make each language a focus on alternate days. If it is becoming difficult to prioritise both languages equally, consider having a priority language that you commit the most energy towards learning (we never said you had to progress the two languages at the same pace…).
Commitment: Motivation wavers with any long-term task. If you are struggling to make time for your studies, remember to have some fun with your language learning – perhaps try some different forms of immersion, such as watching a film in one of your chosen languages or reading a book (perhaps a translation of a favourite novel, so you can follow the story more clearly because you already know what happens).
‘No Way!’ The Cons of Learning Two Languages at Once
Were you convinced by the positive argument? Before you eagerly sign up for two language courses, how about shifting the perspective a little to see the same issues differently? The answers to how you achieve your goal might be more troubled by the dramas of real life.
Time: If your routine becomes compromised by events outside your control – increased stress at work, new personal challenges, another commitment that requires additional time – then both of your languages may suffer the consequences. By learning one language at a time, you can clearly set aside all the available ‘language time’ you have for learning that one language.
Focus: By focusing on just one language, you have a far greater opportunity to immerse yourself in the learning experience. With language learning, immersion can lead to a greater depth of understanding – and the more time you have, the better your chances of building on your learning and progressing swiftly to an advanced level. Sometimes it is best to make good progress in one area of life rather than average progress in different areas.
Commitment: Perhaps one language will start to seem more appealing than the other (especially when you are struggling with one of them), or maybe you will become demotivated by your lack of progress when the going gets tough. Does your original commitment to learning both languages have the power to bring you back on course? If you derail yourself from the joy of language learning, you could end up deciding to give up both languages rather than persevering with one or the other.
One Language Wins… Most of the Time
The human brain is capable of managing two languages alongside each other, and while you may get confused at times, the inevitable mix-ups are unlikely to set you back too far. But unless you have a powerful answer to the ‘What is your motivation?’ question, it will be hard to drive yourself towards success in both languages as your ‘why’ may not be strong enough.
Overall, we recommend that you focus on learning one language at a time, or at least learning one main language. You are more likely to make good progress this way, which can help you stay motivated when the going gets tough. That second language will always be there for you to pick up when you are ready!
However you would like to structure your language learning (and however many languages you have in mind!), we are here to help. All our courses can be taught online, and we offer a bespoke training programme depending on your requirements. Contact us today to find out how we can help make your language-learning dreams a reality.