How many languages can you keep at a high level?

General discussion about learning languages
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How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby sfuqua » Fri Mar 10, 2017 6:09 pm

I know this would vary from person to person, and from language to language, but for a person who is not a monastic language learner, how many languages can you keep at a high level, at least for receptive skills?
My impression is that once a language gets into the C2 range, that it doesn't take much to maintain it at that level. Of course it takes a long time to get there in even one language. :D

I wonder what people's experience is, those of you who have C level skills in several languages.
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Re: How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby YtownPolyglot » Fri Mar 10, 2017 8:33 pm

As far as I can tell, I've got English at a native level, French at a C1 level and Spanish at a B level with others at lower levels. I'm juggling reasonably well for now.
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Re: How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby Finny » Sat Mar 11, 2017 3:45 am

Receptively, I wouldn't be surprised if C-levels could be maintained for more than a dozen languages; understanding is much, much, much easier than producing. Splitting reception into reading vs listening expands the possibilities even further.
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Re: How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby Mareile » Mon Mar 13, 2017 7:37 pm


I am a native German and recently managed to have three foreign languages at a high level, where I would have passed a C1 exam in all of them. It was English (my work is predominantly in English), Dutch (one of my flatmates plus classes twice a week), and French (my second flatmate and activities like theatre class).
The environment here in Brussels is ideal, and I did not spend any time studying at my desk at home. Of course, my written French has degraded over time since I stopped French classes a year ago.

However, I have just come back from a one month intensive Spanish study trip in Guatemala... I started from scratch and spent the whole month immersing in Spanish without keeping the other languages fresh in my mind.
Now I am back and have quite good comprehension in all of them (French, Dutch, Spanish), can watch documentaries etc. but production is miserable, I sound like a beginner in all of them, mixing up French and Spanish quite a bit.
So yeah, receptive skills are hard to loose.

But I will get there, it will require some desk study now and then I will have to find myself a Spanish activity in Brussels and then I can get back into everyday life, keeping all 4 on a high level.

I think it depends very much on your environment. Does it cue you to actively use all of your languages? Then you can keep them up. I must admit, when choosing my flatmates, their native language was my highest criteria ;)
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Re: How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby tarvos » Tue Mar 14, 2017 3:53 pm

I can manage about seven or eight in the C-range, but some of them are going to be low C's. If we include B2's I think it's somewhere closer to 12.
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Re: How many languages can you keep at a high level?

Postby Expugnator » Wed Mar 15, 2017 11:41 pm

Receptively the maintenance costs are very low. Once you reach a C-level in reading, you have to try hard for it to degrade. Listening does seem to degrade quickly, but you can also recover quickly. I like to split listening into subskills other than plain CEFR levels. So I first read a C level in following dubbed series, then in audiobooks, newscasts, real life conversations, native series and films. I notice that if my listening to audiobooks is around B2, it degrades quickly after I stop practicing. It recently happened with Norwegian. My audiobooks listening for French and Italian, though, is at the C levels and won't go away that easily. I think I have English, French, Spanish, Italian and Papiamento at passive C levels and I don't I'd downgrade in them. Norwegian and German come close and Georgian is definitely in the B range and I don't think I lose receptive skills that easily because context helps not only learn new words but also remember words you don't know 100% or which aren't part of your productive vocabulary. So if you mistake ბაღი (garden) and ძაღლი (dog) in Georgian, context will tell you with verbs, case forms and postpositions which one can do what in a sentence.

As for active skills, I have the impression speaking also deteriorates more quickly than writing, which leaves time for reflection and allows for higher meaning recovery. I can't say much, though, because I rarely speak my TL's and i'm not sure I have a C in writing, but I think a C in writing would probably come to stay, in the sense that I could maintain it for any language I'd achieve.

That said, I think I can maintain a language with just 5 minutes a day, with occasional longer bursts, preferably productive. Have I reached a high level in all of my 12 studied languages, I don't think they'd deteriorate. They'd just stop progressing at some subskills for a while, which is what happen, for example, when I stop doing intensive watching in Norwegian and I get stuck in my receptive skills.
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