How many languages can you realistically study at once?

General discussion about learning languages
HerrSignore
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How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby HerrSignore » Mon Jun 29, 2020 7:26 pm

I realise that "study" means different things to some people; one person's study session may be to learn a few words on anki, another's may be to read a native-level text, extract and memorise useful vocabulary and write some extracts to help you remember. By 'study,' I mean make a conscious effort to advance in a language at a reasonable pace.

Even with juggling German and Italian, I find it difficult. I keep finding German grammar rules trying to creep into my Italian sessions, and keeping the word order and pronunciation separate is quite hard. I'd love to start dabbling in my dream language, Russian, but since I'm struggling with two I'm not sure how well it will end. :lol:
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby sporedandroid » Mon Jun 29, 2020 8:02 pm

I think I can only do one language seriously at once. I have been experimenting with dabbling in other languages. I found these Finnish videos that use slow simple speech and bilingual subtitles. I use those videos for dabbling in Finnish. I don’t think I’m progressing at a reasonable rate, but I am picking up high frequency vocabulary and learning a bit about Finnish culture.
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby Decidida » Tue Jun 30, 2020 4:06 am

My brain divides words into two things: Native language and "other". All other language study becomes jumbled together into "other". My passive listening progresses in all languages, but my ability to respond become nil in all the "other" languages. I just freeze instead of responding.

Studying two languages came to head, during finals week, when a Haitian student started talking Spanish to me, and shamed me for freezing. I almost decked the guy. And gave up Spanish for awhile, as I wasn't studying it in college that semester.
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby kelvin921019 » Tue Jun 30, 2020 6:40 am

I tried studying 2 language from scratch at once now for almost 5 months (Spanish and Japanese) everyday according to a schedule but I have a full time job. I have to "tone down" my Japanese studies a number of times. Although things are pretty manageable at first, I have to spend more and more time on both languages just to keep up with the schedule as the materials are getting more difficult and longer. Eventually I almost collapsed and I have to put Japanese on a slow learning mode (30 mins per day)

I guess unless you dedicate most of your time to studying language, learning 1 from scratch is very much advisable.
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby tarvos » Tue Jun 30, 2020 7:02 am

27 languages. Empirically demonstrated by Jo Language Learning Inc.

Wait, you think that's snake oil? Well then, it probably is.

My real answer is about two-three ish. I know this because that's what high school students do. I think if you have the time 2-3 is roundabout the max. More is overkill unless it's mostly just maintenance (like in my case I maintain about 15-ish languages...)
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby Gordafarin2 » Tue Jun 30, 2020 9:12 am

Last year, I was just actively working on two: Persian and Chinese. This worked really well because I had a strong language and a weak language. With Persian, I work on understanding native texts and drill vocab. With Chinese, I'm at a beginner level so I'm studying the fundamentals - grammar, basic phrases, etc. The activities involved are different, and I can give both of them the time they deserve.

I'm starting to push my limit now, because I picked back up two of my hibernating languages, Esperanto and Spanish. They're both at a comfortable conversational level but I struggle with complex topics. At minimum I'm re-activating them / keeping them maintained (I have a Zoom call with the local Esperanto group each week, and I'm watching Spanish TV) but I would really like to do more with them... In my situation (full time job, no kids), I have room to add a third, I think, but not a fourth without sacrificing something else in my life.

(and I do think the line between 'maintaining' and 'low-key studying' is blurry here, when I'm in the B levels - if I'm spending a couple hours a week on the language, doing easy stuff, but still picking up some new words & idioms each time - am I studying? or is it not 'studying' unless I'm properly pushing myself?)

Two is comfortable, provided they're at different stages - I wouldn't want to start two languages at once, unless there was a really important reason to do so. Three is doable. More than that, it gets difficult, but a more intermediate-advanced language is easier to keep studying than a beginner-stage one IMO. Studying two different languages that you've already brought to B1 is easier than two languages at A1; you're more confident in the foundations and, for me, there's less interference when I've already spent a lot of time on a language.
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby Kamlari » Tue Jun 30, 2020 9:40 am

Once upon a time I used to do this regularly - audio + parallel texts, up to six languages at a time:
https://postimg.cc/s1bjZCCk
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(direct link) https://postimg.cc/s1bjZCCk
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby garyb » Wed Jul 01, 2020 9:53 am

Decidida wrote:My brain divides words into two things: Native language and "other". All other language study becomes jumbled together into "other". My passive listening progresses in all languages, but my ability to respond become nil in all the "other" languages. I just freeze instead of responding.

I absolutely find this for beginner languages, up until maybe B1 or so. The times when I have studied a language for a few months, dropped it, then picked up another later, I've had interference (confusing the words for very basic things like "no", "but", etc.) and the new one essentially overwrote the old one. Between that, the importance of daily consistency as a beginner, and that it's just not a very fun part of the language learning process, I'd really struggle to learn more than one at a time. I'm sure people manage it, but it doesn't seem efficient or enjoyable. Even one can be hard enough to keep up...

Once I'm over the first hurdle, the language starts to have its own area in my brain and a new one doesn't interfere quite as much. I'm currently learning a new language while maintaining and slowly improving an advanced one and an intermediate one and it's just about doable. Progress in more advanced languages is much slower for sure, but the activities involved are also much less mentally demanding and much more pleasant. Extensive reading and writing aren't exactly "passive" despite the popular terminology but they're certainly less "active" than trying to force a new language into your head, and even conversation, writing, and grammar study are far less taxing when you already have a solid language core. For maintenance and slow progress, I suppose the sky is the limit, or rather your free time and how much you're willing to compromise regarding more languages versus more progress in fewer.
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby wiwer » Thu Jul 02, 2020 8:21 am

I think it depends on prior learning experiences. When you studied two, later three foreign languages already as a child in school, it just doesn't seem like such a big deal. It's a very similar question to "how many sports do you manage to play" or "how many musicals instruments do you play".
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katarinaantalya
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Re: How many languages can you realistically study at once?

Postby katarinaantalya » Thu Jul 02, 2020 3:02 pm

Personally, I've effectively studied up to four at once. I think it depends a lot on yourself as a person and the level of your languages (as well as their relations to each other!) For instance, learning Spanish and Catalan simultaneously, as I did for a time, is much more apt to lead to confusion than if it had been Spanish and Chinese. Multiple languages at the beginner level is more difficult than if one or two are more advanced and well-rooted into your brain. I've found that past about B2, languages get their own "space" in your mind, much like a native one, and become mostly impervious to outside influences. As such, I was able to work on French, German, Spanish, and Estonian at once, since the first two were quite advanced, and the latter two very different.

To be honest, though, people's mileage is going to vary. If you have a particularly good mind for language and a lot of time, you might well be able to pull of studying 5+ at once, although not with the same speed of advancement as if you were focusing on one or two.
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