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https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchAddict7

Is it hard to learn more than one language at a time?

Hi Duo users! I have a question: Is it confusing to learn more than one language at a time? I am currently learning French, but I want to maybe start Spanish, but I don't want to get confused a mix them up. Should I do both at the same time or no? I just wanted to mix it up a bit and learn a bit more about other languages. :P :)

4 years ago

47 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/CecilieO.

Honestly, I would say not to do it. The duolingo trees are relativly easy until midway down it seems, and then it becomes much more difficult all of a sudden. To me, it seems that a lot of people get to that point and then start focusing on another tree, do all the simple things on that, and change again.

Do you want to be able to say "i am a woman" and "the boy eats bread" in five different languages, or do you want to actually use it, read in it, speak it, watch movies in it and tell jokes in it?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/nihowdy

I was just about to mention the same thing. I got halfway through the Spanish tree, and debated about starting German as well. Then I hit past verb conjunctions and that threw the thought of German out of the window! (I had been doing really well up until then - then it really is a wall!)

I also read that you shouldn't start learning a third language until you've successfully completed learning the second. That way, instead of spending 50% of your time in one language, and 50% of your time in the other, just learn 100% of the first language, then 100% of the second, and you'll still finish learning both languages in the same time (or faster!).

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ixjhagux1
ixjhagux1
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I agree with this mainly because the subconscious mind is so heavily involved in language learning. We can't control it directly - It just sucks up data like a sponge and words start bubbling up after a while... should one have to wonder which language they each are?

I'm here to learn Spanish 100%. If you see another language tree on my profile, it means that you are reading this in the year 2015 (or later) and I've decided to take on another.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence
chilvence
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Yes, of course it is hard. Let's be honest with ourselves though, we want to do it anyway, probably out of a desire to know everything there is to know :) . To the detriment of my skill in every language, I find it impossible to pick one and focus on it, simply because I know there is more than one out there. Almost every language has a relationship with another language that explains so much more about it than you could see from just knowing the language itself. It really is an extended family with many subtle and complex influences in every direction.

You can be a jack of all trades and master of none - I don't find it hard to decide to do that, because the trade off has been made for me already by circumstance. If I had to help anyone else make the choice, if you want to become an eloquent speaker in any language, you should be patient and focus on it. But if you think that you might one day be able to make practical use of both French and Spanish, then of course you should study both, just be mindful that however close they are, they are not not identical - if in doubt, use the different accent and the style of each language to help minimise your confusion, they are like different colours on a palette ;)

PS, if anyone is curious why I am so gung ho about the subject, I got French (and Arabic of course, but no flag...yet) from growing up in Tunisia, Spanish from sailing to Australia via the Carribean, German from my family moving there (near the eastern border no less, so of course I have to try learning some Polish), and Portugues from living with a Brazilian and also having extended family there. I've also been in Thailand, Vietnam, Hong Kong, China, Greece, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania... every country in the world has left an indelibe imprint on me, so naturally, when I found Duolingo, I thought, "oh look, free Italian lessons, why the hell not" :)

The decision to spread myself so thin was not taken lightly, and shouldn't be! Whether I can listen in on a conversation or ask for directions or order something in a restaurant, I'll always be at a social disadvantage compared to more sensible people. In comparison to those who focus on one language, I have very little measurable skill with all of those languages, aside from knowing that if I really had to learn one them quickly, I could - and this is what the trade off really boils down to, whether you have some immediate need, or whether you are just academically curious. So... good luck with your decision, you're on your own, haha :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Grace-Georgia

Everybody has its own way of learning things. What works for somebody doesn't work for somebody else and vice versa.. My personal example: I love learning a lot of languages together because I love similarities in vocabulary My sister strongly believes that it's more effective to focus in one language before moving to another language and mix them up

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ziggKogg
ziggKogg
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I found it easy to go between Italian and Spanish a few weeks ago. But then I went on vacation, my Italian sort of dropped and now I'm confusing prepositions and certain words. >.<

It's completely do-able you just need to be patient and attentive.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ElOtroMiqui
ElOtroMiqui
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Luca Lampariello has a really interesting blog about it http://www.thepolyglotdream.com/learning-more-than-one-language-at-the-same-time/

In resume, he says you can do it only if you are motivated enough, and if the languages are really different (otherwise, you are probably going to mix them up). Anyway, I think it's preferable to learn only one at time, so you can really focus on it (:

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ALoUSyUseRnaME
ALoUSyUseRnaME
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What 856pm said is true, but, something important is to not learn Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian at the same time. They are all very similar and will get confusing, but, there are some people who are able to handle those three languages at the same time.

Personally, I liked Spanish better than Italian, and there were a lot of Spanish speakers in my area, so I just decided to stick with Spanish. My suggestion for you is to try all three languages then decide which one you want to learn.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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My plan is to get Duo-solid on one language before moving on to another, and then to work on practicing them both. When available, I want to take Japanese from Spanish. But, I don't plan to take two new languages at the same time. I already mix of Japanese and Spanish a lot. (Which is why I want to take Japanese from Spanish, so I'll have a smoother connection between the two, rather than just inserting one language and drawing a blank on the one I actually want to use right then.)

Also think of how much time you have to allocate to language learning. Can you keep up with the decay rate on more than one tree? Some can, but, it's not for me. ^_^

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ziggKogg
ziggKogg
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I don't think anyone can keep up with 2 decaying trees. That's just madness!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ALoUSyUseRnaME
ALoUSyUseRnaME
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I don't get it, Japanese and Spanish barely have similarities, Japanese has a different alphabet, different grammar, and different pronunciations, it's not even a romance language, so I'd say it's way harder to mix up Japanese and Spanish...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Phobic
Phobic
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I studied Japanese. I haven't tried Spanish, but I am learning Portuguese. I'm also currently doing kanji reviews. If I try to study Portuguese and kanji too close together it feels like my brain has been replaced by lukewarm oatmeal.

I find it difficult not to default to Japanese when I'm trying to say something in 'not-English', which seems to be a mental category for me. As I become more comfortable with Portuguese, I have to pause while speaking either language and make sure I'm thanking people in the correct one before I commit to it. I still pronounce a good deal of Portuguese (and almost any other foreign language) with a Japanese accent unless I try really hard not to.

I'm not sure what would have happened if I'd tried studying another language simultaneously when I began Japanese. Maybe I'd have something more nuanced as an alternative to my native language, rather than a 'not-English' which happens to be Japanese most of the time.

I doubt I'd try things differently if given the chance, though. Japanese has subtly affected the way I communicate even in English, including both verbal and physical mannerisms. I don't know how I'd cope with that sort of thing from more than one language at once. I think my poor oatmeal would explode. :(

Maybe other people have had different experiences, though.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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@Phobic, "lukewarm oatmeal", you captured it exactly!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CecilieO.

I know the lukewarm oatmeal feeling! I used to do some german in school, and when I visited germany it was after I had started doing italian (the first time). I every time I tried to say something in german, my brain turned into mush and both italian and german started churning in my brain.

English is also not my native language, but was not added to the maelstrom, possibly because I have known it for many years, and feel pretty comfortable with it. The lumping toghether wasn't "my non native language" but "languages I barely know and have studied a little"

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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Ditto! I used to have this trying to learn Russian, a couple of years after having done a year of Italian at school. Despite thinking I'd lost all my Italian, those words started popping back in my head when I was looking for the Russian words...

I really think there is a special "word pool for random words in random languages" in our brains... And once you learn a language better, that language is fished out from the pool and receives its very own place in your brain.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Phobic
Phobic
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Haha, that brings back some memories! I participated in a homestay program in Japan once. We had classes in the morning, then in the afternoon we would tour cultural sites. In the evenings I would go home and attempt to make conversation with my host family.

It turns out a lot of cultural sites are located on mountains. So there I was, staggering up and down mountains in the afternoons during the hottest months of summer. By the time I got home for dinner, I could barely make small talk about the weather. I suspect my host family was shocked when I brought home my grades (perfect scores). XD

You give me hope that my language-mixing problems will improve.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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Japanese and Spanish have a number of similarities. I can't recall what all I learned about that though. But, the pronunciation is much more similar than Japanese is to English, with Spanish and Japanese vowels being pronounced similarly (minus the Spanish vowels with diacritical marks over them).

"...from a spoken language point of view. (Adjectives following nouns, all syllables spoken (not silent like in French or English), even the way questions are formed is similar, etc.)" http://www.spanishdict.com/answers/228901/japanese-easier-for-native-spanish-speaking-people

However note that Japanese has a couple of rare exceptions to the "all syllables spoken (none silent)" concept:

  • If an i follows an e, you double the length of time the "e" is pronounced (e sounds like a as in say, btw).
  • If u follows o, the same thing happens, the o takes up one more beat of sound and the u is silent.
  • Meanwhile, there are instances in which "devolving" occurs..

"In standard Japanese the vowels i and u are not usually voiced when they occur between voiceless consonants (k, s, sh, t, ch, h, f, b, p)."

You can find out more about that at en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Japanese/Pronunciation

^_^

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/le-lapin-noir
le-lapin-noir
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Adjectives don't actually follow nouns, not the way they do in Spanish adjective phrases. Manzana roja = akai ringo, adjective first. I and na adjectives behave identically, for example, "kirei na onna" = "mujer linda". You might be thinking of sentences like "kono ringo ha akai" but in Spanish the closest equivalent would be "esta manzana es roja." Vowels are pretty similar, except Japanese lacks dipthongs.

On the main topic of the thread, there is a learning curve when it comes to confusing foreign languages, and the first pair, if similar, will be confused the most. I started French 1 in high school while currently enrolled in Spanish 3, and that first semester of French it was a challenge to not automatically substitute Spanish words for French words. After that the confusion died down rapidly. Going from 1 year of college Chinese to Japanese had a similar, but much shorter, period of confusion for pronunciation of characters (the complication of Japanese readings not helping things). When I started learning Korean, there was virtually no confusion with Japanese despite the strong similarities of vocabulary and grammar, and I'm not having trouble confusing Portuguese with either Spanish or French.

TL,DR: might want to wait until having a decent proficiency in the first foreign language before starting another if similar, and it all gets much easier to distinguish them the more you attempt (assuming you move beyond basics). Good luck!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Usagiboy7
Usagiboy7
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@zoeyandfriends,

I just copied and pasted that list without giving it a good look. It's curious that they would say that though. I'm wondering if they are ignoring the wa and ga particles when they made that statement. Otherwise, unless I've forgotten something, you're right. It has been quite a while since I've studied...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/le-lapin-noir
le-lapin-noir
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Yeah, I assume the person who wrote the article didn't understand the function of particles in Japanese. That might actually be an easy assumption for Spanish speakers to make. Never thought of it before.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ALoUSyUseRnaME
ALoUSyUseRnaME
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Oh, that's actually very interesting...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Yinyangrunner

I'm learning German now out of necessity and previously studied Chinese. They are nothing alike so only once in a blue moon I can only think of the Chinese word and not the German. Mostly they don't get confused though.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/moogy
moogy
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I feel that the advantages of learning more than one language far outweigh the disadvantages. Very often in these discussions people fear getting languages mixed up and becoming confused. However if you were to start learning Spanish some of the structural aspects and grammar rules you have learned even in your short time studying French will make some parts of learning Spanish easier. As you continue learning both (and probably more) you can investigate the similarities and differences of each language to each other which will bring a greater understanding of grammar and syntax in their universal form . One example I can give you as a student of French and Spanish is with genders.In French it is not always straightforward as to which gender the noun is .However in Spanish the rules are easier to understand for most nouns .One trick I use is that if I'm unsure in French I think what the equivalent is in Spanish and often this is easier to determine the gender from (Obviously this is in a situation like an exam where I would otherwise be stuck). Another thing is that I still very much consider myself a student of my own language (and always will !!!) and I can say that without any doubt whatsoever studying other languages has greatly enhanced my understanding of my own language. My advice would be to get to level 10 in French and then give Spanish a go and see how learning Spanish consolidates your understanding of French and what you've learned in French helps your understanding of Spanish. Best of luck !!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Phobic
Phobic
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I really like this. I agree that studying other languages greatly enhances your understanding of your native language, and languages in general.

I took Latin for a while in high school. I don't count it as a language I know, since I no longer trust myself to form a coherent phrase containing more than one word. I still learned a lot about grammar, and that stuck with me enough to help me greatly with Japanese and again with Portuguese. Each of these languages has provided me with new ways to understand the others as well as English.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GEONERD4

I learn Latin in school and German on Duolingo. In Latin, puer means boy, the boy, or a boy. In German, Junge just means boy. Therefore, when I'm studying Latin I sometimes say things like ein puer or der puer. That's the main thing that confuses me. As long as you keep track of small things like articles, it shouldn't be too confusing to learn Spanish and French at the same time (in my opinion).

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/susanstory
susanstory
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I"m learning 5 languages but I was already familiar with French and German from school. The other Romance languages were completely new to me. In French class in school 40 years ago, it was audio-visual and no English was allowed in class. If a student asked the teacher a question in English, he answered in French. If the kid didn't understand what he said, he'd use gestures and only spoke in French. One time in high school, I asked the teacher what "alors" means. I don't remember if I asked in English because no English was allowed in French class. He tried to explain it in French and I still didn't understand, so finally he broke down and told me in English that it means something like how we say, "Well...."

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Grumpycat1
Grumpycat1
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yes, I really do not understand this policy : ,,no native language in the course"........our German teacher at high school did it and it had consequencies on all of us....more negative than positive........my other language teachers did not do it....and we did and are doing well

to the topic: now I am learning one Slavic language at school with these two on Duo.....it is O.K.

I have this crazy idea that my next combo will be: French/Greek/Swedish/Danish, Russian and Hungarian

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CecilieO.

that makes a lot more sense when I understood that you didn't want to do all of them at the same time ;) I would pick swedish over one of the other languages as it is the most intelligble for norwegians (and I'm not upset that my language isn't on the list, Norwegian has a few quirks that make it harder than swedish/danish.

"they" (the polyglots) say that if you want to learn more than one language at the time you should focus on two, one easy and one hard, and quite dissimilar. Both russian and hungarian are hard, but french/swedish/danish will probably all be pretty easy for you if you know german and italian :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CecilieO.

I don't get why you want to learn both swedish and danish. If you do either you can get by in the other country without resorting to english... but I don't really understand why people bother with both italian and spanish as well. Focus on learning one really well, if you need to communicate in the other or pick it up later, it will come quite easily.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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As a native speaker of Swedish, I have to disagree... I understand spoken Spanish (which I've only learned the basics of) better than spoken Danish! Reading is quite easy, for sure. I get by just fine with my slightly tweaked Swedish in Norway, but in Denmark I'd need subtitles when people talk. :-)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/CecilieO.

I'm probably biased as a norwegian, I'm able to understand and communicate with both, but I prefer spoken swedish over spoken danish, as the danes has the famous potato in their troath... My point was more that they are a bit too similar to study at the same time :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Grumpycat1
Grumpycat1
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I do NOT want to learn Swedish and Danish at the same time!

I used slashes as alternatives of one thing, I am not so loony to learn SIX languages at the same time...three are quite enough.....

but I do understand as a norwegian you do not like that your language is not on the list :-)

I want to learn a scandinavian language.......one day.....I am still not sure, which one!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rspreng

It is 'hard' in terms of more time and effort , but for centuries people have learned multiple languages at the same time in university and seminary: Greek, Latin, Hebrew. Having dabbled in a few languages and studied three seriousy, I think the 'confusion' aspect is more than overcome by the advantage of using common knowledge in two subjects. Is studying history and geography hard? ;)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/856pm

It really depends on the person. For me, French and Italian are different enough to be separate, so I don't think it'd be a problem for you.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchAddict7

Ok, thanks! i just might start Italian tomorrow

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/musiclover23
musiclover23
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In my opinion, I suggest you don't learn two Romance languages at once because you can easily get them muddled up, I speak from experience! I was learning Spanish and Italian at the time and I'm telling you... I got the numbers mixed up! I couldn't differentiate between the first 10 numbers and I eventually dropped Italian for a while and focused on Spanish. I eventually started learning Italian again and I've stopped getting my numbers muddled up! You can learn more than one language at a time, it just depends what language family it comes from (e.g: I am learning Arabic and that is a Semitic language as well as Persian, and Persian is an Indo-European language) That way, you can differentiate between the two (or more) languages.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/jheavner724
jheavner724
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In general, it is recommended that one not learn multiple languages which are similar to each other, but even that is far from impossible. Learn 5 languages at the same time if you want, just know that it will slow down your progress in any given individual language.

The bottom line is that it might be a bit confusing here and there, but if you try, then it is very much possible.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Abdrmn

It is for me cuz i can't focus on both even if they have many differences.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/helenvee
helenvee
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It's certainly possible to learn more than one language at a time. School children do it successfully all the time. I think it really comes down to the individual. Some will find it easy and others harder.

How much time you have is going to be a factor too. Each language requires a similar amount of learning and practice time so, if you are time poor, you're probably be better focussing on one language but, if you can find the time, two is feasible and I know people who have successfully studied more. Speaking personally, I know that two is as much as I can handle. For me that's around an hour a day which is as much time as I can spare at the moment. What it comes down to is you have to work out your own limits.

That said why not try adding another language? You can always stop if it proves too hard. What have you got to lose?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/adamyoung97
adamyoung97
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It's all up to you (obviously lol), I would say have a go and see how it goes, you can always delete it if you find it confusing, but in some aspects the two help each other out (some aspects of grammar as well as vocab). J'espère de t'avoir aidé :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Parisian_Dreamer

Until where does it get harder?

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchAddict7

Honestly, I didn't start Spanish. I did the basics and found out that "hombre" (Spanish for man) sounds just like "homme" (French for man). I'm pretty sure French and Spanish sentence structures are pretty similar. It is most certainly do-able to learn two languages, but I guess I'm just not that type of person. Personally, I would like to get solid on one language before I go onto the next. I don't have much time anyway (school, sports, etc) so I can really only do one language at a time. But it is your decision. Perhaps, you may want to just try it out, go for it. And if it's too hard, just do it later. Hope this helps! Bonne chance!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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It might be confusing, but don't let that stop you from trying! I would suggest deciding which one you are going to "take more seriously" (maybe the French that you have already gotten farther in?), and just do a bit of the other for fun. Really focusing on learning both might just be impossible.

I am planning on doing the same two languages at the same time once the Spanish for French-speakers course comes out in beta (late April, it seems). I am hoping I will confuse them less by always seeing them side by side. Meanwhile, I keep practicing and strengthening my French, so that it will be as solid as possible before I start confusing myself with Spanish... :-)

Good luck and happy learning!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FKrasniqi
FKrasniqi
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It is difficult to learn more than one language at a time, especially if they're similar. That's why I'm learning French mainly and on the rare occasion I practice German, I don't confuse the two as much than say if I did Spanish.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/aboyer02
aboyer02
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Studying more than one language at a time is not necessarily confusing. However, it seems to me that being at different points in learning a language helps with not getting them confused.
I've been studying Spanish seriously since high school and can hold a conversation. I began my study of Portuguese late in college and my knowledge of Spanish both helps and hinders but mostly is quite advantageous. The number of cognates is astounding and the fact that I'm reviewing both languages at the same time allows me to do pattern recognition on the similarities and differences.
Duolingo is my first foray into French and I'm surprised at how difficult it is for me. It reminds me that beginning language learning is quite a struggle and not at all the same as building on prior knowledge. I'm building up a new body of knowledge. But even my knowledge of Spanish is assisting at times with learning French as there are numerous cognates between those languages. There are pattern similarities in terms of adjective placement and the like.
I also think that looking at the languages from more than one angle helps. For instance, sometimes I'm concerned just with sound. Sometimes my concern is getting the grammar correct. Sometimes my concern is making a connection back to any of the other languages and finding the similarity or difference.
I agree with some of the other posters about it being a time issue. I spend very little time on a Spanish practice while I may have to restart a French lesson 3 or more times, thus taking 3 or 4 times as long.
So part of determining for yourself if you want to try two similar languages at the same time is how much time do you have to devote to study? If you're willing to devote 30 minutes a day (or more), go ahead and work on two and see if you are or are not having major issues with confusion. Small issues with confusion are fine. You will sort them out as you continue to practice. But if you really only want to spend 10 or 15 minutes a day, stick with one.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Noe010101
Noe010101
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To my mind it depends on the languages. If you would like to learn two new languages which would be, for example, Spanish and Portugues, I would not recommend it for you, as they are very similar but in a way which would result IMO confusing. But it is only when it comes to two similar languages.
In any case, why not trying?:)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchAddict7

Thanks so much guys for all your support and advice!!!

4 years ago