Fellow language enthusiasts: Take a moment to *really* think about your *realistic* language goals.
I know it's easy to fantasize about being a hyperpolyglot, but don't let that dream cloud your judgement. From experience, I found that too much dispersed ambition can hinder your progress.
When I first came here, I wanted to learn Japanese and German and Chinese and French and Danish and Russian and Hungarian (oh, how I love hungarian...) and Greek (my precious...) and Norwegian and Esperanto and Arabic! etc... It turns out I spent a lot of precious time trying to juggle these languages, and ended up not using that time to focus more on one in specific. I could be B2 in German by now if I had spent my time more wisely.
It's better to take it one or two languages at the time. Choose that 1 (or 2) language you really want to learn more than the others and dedicate yourself to that language. Give it all you have and in some time you will feel absolutely comfortable in it, and it will give you great joy and freedom. Now you can express your fellings with all the nuanced shades of colors of that language. You can discover parts of you you didn't know were there. A whole new literary world you can not live without now that you've known it.
It's hard, but it's worth it.
Now that you feel comfortable, yourself, in that language, start learning another, and repeat the process.
This is just an advice from my personal opinion.
What languages do you absolutely want to learn to an advanced level in your life?
In my thoughtful bucket list there is German (now) and French (in the far future). Norwegian/Danish may happen, but I will no longer worry about it. What about you?
"I know it's easy to fantasize about being a hyperpolyglot"
I'd like to think that people eventually pass this stage. Outside of the occasional savant, the majority of the internet's self-named 'hyper-polyglots' are nothing more than walking phrasebook sections from your local bookstore. They couldn't survive in any of the countries whose languages they 'know' outside of very narrow conversations.
I wholeheartedly agree with your advice- nobody sane would say to themselves "I want to be an expert in physics, archaeology, cookery, carpentry, and piloting!" and then proceed to study them all simultaneously. Learning a single language to real fluency is just as complex as one of these.
Like you say, focus is key. Making real progress in one will enable a learner to study the other more effectively- maintenance is far easier than active study.
My bucket list? It's small at the moment. At some point in my many future holidays to Sweden, I'd love to be good enough that nobody I spoke to anywhere ever switched to English.
What about the synergy between languages? If you have a reason to learn them, then I don't see a problem. I believe that focusing on any more than 5-8 will cause a degree of confusion, though I still think people can become quick in basic structures and basic conversational phrases, even if they are studying at a hyperglot level. It's the ear that really flourishes. The more you train in listening to foreign languages, the better off your language learning ear will be. I learn languages in order to listen to football commentary in native languages and meet people but have no illusion that I'll ever be as fluent in German as I am in Spanish, for example
I'm fluent in 5 languages. Duolingo is honestly a diversion for me, as is language learning in general. My major in college was entirely unrelated to languages, and that's fine. I have my hobby - languages - and I have my career.
In regards to language learning, I say to each their own. For example, I have no trouble keeping Romance languages separate. Others might. And that's fine. Let people spend their time as they wish. =)
I very much agree that quite a few people seem to have rather unrealistic goals (combined with a belief that having finished a course at Duolingo means that you are fluent in that language). However, I do not agree (at least not wholeheartedly) with your comment about focus. The reason I use (and keep using) Duolingo is that it is more fun than any other way of learning that I have tried. I have over the years occasionally put some effort into learning German (that I studied for 6 years in school, but not much to show for it), French and Spanish. In general my efforts have lasted for half a year or less (with listening to German radio the only exception). The reason I have stayed with Duolingo is that it is more fun and quite addictive. At least to me joy is far more important than focus, one year of varied studies is better than one month of focused studies. On average I do about two Duolingo lessons in German and French each day. I am pretty sure that occasionally adding other languages is increasing, rather than decreasing that number. It makes it easier to keep the streaks alive when bored with German and French. Also I find it hard to manage more than a few lessons in the same language in a row, whilst it is easier to handle many lesson if they are in different languages.
I think that this is a great post. I have had similar issues before. I personally would like to learn 19 specific languages. I know that is not possible for me to do, so I plan on focusing on Russian and Spanish (one for school and one for fun) and then maybe once I'm older: Georgian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, and Italian. Sadly, even this might not be possible for me, but in history, some people have known 40-60 languages, so I keep my hope. So maybe one day, I will be able to speak many, many languages, but if not, I'll always have a special few.
Also, if you're wondering what the 19 languages are (I doubt you are) they are: Russian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Serbo-Croatian, Hebrew, German, Ukrainian, Georgian, Greek, Finnish, Korean, French, Czech, Catalan, Hungarian, Turkish, Latin, and Vietnamese. Although, that's not realistic, but I love them all and have special reasons for each.
It's kind of hard for me since I get sidetracked a lot. Many languages have many things about it that I like and even though I try to limit myself, it's not that easy to choose for me since I have many passions.
I definitely want to be fluent in Spanish, Arabic, Swedish, Greek, Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, Greek, Welsh, Zulu, Czech, and Hungarian in the future. Spanish is the one I'm actually decent at currently. I might also add German, Turkish and Farsi to the list later. Most of the other languages I want to learn to a conversational level but I might change my mind of a few of them.
I wouldn't say it's impossible to do that. Many hyperpolyglots learn 20+ languages and get fluent in several. The record so far is a mastery in 75 languages (held by a fellow named Georg Sauerwein) and another person had a library having books in a total of 120 languages. So in theory I would like to think that if I practiced a lot, often and during my lifetime in the way I learn best, I can achieve a feat like that.