How do you learn so many languages simultaneously?
To those of you who have at least 5 languages on your profile, especially those with 15 or 20+ (and in high levels), besides being smart, how do you do it?
Is there a special motivation behind it? (I'm envious.) Are you simply doing it for fun? (I'm jealous.) How do you keep yourself going? Where do you get such endurance? How do you remember so much??!!! I'm having trouble keeping up with just 3....
With admiration, cd52
Some people are linguistic sluts. See a cute declension, a verb showing off some stems, a bit of flashy idiom, come-hither phrasal syntax, the promise of easy cognates -- and off we go again. The next morning you wake up next to a stack of dictionaries, scribbled notes, and the realization you've forgotten all about maintaining your duo streak. Oh the shame.
When a person says they know several languages fluently, people praise you, saying you must be a genius and smart.
But that's not it. It's not about being smart, but being hard-working. If you work hard enough, you will be able to reach a satisfying level in a language.
You don't have to be smart to learn many languages with proficiency.
People probably learn many languages for fun, family and friends.
If one wants to be good at a language, one should stop comparing themselves to people who are good at a language. If you compare yourself to someone good at a language and then criticise yourself, it shows how you see yourself.
Instead, compare yourself to yesterday. If you did better than you did yesterday today, then you've made progress and you've already passed one obstacle. If you did worse than you did yesterday today, go over your learning methods and try again.
Or, if you're not enjoying it, let others share their experience with you, then the "work and effort" itself may become enjoyable. May I ask why "Dutch", besides to be surprised? I've thought of Dutch for a long time because of its richness in culture! Thank you very much for the suggestion!
Dutch shares a lot of roots with German and has many similar sounds, like French and Spanish are similar in that they are both Romance (Latin) languages. I thought it might be a gentle step to expand your range.
Alternatively, pick something very different - like Welsh!!
And you're right about sharing making the work enjoyable - especially if you sing! ;o)
Pob luc ac mwynheuwch! good luck and enjoy
You're very right. If it's about "being smart", then there's no point of making this post. This post is about sharing experiences and methods. Hopefully we can learn a few things that we don't know about, and maybe make the frustration more bearable along the journey. Thank you so much for the clarification!
Just because people have many flags does not mean they are necessarily learning all those languages simultaneously. They may have stopped/paused learning some of the languages years ago.
In my case I took the German course just for brushing up old knowledge. Now that I have finished the tree I seldom strengthen it.
In general, being able to read, understand, write and/or speak several different languages has nothing to do with what people usually call "smart" or "intelligence".
I have met many people that were fluent in three or even four languages that were atrocious in Maths, Physics, Programming... in general they were very bad at logical thinking.
It seems that the brain areas that "compute/produce" language abilities are completely different than the brain areas that "compute/produce" logical thinking. Of course there are also people that are good at both things.
In general, almost everybody can learn (under appropriate conditions) three, four or more languages (especially if he/she is exposed to many languages since childhood), whereas very few people are able to really understand advanced areas of Mathematics, Physics or Philosophy.
So in this sense, "languages are for everybody to learn" (if they wish and under proper circumstances).
I started being curious about languages when I discovered Duolingo two years ago. I noticed soon that I was able to learn to read and understand (listening) many different languages simultaneously (six, seven, eight, there seems to be no problem here), so with respect to the "passive" parts of language adquisition (reading and listening) there is no problem when learning many different languages at the same time, you will not mix them up.
The problem (at least in my case) is the "active" parts: writing and speaking, when some languages are close (German-Dutch and Norwegian-Swedish-Danish; French and Italian-Portuguese-Spanish-Catalan, etc). I do mix those many times when writing or speaking.
But I am sure it is also a question of ill practice and bad methods. I very rarely speak languages other than Spanish and English (though I read books in eight or nine different languages almost daily), and when I do, sometimes I speak Italian, French, Portuguese and Catalan in the very same night. This is not a good recipe, I guess, for separating those similar languages in the "speaking areas" of my brain.
But if I were to spend some months in Brazil (speaking only Portuguese there), then some months in Italy, then again in France......I am sure I would not mix them up when speaking and all these languages would be as "separated" in the "speaking areas" of my brain, as they are now in the "reading and listening" areas of my brain.
Exactly the same with German-Norwegian-Dutch-Swedish-Danish.
But, with languages that are not close (especially those with different scripts), there is no problem, not even when writing or speaking.
I started Japanese some weeks ago, and Korean yesterday, and I don't think they will harm in any sense my other languages (other than occupy more "memory" in my brain and maybe "compete" for it, with the other languages, :-) ).
Being "good at something" just applies to very extraordinary people who can learn with so much ease without taking all the effort that common people have to put in order to learn something to a decent level.
When I began learning languages on my own I didn't think I could do it and now I'm here using what I have already learnt of English and trying to learn more languages. Furthermore, I thought that I hadn't the brain to learn physics in university because I never were a good student at both maths and physics in school. For me it's the hard work that makes almost all possible. I know I'm going to suffer doing my bachelor's degree but it doesn't mean I am not able to understand very hard concepts if I put the work is required. Ultimately, I enjoy learning what truly interests me the most no matter its difficulty.
I think learning some Asian languages are going to be a great challenge and I want to take it. :)
Wow, so you learned English on your own, and are able to communicate like this?! Hard work is indeed the answer to all prayers. I just thought if someone knows some way to "ease it up", it wouldn't hurt for us to learn a tip or two. Thank you so much for sharing your strength!
Simply doing it for fun :D
I practice everyday, even if it's just one exercise or two. If you keep at it, even at a snail's pace, you'll eventually remember vocabulary and grammar points.
It also depends on your learning style. I have a terrible memory and I like taking things slow, hence my "snail's pace" style :)
But hey, three languages is already quite a feat. And yours are all in double digits, so you're doing great, too!
My motivation is wanting to speak a lot of languages. Learning languages has been something of a hobby for a while now and eventually it also gets easier. I have a Duolingo routine and if I manage to stick to it (which I sometimes don't when I'm very busy), endurance isn't much of a problem. Can't really say how I go about remembering "so much". Never felt like much. It helps to learn related languages (for example, I'm learning Portuguese grammar as "differences from Spanish" - already halfed the amount of verb forms I need to remember). I should add that I started my first foreign language at the age of seven and until 24, I have always taken classes in at least one language. I'm just used to it, I think...
Around college time a major motivation was just that language classes seemed to be the most useful choices to fill out the course schedule. I learned something from that, giving me a basis where it's (far) easier to continue on with things now. But, lo and behold, language learning still strikes me as more useful than, say, binging Netflix. Also more engrossing.
Like many people with what seem like high levels I suspect, I'm at quite different (real world) levels in different languages. It's pretty easy to flit among those where I have some more significant basis and I'm mostly beyond Duo tree learning level (Russian, Portuguese) and those that are closely related to them (Italian, Catalan, Ukrainian), but when it comes to getting a start on something more unfamiliar: Guaraní, Hungarian, Dutch, it's more of a one-at-a-time thing for me, so there's not too much "simultaneous" about it. Guaraní I've been at long enough here that I can drop in for a review without having to do all that much to get my brain into "Guaraní mode," but for some of the units further down the tree, it requires more "easing in" (e.g. redoing lessons before trying a timed practice) as I still tend to not recall things all that well.
What matfran2001 focused on for reading, I would highlight for listening as well. I have podcasts for Russian, Latin, Italian, and Catalan. By and large I listen to whatever happens to have wound up next in the queue in the podcast app (and I don't know how it works...); the switching is easy for the "passive" skills.
Russian (all in iPhone podcast app):
- Хочу всё знат
- Принцип действия
- Slow Russian (one of the few aimed at learners; probably a good choice, although more on Russian than in Russian)
- Russian News - NHK World Radio (general news from Japan)
- Russian LingQ (another one aimed at learners; haven't actually listened much; no longer commonly updated)
- RFI новостей (general news from France)
- Euronews Radio русский
- Военное ревю
- Только у нас
- SBS Russian (Australian broadcaster)
- Железная логика
- Радио Вести
- Эхо Москвы
- Вести Экономика
Moving toward the bottom of this list, these aren't so much discrete podcasts as a podcast redistribution of quite large amounts of broadcaster content. Great to listen to / watch, but somewhat untenable to subscribe to and have on auto-download, for instance.
Catalan (iPhone podcast app):
- mossegalapoma - technology (seemingly can be in Castilian if the guest doesn't speak Catalan)
- Paraules de vida - I think this is from a radio station of the Barcelona Catholic diocese, but seems to be mostly fairly generic news commentary
- Radio Ciùtat de Tarragona (more familiar with this in TuneIn radio app; also available on podcast app)
- Some things available from major Spanish broadcasters: Cadena SER and RNE, both of which have their own apps; check the sections for the Catalan cities
Thank you so much for your valuable insights! I totally agree that language learning is very engrossing and fulfilling! Also, thank you for explaining how differently it feels at various stages of learning, and sharing what you do at those stages. I've always been a one-dimension kind of slow learner, so this helps a lot. Thank you so much again!!
For me, simultaneously studying unrelated languages is relatively easy if I invest regular time and energy in the process. However, I would never attempt to learn similar languages like Portuguese and Spanish, or German and Dutch, at the same time.
I think that having a realistic goal, practicing routinely in a variety of ways, and taking a short break if it occasionally becomes a chore, will all contribute to your success. Good luck!
I agree about the effort and keeping it enjoyable. I'd like to share that when I was learning Italian and German at nightschool (different nights!) I would often use a word from the other language when speaking in one. I found that I would start German homework essays in German, but switch to Italian partway through then have to translate before handing it in - but never Italian to German. Not sure what that says about how my brain stores things.
At the moment, I'm learning Welsh at night school, and occasionally I drop in Italian words there. My school French never makes an appearance....!
Isn't it great how we all approach things differently :o) Pob luck i bawb/good luck to all
These night schools (I do two) are less than 10 miles from work so I can stop at the chip shop on the way to class, get there early enough to eat and do my homework before class....LOL
Some years ago, when I was learning Italian (A level/Bacc) and German (Level 3) I was driving 50 miles (80km) each way after work because these were my nearest classes. (The internet had barely been invented back then). I used to miss an evening meal until I realised a supermarket on the route had a cafe/restaurant and I could get a reasonable meal there on the way in. I was also swimming a mile (1600m) before work each morning. I slept well!
With Welsh, as well as the 2 evening classes (2 hours each) I go to as many of the Saturday or weekend schools as possible - 3 or weekends and maybe 6 or 7 of 9 Saturday schools. The result is that I have done 4 years' learning in 2, just because it suits me that way.
The important thing is to do what suits you and what fits with your life. When I had to travel more with work, I had to give up night school.
Have you heard the story of the jar of rocks?
50 miles each way to night class after work???!!!! That's too admirable, I'm speechless!! No one will ever be able to complain about not having time to do Duolingo any more!
Which jar of rocks are you talking about? The one that was filled up with sands by a professor? Or the one with water in it, by the thirsty bird?
I heard it as beer - no matter how full you life, there's still time for beer with a friend. The professor story. Just decide whether the language is a rock, a pebble or sand....then quit worrying and enjoy :o)
Thank you for asking the original question and for being so gracious with all the answers.
So much truth in what you said! I do have a realistic goal because I am slow. But establishing a routine is like character building, takes a long time. My streak shows that I'm weak in that aspect. As for taking a break, your streak shows that you haven't taken any break! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!!
Just do what I do, and make sure you always have a streak freeze equipped :)
With that said though, I make the effort to do some Duolingo everyday. Even if I'm really tired, I try to at least do some revision, rather than learn new material. But the streak freeze has saved my streak more than a few times :/
I'm not qualified to comment on learning several languages at a time, but I do enjoy watching videos uploaded by polyglots on Youtube, if it helps you at all (although, you're getting lots of great responses here)
You might also be interested in the subjects of productivity and routine/habit creation in general, not just related to language learning (which you can then apply to language learning).
You're totally qualified to comment! Yes, I got lots of great responses but yours is a great idea that nobody else mentioned yet, ".... if I'm really tired, I try to at least do some revision, rather than learn new material". That's a brilliant way to keep ourselves going, at the same time not to burn out when we're tired. I did just that today and feels good, thanks to your timely suggestion!
You also mentioned "productivity and routine/habit creation", that IS my weakness in many aspects of my life. (Look at my streak.) I'll apply your "revision" method to build other good habits. But if you know other effective ways of habit-building (other than working really hard, sorry....) please let me know.
Thank you so much!!
I have 6 languages on my profile, but I'm only actively learning three of them (the others are ones I intend learning in the future, but don't have time at the moment).
I try and practice either Norwegian or German each morning, even if it's just one exercise. Then whichever I haven't practiced that morning I will work on in my lunch hour. I downloaded a Norwegian version of 'Little Women' for a whole 99p and I'm working through that with the English version alongside on three days a week, then I have some learn German with stories books for the other two days. I also found a free kindle version of 'Heidi' in the original German, but that's a bit beyond me at the moment...
I'm finding now that when I come across Norwegian articles online I can understand a fair bit of them, so it seems to be working. German I find a little harder for some reason.
I don't work on the French so often, but I was at a much higher level with that when I joined Duolingo. I have a couple of kindle books and I'm reading those as and when, and then just working through some of the exercises on here when I have time, mostly to help refresh the grammar.
I've always loved learning languages but this is the first time I've managed to sustain the learning. I think a big part of that is the fact that I've managed to fit the learning into my free time, rather than trying to make time to learn. And I think that becuase I'm learning more by exposing myself to the languages this time, rather than the traditional 'lesson' mode that I've used in the past I'm finding it more intuitive, and can feel myself progressing.
This is really admirable! So, on top of Duolingo, your language routine is as regular as your daily meals. Furthermore, you have a unique "procedure" for each language individually. You made the learning process seem so peaceful and pleasant! (On a different note, your post reads almost like a short story out of a literature collection; there's a poise/elegance in your writing style. Maybe that's because you read so much!) I hope to find my own "peaceful and pleasant" routine soon. Thank you so much!
It's about enjoying yourself learning about these languages and respective cultures. There are many reasons to enjoy learning multiple languages at once aside from attempting to achieve exponentially more than with learning just one. Some those reasons are to learn the multiple languages from the same family, i.e. Modern Hebrew and Modern Standard Arabic or Russian and Ukrainian or Spanish, Catalan and French, etc... While respective people(s) may greatly vary, and some not at all, realizing all the similarities and shared qualities makes it very enjoyable and worthwhile. On top of that, you are learning another set of languages! Another reason is to learn more about the people you may be interested in and no quicker way than to learn their language. Perhaps there are those who may be able to understand a culture or a people without knowing their language -- haven't met any, yet! -- but nothing is better than knowing their language. As they say, "if you speak to a person in the language they understand, it's received to their head, but if you speak in the language of that person, it is received by their heart." (it's an old Arab proverb I am paraphrasing, perhaps you may have heard other versions of it)
Hope this helps to understand why someone would tackle multiple languages at once. I think the most important factor being is trying to enjoy this amazing learning process and the magnificent journey it puts you on. Good luck!
Thank you so much! The reason I want to learn different languages is similar to what you said. I hope to be able to read letters written by Goethe or Cezanne, and notes written by Beethoven or (someday) da Vinci, without having to rely on translations. Adding Italian has been on my mind, but I should straighten out what I already have first. Thank you so much for sharing your noble reasons!
In my case, for at least six of the languages I have in my list (English, French, German, Italian and Danish. Korean too, but to an incredibly lesser extent, since I know way less of it originally than with the others), Duolingo is not as much as for learning as it is for reviewing what I already know.
In the cases of the other languages, I have several reasons to pick them and keep going as much as I can: They are similar to languages I already know and can also be useful work-wise (Norwegian, Swedish, Dutch), I need them for potential future projects/research (Japanese, Czech), I've wanted to learn them for a long while because I love the countries and cultures they are from (Irish, Greek), or just because I am a big nerd that loves her fantasy books too much and still dreams of having her own dragon (High Valyrian).
I think that because I keep those motivations/explanations in mind I manage to keep on going (or at least have managed for 51 days now!). But the thing is to be patient, specially if Duolingo is your first foray into a language (try not to make it the last!).
Also, something that I am about to start to do myself as I've found that it worked for me in several other things is to note down what I learn here by hand. No idea why but it works wonders for me.
The reason writing down helps is because it uses both the reading and kinesthetic learning modes. There are four modes in total, visual (pictures) and aural (listening). Duolingo does well in hitting 3.5 out of 4 - typing is the closest they can get!
We all have preferred modes of learning - most people favour 1 with a strong second. There are tests you can do to find out your natural mode(s). Some of us are equally strong in all four - which is why, I think, that learning seems to come easier to some people - we're not "brighter/cleverer", just able to take in the information in whichever form the teacher provides.
Teachers now are taught to teach in all modes, but years ago, less was understood, so teachers often taught in their preferred mode, to the detriment of students who favoured others.
Sorry - I got carried away! I just wanted to say there is a rational reason for writing things down!! And I love your varied reasons for learning all those languages. I too am looking for my dragon...
No need to apologise at all! It's something I have been wondering for a while (like my grades in a language or subject significantly improved if I made a handwritten copy of my notes along with what I had in my tablet/computer) and now that I see it rationally explained I understand it! Though now I might have to check for tests regarding my modes of learning because it got me really really curious. Is there any that you could particularly recommend me?
(And oh, the dragon. One of these days, one of these days...)
I haven't used any of the online ones. I did a paper one about five years ago - I'm not sure where the notes are, but I'm happy to share them if/when I find them!
Wwikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Learning_styles has a summary of the various theories
This teaching website https://teach.com/what/teachers-teach/learning-styles/ has a short summary and link to a test. I tried the test but got a "downtime" error message, no idea if that's temporary or permanent
This site https://www.learning-styles-online.com/overview/ looks interesting and has a link to a test. It has 70 questions (the paper one I did had 40 or 50) so I don't have time to test drive it tonight ;o)
At school, I took near verbatim notes in History and Geography and then wrote them up "in neat" later - often at half term/term holidays! - and found I rarely need to revise for the exams. Sometimes I found myself checking things as I copied them out.
The Welsh night school I go to emphasises speaking to the point that they discourage students from writing...something that really annoyed me because my language skills are very visual. I remember little vocabulary unless I write it out because I don't read words they way most people do. Most of the homework is gap filling but I found I learnt nothing in the first month or two, until I started copying out the question sheets and then filling in the blanks in a different colour (to make marking easier for the tutor). Suddenly, I was speaking much more confidently.
Hope all this helps - human (and other animal) brains are facinating.
I haven't read anything this wonderful in a long time: "I am a big nerd that loves her fantasy books too much and still dreams of having her own dragon...." You must have a beautiful life! Thank you so much for sharing your very unique experiences with the languages, whether it's for professional reason, for mere interest, for convenience, or for "a dream", it's just wonderful to see how you have different relationships with different languages!
You're right about being patient and keeping the motivation in our mind. It did get me through lots of tough time in life. And, writing things down does make a big difference! It's when I am writing I'll realize that I don't really remember everything; a good way to evaluate what we really learned. Thank you again for such a unique post. I can't wait for you to have your own dragon soon!!
cd52, thanks for starting this fascinating thread! I've only been at this for a short time but the comments here are whetting my appetite to try more languages. Someone on another thread said that Hebrew was insanely difficult to learn, and I am doing a lot of repeating the basic beginning lessons, but I'm enjoying it nonetheless. I'd like to try something completely different, like Welsh, and maybe something very practical, like Spanish. Duolingo is like a virtual candy shop and nobody is here to stop us from eating as much as we want! LOL :)
I'm so grateful to all who selflessly shared their experiences and wanted to help. There were also a few comments written by people like me (with less languages) who are as curious. They are my kinder spirit at Duolingo!
Yes, it's "all you can eat" here, and you won't be suffering from stomachache no matter how much you eat! The comments also reminded me that, this is the perfect place to try as many languages as we want, and find out how many really will work for us. Best of luck with your Hebrew learning!
Some people can learn different languages and not get them mixed up but I think most people get confused. I can only learn one at a time (I even got confused when I was learning ASL alongside of Swahili!) (I have English on here too because I'm testing something for Duolingo). It's pretty impressive though, how hard these people work to learn so many languages!
I'm one of those that get confused, that's why I was hoping people with experiences would have some tips to share. So far I've picked up a few from these replies, I'm very grateful. Your comment is so valuable, too. It reminds me the importance of being focused, and that works for everything in life. Thank you so much!
So that means you've finished at least 5 trees!! I think I'll adopt that into my plan. One thing at a time makes perfect sense. Thank you so much for the valuable tip!! Trees aside, you'll hit 1000th day in 2 weeks!! Any plan for celebration? I'm so excited about it even though it's non of my business... :)
Currently I am only studying four languages actively. Russian, Dutch, Czech and Hebrew. The only ”new” language for me is Hebrew. I grew up with some basic knowledge of Dutch as one of my grandmothers is from the Netherlands, and took courses in Russian (2 years) and Czech (1 year) at the university.
4-5 languages is still a lot! With such impressive record and the long streak, you showed a lot of dedication. To be able to keep it fun at this level, you must really love languages! I hope I'll feel the same way when I get to where you are, if I manage to get there.... Thank you so much for sharing!