https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

How many languages is too many languages? (Debate) (Open Discussion)

I thought this was an interesting concept because on duolingo you always see people learning about ten different languages so it got me thinking. It would seem as though this would slow you down on learning languages because you might be practicing spanish for example but then not get any practice in for french or not be as focused. This also probably depends on your passion and reasons to learn a certain language. For example, if you want to learn a language to go to that place someday, then you might learn the language better than a person who is just doing it in their free time or just for show. Like I said earlier with the people learning 5+ languages, they usually are very experienced in a few languages but have barely done any lessons in the other languages, which might mean they want to learn multiple languages, but want to learn one over another. However, the people learning multiple languages usually are getting 1000+ XP a week. Lastly, it probably mostly depends on what kind of a learner you are, and how fast you learn.

Why learning multiple languages at a time might be ineffective:

  • More focused on learning one over the other, might not get as experienced in the other language

  • Might mix up words for different languages - getting confused

  • The more languages, the less time to practice each language

  • While learning languages is fun and useful, it's still very hard, especially to be learning multiple at a time

After researching a bit, I found a few articles that were interesting:

In conclusion, how many languages do you think one person can be learning without decreasing how effectively they're learning the language? In other words, how many languages could someone learn at one time before they are falling behind and not actually learning the language? I know a lot of people are going to answer, "you can learn as much languages as you want as long as you put your mind to it," and that may be true, but it might not be as effective as mastering one language as a time. Thanks for reading! Feel free to discuss in the comments.

November 23, 2017

46 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/Kansokusha

Any more than you can really concentrate on is already too many.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/LeCrioxRouge13

If he is expecting to learn all of that at the same time, he is dead wrong. Even I can't handle learning 5 at the same time that I want to learn! Romanian,Dutch,French,German and Esperanto. I also want to learn Russian but that's just, yea, no.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/OmegaGmaster

That user seems like a tree conquerer, interested in trees and not much else. Glad I'm not like that.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3

Quoth the user with flags for 20 languages... (I grant the possibility of non-immediately-transparent self-deprecating humor) You like exploring languages. 30-tree user likes exploring languages. 30-tree user has just put more time in. And, since I happen to recognize who 30-tree user is, 30-tree user is obviously interested in a heck of a lot more than trees. 30-tree user is a young non-native English speaker with an admirable command of English. I can't speak to 30-tree user's purported significant command of additional languages (poorly reflected in forum flair), but I definitely don't suppose it to be utter fabrication.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Kansokusha

The point is not the user (however young and seemingly promising he might be), the point is the unnecessary plethora of unattended languages for whom has only ever shown results (and especially dedication) for only two languages. The rest is flaunting matter.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Dcarl1

Maybe they just want to dip their toes in and see what the language is like. Nothing wrong with that. It’s not like you are fluent at level 10.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Kansokusha

Exactly, you're not fluent from a mere level 10 to which you got from only glancing at the contents, which in term makes it pointless to dip your toes in if you're simply going to forget everything you worked for. From there comes my answer.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/KVRMx

Yep. True.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

I agree.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Hermesianax

I generally tend to agree that you can better focus on a few languages, but you do not really know how fast this particular user picks up languages. Levels on DuoLingo only reflect the experience you have gained, which on its turn reflects the time you have put into a particular tree - not language, mind you, only that particular tree. Look at his Catalan level, for example. He could have only learned that using Spanish as its base language, which means that his Spanish is probably better than you might have gathered from his level 15 flag in Spanish-from-English (presumably). Catalan is the only example we can be sure of, but he might have done other trees in base languages other than English.

Besides, maybe this user thinks DuoLingo is not that useful for him after he has completed the tree, after which he moves on to other, more challenging methods? You can call him a tree conqueror, but completing a tree in and of itself is an accomplishment. You should maintain your language after just the tree, of course, but it's his choice how he chooses to do that, with or without Duo.

Or he is a show-off who doesn't really speak any of these languages. I don't know. but I find some of the reactions here a bit presumptuous and jealous.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Kansokusha

The point is not the user (however young and seemingly promising he might appear), the point is the unnecessary plethora of unattended languages for whom has only ever shown results with only two languages. The rest is flaunting matter. (Look it up, he only ever replies in either English or Spanish, sometimes only to tell other people, list in hand, how many languages he's doing... like in the example shown in the picture above)

but you do not really know how fast this particular user picks up languages.
Or he is a show-off who doesn't really speak any of these languages. I don't know

Believe me. I know. I only tell things as they are.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/hanspersson

The point appears to be that you want everyone to handle their language interest in the same way as you do.

November 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Kansokusha

If that's what you want to believe... but do take into account that I can obviously only answer from my perspective, and my perspective is that the limit to effectively learn multiple languages at a time is far less than thirty (and not necessarily only one)...

Am I, or am I not allowed to express that perspective?

November 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Hermesianax

I have read your comment before commenting myself, no need for copy-pasting it.

"The point is not the user": at least one other user managed to recognise him, despite the fact that you crossed out his name. Wouldn't the same point have been made clear by just stating that having a lot of unattended languages is not a good thing, without ❤❤❤❤❤❤❤❤ on the accomplishments of others?

'unnecessary plethora of unattended languages": how do you know they are unattended? How do you know what this user has done outside of DuoLingo with it? And even if his DuoLingo account reflects his actual language learning: what of it? Maybe he is a linguistics geek who wants to get a better understanding of the many different language systems in the world without actually getting to higher levels of proficiency. Like I said, I don't know, but you don't either.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/matfran2001

I don't know, I guess it obviously depends on each person, and it also depends on what level of proficiency we are talking about ("real" proficiency, because Duolingo level 25 means nothing, really; it is barely correlated (if at all) with real proficiency in a language).

I am the one who said (in another thread) that I do it mostly for fun and out of curiosity about languages in general (that is, at first I had no goal whatsoever, just curiosity about the structure of the different languages, the very different ways in which humans have developed abstract symbolic systems to express, more or less, the very same ideas and things).

I am a Mathematician, so my curiosity for abstract structures was always there, but I only started to get interested in, and curious about, languages about two years ago, when I discovered Duolingo.

So I started working a lot on many different trees, just to "feel" the structure of each language, the elements and the corresponding rules that relate them. And then I like to think about the "homomorfism" between any two languages.

After a lot of practice, I suddenly realized that I could, more or less and making quite an effort, read children's books in several languages. So during many months I basically read all the children's books I could find in French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Esperanto and German (the first languages that I started here two years ago). After a while, reading children's books in those languages was automatic, fast and effortless, so I turned to adult's books (in those six languages).

At the same time, I started more languages here (Norwegian, Romanian, Russian, Dutch, and very recently, Japanese, Chinese and Korean). Again, I love to watch these many other ways (these "new" abstract symbolic structures, that is, languages) that humans use to again express the very same ideas and things.

I don't know if in another two years I will be able to read automatically, fast and effortlessly adult books in all these additional languages or not, (I don't even care right now) but I will be obviously happy if that is the case (even if that is not a goal per se).

So each person is different, and has his/her own motivation and tastes (and different skills too to begin with), that is why your question does not have a unique answer.

Only you will know how many is too many for you :-)

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/gabzerbinatoEng

You're actually just pointing out that the number of languages is inversely proportional to the overall fluency achieved in a given time set. Thus, only one language gets the higher accomplishments. However the result is closely tied to your learning efficiency, which would be how much you learn in a given time. Even though you reject the 'as much as you want' answer, in fact it takes in account the logical compensation between learning fast and studying a lot. Therefore, I'd say that the optimal number is the one you can yield the most from.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

I don't reject that answer, I tried to say it in a way that people would be aware that I knew that and allow for a deeper conversation rather than people repeating the same thing, and I would agree that you can learn any amount of languages with time and effort, but it all depends on the person and their learning strategies. The point of this thread is basically to see how others think and learn something as complex as different languages, and find connections through them.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/_.white.kid._

I would think maybe two languages would be enough. I am attempting to do Spanish and German and I am not getting confused. I think more than two would be too much.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Joseph437

The languages I'm learning now are a little too much because Italian and Spanish words are VERY similar. I don't want to go to Italy or Spain speaking mixed words. I would say 3 at the most. Learning too much definitely confuses you.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Dcarl1

Exactly. For me two was too much. I tried French and Italian at the same time in college and gave up Italian, as my much stronger French kept screwing it up. Here I also tried Italian and Spanish, and found it difficult.

Yet I have friends in the foreign service who have accomplished fluency in multiple languages. It all depends on your own capacity.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchByte

If they are all from different places and have different alphabets and written forms, you can learn a lot.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

Yeah, I've seen other people saying four so its probably around that range of 2-4, depending on how much the person can handle.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/.Multilinguality

To learn at a time, I'd say 1-2, maybe 3 if they have enough time.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

I agree. As a student, I find it hard to make time for duolingo so I could probably fit in more languages if I had more time.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Hermesianax

As far as DuoLingo goes: one. At least that is my personal preference: working on a tree, regilding it, and then move on to other stuff. Ignore the Greek and Swedish flags, they are poorly maintained trees and were little more than experiments.

But it isn't as simple as that. I have now conquered the French tree with Italian as base language, which means that I was effectively learning French ánd Italian at the same time. My plan is to use French in similar ways on DuoLingo, while I'll gradually move Italian to other methods until I don't use it anymore - on this platform, at least.

In the "real" world, I speak and read Italian and English and encounter French and German texts. In the sense that you are never done learning a language - and considering my rather poor English pronunciation, that's very much true - I am currently engaging in four modern languages aside from my native tongue. I'd say that at a later stage in my life, that number will have gone up to about 5-6.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Fergus138287

four is plenty. since i have learned a bit of chinese,a touch of spanish and a bit of romanian and a bunch of french,i have been able to do this many.

so im saying about 4 is good.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

That sounds reasonable.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Ellis930361

I'm learning at a slow pace, but thourough. Every day I practice, so I can get the most out of it. I'm focusing on mastering a few languages at a time. Better fluent in a few languages than recognize five words of seventy languages, I think. It's cool if you are bi, or tri, lingual! :D

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

I agree.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3

I think it largely depends on how many languages you've studied in the past. Learning a language isn't really a thing you finish.

Also matters a lot what time frame you have in mind for achieving certain milestones and how closely related the languages you're learning are to ones you already have a strong background in. For instance, if a Russian speaker decided to learn the other Slavic languages offered on Duolingo as well as two or three other languages, it wouldn't take probably a whole lot more than the relevant trees to be able to understand a lot of native content in the other Slavic languages, at which point they could just listen to news, etc in them and focus their Duolingo time on the other languages, making 5 or 6 languages total a fairly reasonable mark. Of course the competency attained will correspond to the effort expended: this person will obviously be better at understanding the other Slavic languages than speaking or, all the more so, writing them.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/alHadzya

You know I almost always agree with your carefully thoughtout opinions... While I mostly agree with you on this, I think it comes down to the number of years one has dedicated to a language or languages, never mind the quality of instruction... I wholeheartedly believe, through personal experience or not, aforementioned is the key to achieving functional proficiency at the very least.

For the OP: I don't believe there is such a thing as knowing too many languages. Each language brings out unique qualities in their own right a learner (hopefully) strives to attain.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3

I hold your interventions in high regard myself. You're right of course. I had it mind "studied" as in "studied to some cognizable level of proficiency," but in the context of this discussion, yeah, actually spelling that out would have been wise!

I would note that some people seem to cast about for years not achieving a whole lot. This was certainly my experience with Russian for a long while, although I'd had a reasonable level of success with more familiar languages previously.

November 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/missy20201

I'm a perfectionist, myself... So while I say the sky's the limit for how many languages to learn in your life (there have been people who've known hundreds, and the quotes I've seen from them are very humble. It's interesting!), I'm sticking to one at a time. I see people base their 'readiness to start another language' off their level in said language on DL, and I think it's strange. Not the least because you continually earn XP through simple practices without necessarily learning more information.

As it is, I'd like to finish my Spanish tree before delving too deeply into a second language (Chinese next. I have a book I've been working through, breaking down the hanzi radicals and stroke order, which is good, since those aren't given by DL. I know a good handful of characters really well. The ones I saw on DL the first time, I still haven't a clue...)

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/FreeHelicopters

Years ago I learned how to say hello in bengali and the response. 10 years later I really surprised someone at a job with that simple knowledge. Learning how to say a few simple sayings in other languages is worth it. If I see a hard worker from some other county I learn the basic hello on my own. Not if they are spanish speakers tho, so common in the U.S. everyone know hola. Russian, Polish, Bengali, Arabic etc hellos get a very positive response.

However putting any real study past that without trying to become fluent seems a real waste of time.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/piguy3

Granted, it depends a lot on the language environment in question, but your paragraph-length point here contains the logic of why your sentence-length point needn't hold. The most basic pleasantries can yield a smile as you rely on the other person's English ability to actually communicate. A few more words and you can dramatically facilitate the accomplishing of things if the person in question doesn't speak English. For example, because I knew how to say, "I don't speak Armenian" and the words for "bad," "eyes," "eight," and "zero," I wound up helping a man in Yerevan get on the right bus.

And even if you never leave home (maybe even particularly if you never leave home), you could target learning to understand a language well, a skill that is easier to integrate into one's daily life than actually speaking or writing in another language. (Of course the notion of "reading fluency" exists, but I don't think it's what most people have in mind when they mention "fluent."

November 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchByte

There's no too many, kid. It really depends, you know.

The so-called polyglot is enthusiastic enough to learn many languages and is probably happy that it will likely pay off.

BTW, it's "too many", not "too much". Grammar rules, you know. Languages are one of the so-called "countable nouns".

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/OmegaGmaster

I agree with all you said and it pretty much sums up my learning philosophy.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

Fixed the mistake. Thanks for pointing it out.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/FrenchByte

You're welcome! Please forgive me if I sounded a bit harsh there...

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/Maughanster_

I agree.

November 24, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/EmperorDalek11

Honestly, I think how ever many. I'm only learning two right now. But that's because my boyfriends family is Spanish and my last name, Leveille, is French. It's pronounced Livia.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/MarcelBal

What works for me is something like this: Hebrew was my seventh language and I started it when I had reached level 7 in each of my first six languages. I will start Chinese (language 8) when I reach level 8 in Hebrew.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/LeCrioxRouge13

You mean "too many" right?

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

Yup, stupid mistake on my part. It's fixed now though.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/lizzafb

Personally, I think it just depends on your skill level. But if the languages are all quite similar, then yes, in some cases it would be confusing. But mastering one, and then starting another and repeating that, I don't think that's too many. It just depends on how much the person can handle.

November 23, 2017

https://www.duolingo.com/kathryn89

Yeah.

November 24, 2017
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