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https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Learners of Multiple Languages

What have YOU experienced?

I am an American English native speaker. I studied Spanish 4 years in high school. I worked hard at it, really hard. But I still couldn't really read or speak it without a LOT of work. Like native speakers went waaay too fast for me! But I could be understood and read pretty well.

Then I took a year of French in college. It came more easily because I understood how tenses and conjugation and masculine/feminine sounds worked. I worked really hard at it. Then when I went to France, I could barely understand them, and when I tried to speak, they said it was an unintelligible mixture of Spanish and French!!

I dubbed the phenomenon language confusion. It really seemed like the Spanish and the French vocab for the same word was too close together in my brain... Like "foreign word for sea" "la mer"/"el mar". Did you ever experienced this?

Now I'm doing Japanese, and I didn't want to do Spanish or French before I went to Japan. But then I ended up in Montreal, and had no trouble with the French. And it didn't seem to mess up my Japanese on the trip (after 6 months of DuoLingo) (It all came out Japanese when I spoke, not a mix).

So when I got back, I decided "why not?" And tried French and Spanish on Duolingo. I enjoyed it! But those two are getting mixed up again.

Since my ancestors came from China, I want to learn Chinese. I had two years at the junior college 10 years ago. But I'm also afraid it's going to mess up my Japanese.

Your experiences?

Other questions:. How do you used the language you have learned?

November 8, 2019

30 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Judit294350

I have studied Hungarian for years - and had lots of exposure to native speakers. It wasn't until about 500 hours of formal tuition (after I got myself through beginner level with books and tapes etc) that I began understanding normal conversations.

In contrast we conversed and listened to French from day one and that - or how close French is to English - meant that understanding conversations and speaking came easier and sooner.

Over the decades I've dabbled in about a dozen languages (but only four seriously) and can only remember once confusing them. I had watched a French film the night before I was working with my Hungarian tutor and when she asked a question in Hungarian I answered (correctly apparently) in French.

And here is another thought. In my experience, translating to and from English is not generally done past absolute beginner (except in Latin). I suspect this limits the confusion as you are switched into the language completely.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Hmmm... Food for thought in your post. I'll bet you are correct that if I'd lived in France for a while and increased speaking in French, my Spanish confusion would fade. I think that the last time I was in France for a week straight (and I even dreamed a bit in French) that I was on the cusp of a breakthrough.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Xanren

I have mixed languages up plenty of times and they're not even from the same language family, I think it would be worse if they were really similar related languages.

I once code switched to Welsh in the middle of a story I was telling in Japanese because I think I got stuck on the word and my brain knew I was trying to speak Japanese rather than English so just threw out a non-English ending to my sentence.

(I promptly put myself to bed).

I've also panicked in French and answered a question in Japanese because my brain knew "not English" and the Japanese response came to my brain before the French one so my tongue just went with it.

It happens to native bilingual speakers all the time, especially when distracted or tired, I wouldn't worry too much about it, as the more you progress with your languages, the less it tends to happen, and even when it does, you are either understood anyway or you correct yourself.

One of my friends from Hong Kong also learns Japanese with me and knowing the writing system of Chinese started out as a hindrance for him, I remember him telling me the Japanese kanji for the noun "book" was the same as the Cantonese for the verb "to read" and things like that threw him off a lot.

However as we continued to learn, it went from being a hindrance to a huge help for him as he was able to make associations due to the written familiarity and identify the faux amis, the words in each language that looked the same but were not.

I also experience this in french due to the similarities with English, so it seems a common phenomena among multilingual speakers.

Mixing words up in other languages is often a good learning moment too, either because it is embarrassing or really funny, either way it tends to stick in your brain from that moment on!

I think it is something to plough through as it does happen less and less the more you progress in your learning and use of the languages but it's also not something to be scared or ashamed of at all, just keep going!

I hope you do get to learn Chinese too and good luck with your studies!

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

XANREN... Interesting that the language switching can work it's way in even when the languages aren't similar!! (I was LOL when you said you out yourself to bed!)

I know what "cognates" are (similar words in multiple languages); but now, thanks to your post I have this gem "faux amis" (words that oughta be cognates but aren't). Thank you for that.

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/ChevyBarnes05

I was told by a teenage Chilean student that my Spanish was understandable, made sense - I even spoke at a good speed.

Except that when I talked it sounded bland.

I don't think he was trying to be rude, but I sort of had to refrain myself from flawing his English. I've taken that comment, and I'm starting to use it as a strength.

Basically, I have trouble with people my own age. They don't really like formality. They appreciate slang (which I even took a few days to learn a LOT of!).

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SmashCookie

Yeah I sort of have a similar problem with English-French, since language courses, apps or books aren't as broad to cover all social and cultural experiences a native has, they won't contain all the vocab or the connotations used in colloquial contexts, so we aren't as fluent in social interactions that require extra knowledge of particular vocab and understanding cultural nuances.

When I try to mingle with my American friends I feel my expression is stilted, I form really contrived sentences, my pace's slow, and since I don't know as many different expressions that would be more appropiate-understandable for the context I feel I don't have as meaningful social interactions as natives have among themselves.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Smash cookie and Chevy Barnes, I got some really great books on "idioms" to expand my "natural speech", but it seems that many of my language-learning peers are going to internet videos and movies to observe and learn "more natural" speech. Chevy, "bland"? That really makes sense as a comment. Not poetry, or fiery prose, or interesting lyrics...

For what it's worth, smash cookie, I thought your post read wonderfully!

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vetyr_Cylni

I have trouble understanding native speakers when they speak fast. As for mixing up words, Its actually an extremely common phenomenon, it even happens with people who are fluent in the languages they are learning. More or less. I think im somewhere near fluent in Russian, but I dont really mix it up with English.

Chinese sounds neat, do any of your relatives speak it? Im learning Spanish, and I have wanted to revert to speaking in Russian at times. Wierdest part? My 1st language is English(I use Russian a lot at home thought).

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Impressed with your Russian!
Our family came over in the late 1800s and banned speaking native tongues in the house ASAP.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Vetyr_Cylni

Thanks! Shannon, huh, that’s interesting. So you weren’t allowed to speak any other language at home?

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Well, that was in my great grandparents house where the Chinese and Irish made my grandpa and sibling speak only English. My parents only spoke English, it was all they knew.

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/HomeDespot

I am an American English native speaker.

How do you used the language

Story checks out, definitely an Alabama native. :'D

Anyway, I don't confuse languages. I think it's because I "think" and speak them in a different voice from other languages. My Portuguese voice tends to be lower, while Spanish or Italian is comparatively higher. Ultimately, for me, the culprit is music.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AibXYTp3xRE

Roberto Paiva, 1956. I can't imagine him sounding like this more modern (and horribly crude) Spanish song:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOpzrSptXrE

If you think of it as imitating another person in the target language, rather than plain ol' you trying to speak that language, perhaps it'll help you keep them separate. If your favorite character from a movie or TV show, or a singer, celebrity, or whoever else is the basis for how you mentally "hear" a certain word, it will be easier to keep track of what languages those words go to, and the little Jacques Chirac on your shoulder won't be able to slip in French words while you're speaking Chinese.

Just make sure the person you're listening to isn't universally derided, or you'll wind up sounding like a foreign equivalent of Steve Urkel.

November 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

HomeDespot, first, roflcopter on the name. Ha!!

I hate to malign native Alabaman's from a stoopid typo. Ewps!

The "character voice" idea is BRILLIANT! Particularly for me (a brash, bossy American lady) attempting to speak Japanese in Japan! I have to keep telling myself: smiling, demure... It didn't work, but I kept trying!!

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/CelestineMoon

Andddd...that's part of the reason I won't try to learn Korean or Japanese (again).

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Celestine, what is your primary second language? With so much crossover between Korean/Japanese/Chinese I suspect the kanji are the same and the words related, but different pronunciation between then, so that it may be a confusing MESS!

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Tracy382545

There are times when doing Duolingo lessons I'll put English in when they want french and french in when they want English. haha It has happened. :) The good thing about Sicilian and Italian is that they are SIMILAR but DIFFERENT in a "good" way as it helps me get what both are when trying to say the same phrase. I'll be learning Italian with a tutor January. :) I'm taking Sicilian on Memrise. This will help me with that. Many times I will listen to french natives when the speak on tv and it goes so fast I get a couple to a few things here and there. However, It doesn't discourage me, it FUELS me! :) I love how it sounds and the "flow" of it! This is why I'm determined to learn it one on one again! I'm taking other languages on Memrise and I don't get those mixed up. However, on here, the English gets mixed up with french but the other languages don't get mixed up with other languages. Go figure! :) Perhaps start out with different languages first to keep them separate and then go back to Spanish and learn it alongside Japanese or a language you can't confuse. It's EASY for me to do it with the DIFFERENT one's I want learn! haha You could learn Chinese with French. Some day I hope to take Japanese and Korean AND Ainu, however, I'll learn them separately :) See if separating will help. :) I wish you much luck on your language learning journey! :)

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AndresGarner

I started learning Spanish on Aug. 12, 2018. So I have now been learning for about a year and 4 months. My Spanish level is in the advanced stages of B1. I can understand most of what I hear and I can express what I need to say most of the time (although sometimes communication can be a bit difficult depending on the situation and with what accent the other person has.)
I also dabble in Mandarin Chinese and Arabic (When someone is trying to learn multiple languages at one time normally they have their main focus, which in my case is Spanish, and then they will dabble in a few others.)

To use Spanish I just watch shows, listen to music, and basically just have tried to change everything I do in my free time from English to Spanish (it has really helped my listening comprehension) To practice speaking I live in the U.S so it really isn't much of a problem to find Spanish speakers, but I use Italki.com a lot because a lot of times natives on the street aren't going to correct your Spanish because they are trying to be polite, but with a tutor, you can speak 30 - 90 min. worth of whatever language you want, while you are learning about a different culture, having natural conversations, and getting corrected by a native.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Wow, Andres! It is super-impressive how you accelerated your Spanish learning!

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Darius568602

I remember when I just moved to Switzerland, after living in Paris for a year, I'd often start to speak in the wrong language. The problem was compounded by the fact that there were people from all over the world where I lived. I'd speak Dutch to some, English or German to a lot of them and occasionally French as well.

I remember a long monologue in French to a Dutch volunteer after I just finished an interaction with a French person! She stood there grinning and nodding and finally said: I didn't understand a word of that, can you start again in Dutch, English or German, please?

Sometimes, when speaking German, the correct word wouldn't come and instead I'd remember the French word for it. I'd simply use that and put a German ending on it, or conjugated it the German way. f.i. 'Bicyclettieren' (correct: Rad fahren).

November 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Darius, that's a nice story about the Dutch/French etc. The one time that I was in the Netherlands, wandering around, confused, a person came up to me to help and started with, "Which language? Dutch? German? French? English?" (All said in the proper language for their own language...I couldn't do it). I was so blown away, I decided then and there that I wanted to raise my children in the Netherlands so they would be fluently multilingual. (Did not happen, but a girl can dream...)

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/SmashCookie

Hi well let's see said the blind man.

Your experiences?

I tend to speak portunhol when I don't know a word in Portuguese and sometimes although I mess up words in French-Portuguese and once in a blue moon between German-English, French-English.

That became less of a problem when I started to learn the pronunciation. Now when I think of a shared or similar word between two languages I remember how is it pronounced and that way I can get it correctly. I think as long as adquiere more experience-exposure in both those languages you'll have less confusions with the vocab, grammar and syntax.

Other questions:. How do you used the language you have learned?

I rarely use my langs, but when I do is to make certain past century historic jokes with Germans, fat jokes with Americans, surrender jokes with French and 7-1 jokes with Brazilians. I've the impression foreingers don't like me very much tho, idk why...

I also use my languages on Duo forums and certain chat servers from time to time.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Swedefinlinguist

I have experienced that learning many different languages is a blessing and curse at the same time. I love to learn new grammar features and the feeling I get when I start to get the hang of a language that was foreign to me.

I feel it is important to spend 3-6 month exclusively on one language before moving on the others. I feel, this applies especially if you are in the beginning stages of learning a language.

I try to use the languages that I have learned like if I am a native speaker. So I try find newspapers/radio stations in my languages. Watch films in the languages that I am learning et cetera.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

Swedefinlinguist, I look forward to the day that I can understand "at speed".

Your name makes me think you have some Nordic languages? My father's side comes from Finland, so I expect that I will try those languages someday...

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Swedefinlinguist

Yeah, actually I use as a "internet handle" the name Swedishfinngermanophile, unfortunately duolingo has a very ridged naming policies so I had to adapt.

Anyway the Swedishfinn part of my name comes from the fact that I am a member of the Swedish speaking Finns of Finland. There are some quite common misconceptions (none of which bothers me that much) but I won't get into them unless you ask about them.

Germanophile comes from the fact that I love the German language, and the general area of Austria/Northern Italy/etc.

My mother tongue is Swedish and I am (80-90 %) fairly certain that my ancestors migrated from Sweden (rather than assimilated by learning Swedish).

Since I live in Finland (Greater Helsinki metropolitan area), I do speak it fluently but I don't have the same sort of emotional attachment that I have to other Scandinavian/Germanic languages. I do understand German well but there are some grammatical features that render my speaking abilities a bit so and so.

I would like to learn Norwegian/Danish and possibly Icelandic as well. Even Estonian for a language blog/language learning website project that I am dreaming about.

Right now I am focused on improving my Romance languages, after those I'll probably work through the Germanic ones while at the same time dip my toes into the Slavic ones and some other prestige languages.

November 12, 2019, 1:51 PM

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AnnaVBananas

My French was learned long enough ago (when I was a kid) that it's fairly solid (albeit ungrammatical), so I don't seem to get confused between French and Italian (though school French and Latin are helping enormously with learning Italian). However, I have realised that it's either/or but not both for me with Italian and Spanish; they are just too close to each other.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/AishahSaza

Back then when I took classes for Japanese, I often caught myself wanting to answer my (native) Japanese teacher in Korean. That was because my Korean level was slightly higher than my Japanese, and I was so horrified that I ended up not answering my teachers immediately (which made me appeared rude, but what can I do?)

As Japanese and Korean have many words that sounded similar (e.g. family; Kazoku (家族) vs kajok (가족), ramen (ラーメン) vs ramyeon (라면), it was tough to "code switch" at first but with consistent practice, I became better at it. You can try to google this phenomenon (called code switching) to know more and I believe it's common in multilinguals/ polyglots.

I have plenty of Chinese friends who took Japanese and they progressed much faster compared to me, who is without the Mandarin advantage (mostly from them knowing the Chinese characters). I guess as long as the languages are not at about the same level, you would be fine. Even if you struggle initially, you should consistently work on them so switching around would become natural.

November 9, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/Shannon614496

"Code switching" never heard of that. Thank you!

In our Duolingo Japanese meeting "event", I take a long time to answer because I am still thinking in English, and I have to figure out the sentence and then flip the structure around! I hope it's not considered rude to take time to reply!!

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/123RS1

I use other languages with my grandma and grandpa. Also with my family

November 11, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/pollyperki

I think circumstances differ between members,so the way will also differ.

November 8, 2019

https://www.duolingo.com/profile/123RS1

you are really smart

November 11, 2019
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