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Is it confusing learning 2 Languages at a time?

I want to learn two languages, but I'm scared I'll get confused and mess up my learning on one of the languages. Any experience and ideas for ones that are doing 2 languages at a time?

October 14, 2013



I started Spanish and Italian at the same time. I did find myself getting confused on some things, especially words that are similar, but not quite the same. However, it's very possible if you just make sure that you're practicing enough and solidifying what you learn in each one. Remember, you can always start one, and if you get confused you can stop or put it on "pause".

My recommendation is if you don't have a lot of time, don't start another one. I could handle two during the summer, but now that school has started for me I can barely manage one.


If both languages are new to you, it depends on how you can find your pace and minimize the interference.

I studied French for six years through middle school and high school, and was pretty fluent by the end of my fourth year. During the summer between my fifth and sixth years, I went for an intensive summer course in German at Goethe-Institut. I made a lot of progress in German, but when I returned to school after summer holidays, I found that my newly acquired German was interfering with French, despite the difference between the two: I started muttering German phrases during the first few weeks of French class! Needless to say, the French teacher wasn't too impressed.

But I kept up and studied both languages in parallel. Once I found my pace -- which took about a month or so -- I was able to maintain my French while improving my German at the same time.

Fast forward a decade: I started studying Italian in evening school. Even though I hadn't spoken a lick of French in over ten years, my background in French allowed me to study Italian at a very fast pace. Now that my Italian is fairly solid, I decided to try out the Spanish skill tree on Duolingo (just for fun), and found myself burning through the first three checkpoints of the tree in just two weeks -- of course I still need to have real-world practice with a Spanish speaker to see how much I am actually able to use the language after just two weeks, but so far I feel quite confident about my passive skills (listening/reading).

Though my spoken/written French has gone pretty rusty, I was able to pick up Italian quickly thanks to my French background; and I am most certainly benefiting from both my French and Italian backgrounds in my studies in Spanish.

Moral of the story: Yes, there will be chances of interference even if you are solid in a foreign language, even if the two languages are different from each other -- that is until you find your pace coping with both. At the same time, if you are already fairly solid in a given language, you will find that learning a second language from the same family later much easier, and much more cost effective.


It really depends~. If you think you can handle learning two, then go for it! If the two languages are similar, it will most likely be confusing at first, but you'll eventually get the hang of both of them.

I'm learning multiple languages right now(more than two, most of them outside of Duolingo), and I was confused every now and then, but eventually learn them enough to know what I'm doing and what language it belongs to. I do admit that I'm focusing on some languages more than others, but I do try my best to study the others as much as I do so I don't lose what I've learned.

My advice to you is if you have the time and motivation to learn another language, go for it! Just be careful if the words are/look similar. If not, you can learn your second language after you finish the first one. ^^ Good luck!


I don't think so - I learn 3 at the same time, if I count English. If you learn and practice both of them the same amount of time, you can do it. I was learning Italian too much, not learning German and forgot most of it. So it's possible, but don't prefer one language over the other. :)


When I started learning Spanish, I found it very easy as I learn it somewhere else also. Then I started French; I didn't get much confused as they are very similar! But sometimes I just got confused between words! Then, I started German. It was a bit difficult as they are very different, but then I tried my best to differentiate the words I remember. And as as result today, I learn those three languages! So if you think that you'll get confused, you'll surely get confused. Just memorize the words well! and you'll be able to learn all of them without any difficulty!


It depends on which are the two languages, what is your background in language education etc. It also depends on how much time you are willing to study every day. If you can study languages for only 20 minutes a day, then it will be hard. It would be easier if you can separate the sessions, and study one language in the morning and the second in the afternoon, or maybe one at 3:00pm and the other at 7:00pm. You can try it and if your progress is not fast enough, or if you find yourself getting confused, then you can switch back to one language only.


It's very much possible to learn two languages at the same time. You can also learn them on the same day, just take a pause between them so you're not "switching" mentally all the time, that's the hardest part because you need to start thinking in foreign language and remembering words from before. So for example, learn one language in the morning and the other in the afternoon.


Interesting! I take the opposite approach. I flip between different language lessons as quickly as possible so I get some practice switching. Yes, it's tricky at first, but that's exactly why I need to practise it: in the real world, I often don't have the option of waiting half a day to switch languages.


I was thinking more like when you go to another country, you only speak one foreign language. What are the circumstances when you need to speak more than one foreign language in the same day?


Well, for instance... on Saturday, I was outside a Vienna bar with my girlfriend and we got talking to the other people at the table. We started in German (she's fluent, I am very far from fluent!), then it soon came out that I live in Rome and our new friend introduced one of his companions with "aber sie spricht sehr gut Italienisch!". So I had a quick chat with her in Italian...then he mentioned that he'd lived many years in Paris and we switched to French for a bit! Three languages in half an hour...

So, that's one of the more extreme examples, but any time that I'm travelling (which I do often) I of course have to switch languages on both the travel days. And if I'm abroad with people of a different nationality (e.g. in Austria with Italians, or in Spain with French people) I can find myself switching between the local language and the language of the people I'm with.

I realize I'm probably atypical, though -- living and working in a place where my native language is not spoken, I find that these situations come up much more often. When I found myself doing things like saying "Sì, sì!" to German-speakers, I decided I needed to work on my language switching speed :-).


When major part of your work is in English, and you live in a country where the official language is neither english nor your mother lang then you might read some work related document, talk with a colleague and speak with some family member on the phone in three different languages and all within five minutes. This situation is more common that what you would guess.


For speaking I have a handy phrase memorized in each language that gives the person to whom I'm speaking a good idea of my current level of fluency, such as "I learned a lot of German in school but I have forgotten some too" (in German) or "I used to practice Spanish while working at the restaurant" type of thing, which also helps me flip into the gear for that language..

When you're just reading, if the languages are related they will usually boost each other and not really interfere. But when you're trying to produce the language in reading or writing sometimes they'll get a bit mixed up, especially when you're first getting started. Since I started duolingo I do a bit of each every day, and sometimes I focus more on one language than another.

Doing it every day seems to help more than anything.


ok, thanks for commenting.:)


I suppose you can get used to it and won't be confused, but think of another thing: time. You'll have to split your "language time" between two languages rather than devote it to one and make the best out of it.

I would recommend starting with one language and later, when you have some skill in it and don't feel like doing exercises any more, switch to practicing it (read, write, communicate, listen) and learning a new language.

Remember that the less strong your language skill is, the easier it is to forget.


I personally find if I try and work on two similar languages at once, before one is well established, I'll get confused. Once a language is well established, it ceases to be an issue. With languages that are unalike (e.g. German and Spanish) I don't have a problem with them interfering.

That's just me, personally though. Try it and see if it works for you.


thank you for all of your suggestions! :) Happy learning...

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