How To Learn Two Languages At Once: Two Techniques!

Beautiful calligraphy in two languages! Makes you want to pick up Arabic and Chinese, right?

I suffer from wanderlust.

Seriously, I’m only halfway through my Dutch Duolingo tree, and I find myself glancing at the course selection page, deciding if I should take up yet another language.

And, yes, I know I’m supposed to be studying Japanese as well.

I know a lot of language addicts “suffer” from the same thing (can it really be called suffering when it’s a fascination with new cultures, new literature, and new sounds?). Over the years, however, I’ve found decent ways to combat it, without making my other languages languish too much.

1. Once you hit intermediate, pounce on another language!

It’s not too creative, but I’ve found it works, and it keeps me from starting a million things at once. Once I can comfortably read mainstream literature and newspapers in a language, I interpret that as free-reign to go after a new one.

This is much more efficient than starting two languages from scratch at the same time. When you wait until the intermediate stage, then you can put your time and brainpower into learning the new language, while you read and listen and generally relax in the language you’ve already gotten up and running.

I felt pretty okay starting Japanese last month, because my Dutch has really been coming along. I’m certainly not a beginner anymore, and reading and listening just keep getting easier and easier. In a perfect (and more self-controlled) world, I would have waited another couple of months before adding on Japanese, but the languages are so different that I feel pretty okay about my decision. I don’t feel overwhelmed at all.

2. If you’re too impatient, have a “laid-back” language and an “intense” language

This is one I really want to use more, mostly because it gives me an excuse to try out more languages in my spare time.

Right now, Japanese is probably my laid-back language. I have a textbook I’m working through, but the bulk of my listening and reading time goes to Dutch, and then Spanish.

I think an ideal way of using this technique is to pick an “easy” language, perhaps one that is closely related to a language you already know (yeah, yeah, Japanese isn’t closely related to anything). Then, when you get bored of the languages you’re studying, play with your back-up language. This way, you can start too languages at once, just with the expectation that you will deliberately go slower in one than the other.


In the end, piling on too much language study at once certainly can slow your progress in your languages. On the other hand, life is short, and if you love languages, you want to explore as much as you can. Exploring other languages can keep your motivation up in the languages you know– I’ve certainly felt a new appreciation for my higher-level languages while I’ve struggled through brand new ones :)– so you can win all around! Happy wandering!


3 thoughts on “How To Learn Two Languages At Once: Two Techniques!

  1. One person asked the polyglot Ellen Jovin if she was able to memorize so many languages or she felt that her memory had already reached its limit. Her answer was “my memory reached a limit long ago. But I am still having fun taking this trip, and as long as I enjoy the exploration”. I very much like that idea of considering languages an exploration to be enjoyed, not a score or counter that we must keep going and I certainly agree with her.

    What, how, when… you start your exploration is something very personal but I think an important factor is the similarity of the languages. If you one day start to learn Chinese you will know what I mean. Japanese and Chinese are different languages but they share many characters with different readings. On the other hand, I started to study the grammar of Arabic, Russian and Hindi more or less at the same time. My progress was very slow and I am still a slow reader in those languages but I think their huge differences made the task easier.


  2. Beautiful advice! People are so goal-oriented in this world, so “driven” (or as I like to say, not living in reality and waiting for some future event to finally “bring them happiness”) that it’s sad things can’t be done simply for the enjoyment of them. Focusing your attention, exploring with joy and a sense of wonder (with non-attachment to the outcome), not only feels great, but ironically helps people accomplish the most. Again, wonderful site😄👍🏻


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