Learning more than one Language at a time as an adult
I must say, I'm totally in love with this language learning, particularly here at Praxis where the material is so good and so accessible. While Chinese has been my main focus, I'm very interested in the other languages as well. But one thing [no, make that two] has held me back a tad from the other languages. Obviously there are time constraints, but the other thing has been a concern that learning more than one language at once as an adult would get confusing. I remember our esteemed poddie xiaohu once saying somewhere that he advised against it and I think that has stuck in my mind. I'm wondering if learning some of the other languages will kind of erase what little progress I've made in Chinese. Obviously there are some polyglots who have mastered many languages. I'm wondering how many of them were learnt sequentially and how many were learnt concurrently. Are there advantages/ disadvantages in learning 2 or more at once? If it's better to wait till you've got on top of one language before taking on another one, at what level would this be advisabe? Does it matter which combination of languages? For example, if they're very different like Chinese and French, or similar like French and Spanish? Anyone's thoughts on this and anyone's experience and advise would be much appreciated.
ok, I've read that 1st link and I'm hungry for so much more. I quickly realised on reading that, that I wanted to know how much experience the posters had in learning more than 1 language at a time and how much was mere conjecture, or based mainly on brief experience.
A couple of interesting statements there. Here's one:
"You need some time to forget and relearn things in a language, so having language number 2 to go to and then to come back to language number 1 aids the process."
...who agrees and who disagrees with this?
the other one is said to be a quote of a language expert:
“If you’re going to learn one language, you might as well learn three. It’s the same to your brain.”
...hmm, sounds familiar, but can't pinpoint it. Apparently based on research...now that would be interesting. Any comments on this?
this quote from the second link hits home with me:
"I'm at different levels in three languages and when speaking in one language, I frequently inadvertently throw in words from another language"
...I learnt a little high school French. I have hardly ever used it in donkey's years, but still you never forget the majority of it..the basic stuff at least. But when I started learning Chinese, suddenly if I went to speak French these Chinese words would jump in there. Not English my native language mind you, but Chinese. It made me feel like maybe I've got a native button and a foreign button and that's it hehe. At least at the spontaneous level. I had to stop and think about it a bit more and then I'd get the simple French flowing a bit better. Now I'm interested in brushing up my French [have just started in fact and that doesn't seem to be happening anymore] but I'm concerned about what it might do to my Chinese. Aidez moi , I mean 帮助我！天啊， 我怕会让我糊涂了
But when I started learning Chinese, suddenly if I went to speak French these Chinese words would jump in there. Not English my native language mind you, but Chinese.
Exactly Baba, same with me. I took French in school about 10 years (! so little to show for that!). But now when I think about saying even the simplest thing such as "I'd like to ..." or "I want ..." in French I find that I just can't. I start saying in my mind "wo yao ..." "wo xiang ...". The so basic "Je" and "veut" just aren't anywhere near the tip of my tongue. It really feels like all my French got pushed back into the rearmost area of my brain and then upward, into some tight little alcove, where it's now stuck, irretrievable. An "archived" kind of feeling. And this happened once I began studying Chinese. I guess some room had to be made for the Chinese. I'm leaving it be. Recently I've had a bit of interest in Italian, but don't think I'll be trying to learn any more new languages or trying to recover any French (though I occasionally fantasize about being fluent in French) until my Chinese is actually at a useful level of proficiency. Another thing I've found is that all the "de's" in French and Chinese can play tricks on my mind. I come under the illusion that the two languages have merged somehow, even though I know well that's ridiculous.
thanks Zhen, it's nice to know I'm not alone. But I've been thinking further on this. I mean we put quite a deal of effort into learning Chinese, right?..so you get a little fright like this and suddenly you're thinking, heck, I better not start learning something else or it will erode into my Chinese. But I think when you stop and think about it, this is more an emotional and irrational response. I mean in both our cases we've been regularly studying Chinese, thinking about it and in it a lot and it had been a long time since we'd studied French, and in my case at least, it wasn't to any significant level. So it's not that surprising that it has occurred. I think that is likely vastly different to studying both languages concurrently. The chance of that phenomenon should be much less [particularly if your time was reasonably equally divided]. And besides, learning to switch between several languages should be just another skill to learn that I think would get easier with practice and especially as one got more proficient in the other languages. As you can see, I'm starting to feel much more positive about it now. Of course, if you're dividing your time your progress in any individual language is going to be slowed compared with if you could devote all your spare energies to the one language. Still, I'd really love to hear from any polyglots out there who have trodden the road ahead. Experience, advice, all that stuff.
I wouldn't discourage you or anyone else from trying to learn several languages at once Baba. I'm aware that it has been done, though I have a feeling you simply either have the aptitude or you don't (and I guess you may be one of those who do). I was just sharing that I don't intend to go for any more at this time. To me it was surprising, the extent to which my French got pushed back, to the point I couldn't retrieve a "Je", as I said.
Anyway, hopefully someone qualified will come up and offer the tips and advice you ask for.
And that isn't the reason I'm not going for any more now. Not that what happened to my French has scared me off learning any more languages. I'm just not interested enough in anything else now.
I too get crosstalk between foreign languages. In my case, Russian which I studied in college seems to have disappeared behind Chinese words. For that reason I have been afraid to try the other pods. Language salad is unappealing.
It depends what you mean by "at a time". In my experience learning several languages concurrently like for example an hour of each every day is counter-productive for a number of reasons. But there are other methods you can use.
First it depends on your level in each language. I'm French, and I'm completely fluent in english, fluent in spanish, advanced in chinese and in german and I can read greek (or could? been a long time) and a tiny bit of latin. Nothing I'm learning now can influence my english, because the english "system" is completely hard-wired into my brain and is now "closed on itself" if you will, kind of like my first language. My spanish can sometimes still suffer a bit from my chinese, but only when I haven't been practising it for a long time, and it goes away pretty fast. My german on the other hand is badly contaminated by my chinese when I go back to it after studying chinese for a while. Dead languages don't have any influence, you don't really process them in the same way.
Basically the better you are at a language, the less you need to study it for long periods at a time and the easier it is to go back to it. If you're anything less than advanced, learning more than one language at once will make it harder for you in my experience. First the "strain" is pretty much the same, so going from one language to the next in the same day will not count as a "distraction" (again, unless you are already so good at the second one that your brain doesn't have to make an effort to switch to that system). Second, you need the "immersion" in order for your brain to get used to working inside the system of the language.
On the other hand, it is very hard to completely forget anything with languages, and even harder to forget something in a way that will not make you know it better when you re-learn it. So a good method can be to rotate between a few languages every few weeks or months. You will be surprised how quickly the things you thought you had forgot come back, and how it fells like your progress is going a lot smoother than when you stopped learning that language a few weeks or a few months ago.
bababardwanAugust 01, 2011, 12:44 PM
I've noticed quite a number of CPoddies on the other Praxis sites, though I don't know how many were just visiting/passing through, and how many stuck it out. Of course I have no idea what the lurkers are up to. But I'd love to hear the experience of Praxis Pass users, their experience here with Praxis, their progress, their advice. Also I know we have plenty of multilingual speakers here. What say ye?
inspannend...too strenuous to keep up. Yeah, it's just plain time consuming, that's fur sure [or for sure if you will]. I have followed the exact same path as you then. I initially studied briefly several of them at once. But I just didn't have the time for them all. I'm thinking of giving it another go though. I think if I were to study more efficiently it could be done, at least on some level. I've only just started, but I think it's actually easier now....once you're up and running in one language, and let's face it, Chinese is the hardest, it seems easier to take on some more.
NikochanAugust 08, 2011, 12:47 PM
I personally believe that achieving mastery in several languages as an adult is highly achievable under the 2 following conditions:
1) You learn the languages sequentially, not in parallel
2) You have a "maintenance" plan for each of the languages which you have already mastered: e.g. if you want to keep your German functional, you may want to
a) live in Germany
b) work for a German company with a German-speaking environment
c) have a German partner at home
d）keep yourself informed/entertained through German media
(I am sure there are also other ways which I havent thought about)
nickybr38August 08, 2011, 02:29 PM
I don't know if it's advisable or not... but I signed up for Korean classes this fall. I will continue my Mandarin studies on the side. :)
I'll get back to you and let you know how it goes. I'm still a Newbie at Mandarin BTW.
dehaliAugust 18, 2011, 03:33 AM
Fascinating discussion! I just joined the 'pod this week. This post caught my eye as the topic has been on my brain for years as I've gone in and out of periods of intense (usually multiple, bc I can't pick just one!) language dabbling.
I can relate to Simplet's point of how ANY language learning, even forgotten later, establishes at least a bit of a foundation for re-learning in the future. I also think the "cross talk" or substitution of words from various L2's (second lang's) eases with practice, or more precisely, with acquisition of the target L2, as contrasted to learning of the L2.
Not sure of thread etiquette here, but more questions could arise herein: what does it mean to acquire language, and what can we do to further our acquisition of Chinese beyond just learning? (Simplet???)
Incidentally, does anyone else talk to themselves in an L2?
I have studied (acquired?) enough French that I feel that I have a French me that comes out when I'm in French mode, and the only time Chinese has intruded on my French self was when I'd been deeply immersed in Chinese (in China) for a while. Otherwise that French voice is fairly clear in my mind. It seems perfectly natural that if we have more than one language system input to the L2 part of our brain, wouldn't the retrieval get mixed up, that is, until we acquire the L2?
One last thing to ponder---for those who have experienced "cross talk"---is it exclusively when producing the language, as opposed to passive input (listening or reading)? What about when writing? Also, are most people experiencing just vocab mix-ups, or has anyone experienced other types of inter-language bungling, eg, substituting one language's word order for another, or verb endings from French onto a Spanish verb, or putting "ma" on the end of a question in another lang, etc.
Finally, to the OP---my opinion is the more the merrier, esp. as each language develops a distinct "personality" in your mind, and with (not-too-long!) breaks interspersed as needed between periods of time (whatever works for you---be it 20 min/each lang/day OR 2 wks on only one language at a time) spent on each language.
thanks heaps for this post dehali and for your encouragement. I still have much to say on the topic, though of course more questions and observations than answers. While on that, I did come up with a thought on how not to bury the "1st second language" while working on the 3rd. When learning some French lately, I have at times stopped to think how I'd say the same thing in Chinese...ah good, it's still there, hehe. Mind you, I think this would take some discipline to keep up.
As for "vocab mix-ups"...I'd just like to clarify something. I'm pretty sure that I'll never "confuse" a French word for a Chinese word. I know that I am wo in Chinese and je in French. I'll never not know that. But, before I started resurrecting my French recently, wo would be the thing that would want to jump in there. It wasn't so much confusion as to what was at the tip of my tongue before i flicked the conscious switch to French. Contrast this with a real concern that I could genuinely get a vocab mixup between French and say Spanish for some words due to their similarity.
"exclusively when producing the language"
..yes, exactly. I'm sure I'd never get it listening or reading. For me at least it would be only speaking, and I think it was a very temporary phenomenon. I can't imagine getting it writing either.
markAugust 18, 2011, 06:16 AM
I have only noticed "cross-talk" in regard to vocabulary, not other language features. However, English has a very strong influence on how I form sentences. I don't get cross-talk betweeen second languages on grammar, but my first language seems to have hard-wired my brain in some ways.