Learning Two Languages at Once

Recently I received an email asking about learning twoTwo birds in flight languages at the same time. It was my privilege to respond, and it occurred to me that TrentBooks.com readers could benefit from our discussion as well. Here is the message I received:

Hi Kenny,
I would like to know , what is your opinion on learning two languages at once? I have just read your book and really agree with the things you said, so I would highly value your advice.
I little background info:
I am a homeschooled teenager. I developed a passion for Korean pop culture and decided to learn the language. (Currently at a basic level learning verbs) I also have an interest in Japanese culture and had it in my head to learn the language someday after Korean. After recently seeing and buying a really good looking book on learning the Japanese Kana I had decided to learn the both. Thus far I have found no conflict of confusion since I’m still on the alphabet stage of Japanese. Do you think I would be ill advised to learn both at once? I have a lot of spare time and dedication, so it wouldn’t be a problem for those reasons.
Please advise.

My Response to this question was this:

Hi M.C.

Let me first say how pleased I am I receive your email. I’m thrilled you read my book, and feel deeply grateful to be able to provide some guidance in your language learning. It truly is an honor for me.

To answer your question on learning two languages at once, my personal perspective is that there is nothing wrong with it at all, provided you can keep the languages distinct from each other. I learned Spanish and Guarani at the same time, but the two were pretty different from each other. Korean and Japanese may be a bit more challenging (because they originate in the same region, and are more difficult to distinguish than the languages I learned), but this challenge is part of what makes language learning enjoyable.

To be more effective in learning two languages at once, I would recommend, when sitting down to study, that you remind yourself which language you’re learning. That may seem a bit silly, but it will help to reinforce where your brain should store what you learn. For example, when you sit down, tell yourself, “OK. I’m learning Japanese now. These Hiragana characters are Japanese, and so are these vocabulary words.” Again, this may seem a bit simple, but your brain is designed to retrieve information based partly on how frequently and in what manner that information is stored and retrieved. So reminding yourself that you’re studying Japanese (or Korean) will help add frequency and focus to the learning session. It also makes a difference in your motivation because it will help you pay attention better during your study session by providing a clearer focus on what you’re doing.

I would also recommend only studying one language per day (and maybe for 2-3 days at a time, depending on what works for you). By doing this, it makes it easier to separate the two in your mind without mixing them up as much. It also helps improve long-term memory storage when you can separate your study sessions a bit for each language. What I mean by that is that if you study Korean on Monday and Tuesday, Japanese on Wednesday and Thursday, then on Friday review the Korean you studied on Monday/Tuesday, it will help your brain store the Korean you studied in long-term memory better. When you let your brain forget something for a while, then revisit it, it’s like telling your brain that it’s more important than most things you encounter (like what you had for breakfast last Saturday), so it should try harder to remember it.

Finally, I will say that studying two languages at once has a distinct advantage over studying only one language. When learning a language many people find themselves losing motivation to study over time, and have a hard time picking up the pace when their study habits slack. If this starts to happen to you with one of your languages, you can simply take a break and focus on the other language for a while. Then, when natural interest for that language returns, you can pick it up again and continue your studies.

Just remember that you can do anything you set your mind to, especially when it comes to languages. It simply takes dedication and proper focus on the principles of motivation I outlined in my book. You’re not really going to learn a language in 10 days (like some programs advertise), so just keep at it. One day you’ll be listening to Korean (or Japanese), or reading a book, and it’ll just click. You’ll realize that the hours you’ve invested have paid off, and a new doorway has opened for you to communicate with others, as well as to enrich your own life through other beautiful cultures. That will be a great day. You can do it!

I wish you the best in your language learning. Good luck, and enjoy!

Best wishes,

Kenny Trent

One of the great things about making active progress in language learning is that it’s Yellow Linesometimes hard to keep yourself to only one language. It’s extremely rewarding, after all, to communicate in another language, and to gain access to that language’s culture through that communication. So if you find yourself with the desire to learn another languages, the bottom line for me is: Why not?


If you have a question, I’d be more than happy to respond. Fill out the Contact page and let me know!

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