Does learning two languages at once have a positive or negative effect on your language learning? Do you want to learn Italian, Spanish, or perhaps both? That is a question I have asked myself several times throughout my language learning career. Before I drop my wisdom-bomb on you, let me clarify a few things that are going to be important as we go forward.
People are essentially always learning language. As I’ve stated many times, language learning is a journey and not a destination. If you speak more than one language, you are learning two languages at once all the time; your native language and your second language. We continue to learn our native language until the day we die. If you speak Italian, you will still be learning new words and phrases in Italian. Spanish speakers, you will continue to learn Spanish. You never completely master your language.
Now that I’ve climbed down off my soapbox, the question remains as to whether or not it is more efficient, or faster, if we go about learning two languages at once or if we just pick one language and focus all of our efforts on that language. Surprisingly there are conflicting viewpoints on this issue. Due to my oh-so-fair nature, I will be presenting both sides of the coin below:
Side #1: Learning Two Languages At Once Is A Horrible Idea
If you’re one of those who thinks “Italian. Spanish.” and not “Italian and Spanish” then this is your time to be validated. Learning two languages at the same time can be confusing; especially similar languages like Italian and Spanish (now do you see why I keep mentioning them?).
In Spanish, you say: Buen dia! [good day]
In Italian, you say: Buongiorno! [good day]As you can imagine, the buon and buen may get confusing. When trying to learn two languages in this situation one might find themselves saying buengiorno or buon dia! This is what I like to call language interference. It’s actually called code switching. Either way, It’s annoying. It happens to me in Spanish and English, however mostly when I’m speaking English and a Spanish word pops out. It’s pretty easy to control once you have a good command of the languages, but getting over the interference hump in the learning phase may be difficult.
Even after tackling the Tyrannosaurus Rex of language learning that is interference, one still has the problem of splitting their attention between two languages. Language learning requires consistent and persistent effort. This is hard to do when you’re just learning one language. It’s even harder when you’re learning two languages at once. Staying motivated is difficult enough with the slower progress you see at the beginning stages with one language. When learning two, it’s going to either require double the effort or you will learn at half the speed. That means instead of putting in hundreds of hours to have a decent conversation in a relatively easy language, you will be putting in hundreds of hours to say creo que necesito estudiar mas [I think I need to study more]. This may be a problem for some learners.
Side #2: Learning Two Languages At Once Is Super-Awesome-Fantastico
Now, if you’re learning to say merhaba in Turkish and hola at the same time in Spanish, you may not have to slay the interference dragon. Two different-enough languages like Turkish and Spanish will also help to keep things interesting. The vocabulary, grammar, and everything else will be different enough to not get overly confused between the two. That dreamy difference may be just what the doctor ordered to keep the spice in your language life. Sometimes, language learning can be boring. I know, it’s hard to admit. But I said it.
Being able to switch from I’m-bored-of-language-#1 to slightly-less-bored-in-language-#2 may be what you need to push through when it’s fourth and goal and it feels like you are forever-away from the end zone (which ironically doesn’t exist… unless your end zone is ‘good enough.’)
The two sides of this proverbial coin are different; each with their own pros and cons. Whichever side appeals most to you will probably be the answer to the inner nagging question about learning two languages at once. Hopefully, this quick synopsis has given you a starting point to continue your language search and keep walkin’ the straight and narrow down that path towards the language learners Valhalla: fluency!
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