Language Juggling

I must admit defeat – but perhaps not in the way you might be expecting. I have stuck to my New Year intentions, and have been doing a bit with each of “my” languages each day. I failed, however, in holding my language wanderlust at bay for a while – I’ve taken up studying Spanish along with my other three languages. I’m not quite sure what happened, but I found myself becoming more and more interested in Mexican culture (partly through my stomach, admittedly), as well as wishing I could at least say a few things to my Mexican neighbors, who live a mere 100 feet away down the alley.

So, I ordered Assimil’s Spanish with Ease, due to how much I’ve enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) working with their French course. After a recommendation from a friend at the how-to-learn-any-language.com forums, I decided to go through Michel Thomas’s Spanish courses (Basic and Advanced) before getting started with Assimil. It’s the first time I’ve used one of his courses without having had previous exposure to the language being taught, and I must admit: I’m quite impressed. I take some issue with how the courses are marketed, and I think Michel himself was a bit in love with himself, but I can’t argue with results, either – what I’m learning is sticking, and amazingly well.

Of course, adding another language to my list of things to study has made time a bit of an issue, especially when coupled with taking a full load of university courses. I won’t lie and say it’s easy, nor will I lie and say that I hit every language every day. But it does seem doable, at least thus far. With smart time management and a bit of staggering – German today, Russian tomorrow, or whatever – I think I’ll be able to keep it up. Either way, I’ll continue to report on how this goes.

12 thoughts on “Language Juggling”

  1. Good luck! I’ve never attempted to study more than two languages simultaneously. For what it’s worth, as dissimilar as they seem at first, the Spanish and French will help each other, and not just for learning cognates.

  2. Thanks for the luck. 🙂 Indeed, I’ve already seen the benefits of my French knowledge while working through Michel Thomas’s stuff (I’m just now starting disc 4, so I’ll soon be about halfway through the Basic course). While not identical, many of the words are similar, as are some constructions.

  3. And just think, it’ll be that much easier when you decide to learn Italian and Portuguese! That’s only half in jest — knowing Italian REALLY helped me when I learned French grammar and I’ve heard folks who know Portuguese (which I don’t) say that it’s similar to “Spanish spoken with a French accent.”

  4. Ah, keep us updated on how this is going for you. I’m studying three languages simultaneously at the moment with one on the backburner. I feel like I’m neglecting my first languages by taking on new ones, but … they do help each other. Chinese and Japanese, Italian and Spanish.

  5. Great that you started studying Spanish (my favorite), but aren’t you afraid that you’ll end up with only basic level for all your languages? Why not concentrate on one, then move on.

  6. Don: Don’t tempt me! I’m going to stick with my four for now. 🙂

    Alec: Will do, certainly.

    Ramses: I initially had that concern, but after more thought on the matter, no, not really. If I were under some sort of time constraint to learn one or two of the languages, certainly, I would limit myself. But seeing as I don’t need to know any of them, I don’t really feel any sense of urgency. If it takes me twice as long or whatever to reach a proficient level, then it takes twice as long. I’m in no rush.

    And, of course, I can always set one aside if need be somewhere down the road, if I need to focus more on the other languages.

  7. Enjoy the Spanish with Michel Thomas and Assimil. And don’t worry about your other languages. Even when you drop them, they come back quickly with a little review. So if you’re actually looking at them a couple times a week, you’ll at least maintain.

    And I think you’re right about what language buffs actually need to know. My limited Spanish earns me a lot of goodwill even though I have no intention of becoming fluent. On the other hand, if I didn’t work in a language school I’d be hard pressed to get any value at all from my pretty darn good French. Most language buffs are learning for pleasure, not practical applications. So you do what gives you pleasure, no?

  8. Geoff:
    I always thought language learning was a tool, a way, not the goal itself? All I want is speaking my target language. Although I enjoy the process, the process itself isn’t the goal but only the way to reach the biggest feeling of joy: being fluent in Spanish.

  9. Ramses:
    I think for some people, there would be no particular joy in speaking fluent Spanish; the joy would be in being closer to one’s Spanish-speaking partner. In that case, the language is a tool, not the goal. In my case, speaking pretty good French was the initial goal. But I didn’t really aspire to fluency until I decided I wanted to read the literature unmediated by translation – and realized that if I wasn’t fluent, it would still be mediated by translation – my own. At that point, French went from the goal to a tool for another goal. Spanish, for me, is the gateway to better communication with some lovely people I’ve known over the years – a tool, not a goal. On the other hand, when I briefly studied Arabic, Turkish and Persian together, I had no goal for learning any of them; I just wanted to see how and where the vocabularies overlapped, whether their grammars got mixed up in the process and how the meshing of the languages went with the meshing of the cultures. It was language study almost purely for the sake of language study.

    Often, when I look at a language out of idle curiosity, I wind up developing a deeper interest over time. But it’s certainly possible to pick up a language book simply because you are interested in language and want to see how this one works – but in the way you look at a see-through clock and marvel at the gearworks but with no particular desire to build one yourself.

    As I said, if you’re learning for pleasure, do what gives you pleasure. That will vary depending on the person, the language and the circumstances. If there were any logic to it, we would have a better idea how to motivate people to learn languages and even Americans would be multilingual! Instead, this is a thorny issue where the only right answer is to make sure that that the goals you’re setting and the plans you’re laying are in alignment with the larger dream that drives your language learning.

  10. I’ve found that learning a couple of languages at a time (especially at the elementary level) really boosts the salience of the vocabulary–I took Portuguese and American Sign Language on a whim in my last year of college, and learning one word would always trigger the same word in the other language. Of course, the downside is that you’re spending half as much time on either language. Though I guess if you were getting sick of chomping on vocab lists (as I’ve gotten while studying for the Japanese proficiency test), it would be a welcome diversion : ) Good luck with the French (I’m trying to post bilingually on my blog myself).

    take care,

    haitham

  11. haitham: I’ve had it go both ways. Sometimes it seems to be helping, sometimes it’s hurting a bit. For example, when I’m learning new Russian vocabulary, when I look to the English word and try to think of the Russian, often, the German (or, increasingly, the French) word appears instead. It’s like some words aren’t being compartmentalized correctly, and so they’re all sitting in the same basic. When I reach for a word, sometimes it’s luck of the draw as to which language I pull out.

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