Spreading Myself Too Thin

I wrote previously about a month ago about taking up Spanish on top of the other three languages that I’m studying, German, Russian, and French. While it started out well, as soon as other life responsibilities fell into my lap (like midterms), things fell apart quickly. I’ve not so much as touched Spanish in the past few weeks, and indeed, I’ve been slipping on all of my languages to some extent. I’m not happy about the matter, but I suppose I should report failures here as well as successes, so as to give a balanced view of things can go when trying to learn multiple languages. ๐Ÿ™‚

I’d still like to study all four, but I’ve not quite figured out the best way to do it yet. I mentioned staggering the languages in my previous post, but I doubt I’d stick to a strict schedule (Spanish on Mondays, German Tuesdays, whatever).

For those of you who are tackling multiple languages at once, how do you handle this problem?

By |2009-03-05T21:31:45+00:00March 5th, 2009|Language Journal, Language Learning|10 Comments


  1. GeoffB March 6, 2009 at 2:21 am - Reply

    I think there are three critical questions here:
    1) What are your goals for the languages?
    2) What will you get out of them?
    3) What are your time frames?

    The thing about juggling multiple languages is that you can really only study one at a time while maintaining the others. This is no more worrisome than the fact that if you’re talking on the phone and reading on the computer, you’re probably going to either miss part of the conversation or lose your place while reading.

    Right now, I’m studying Uzbek and Turkish pretty actively. Most days, I’ve been doing a Pimsleur Turkish lesson. Some days, though, I’ll sit down and work on memorizing some Uzbek vocabulary and phrases and won’t get around to the Turkish lesson. Slowly but surely, I’m getting the hang of Turkish structures I didn’t know. But as I read through phrases in Uzbek, I’m having more a-ha moments where structures I didn’t know fall into place. At the same time, I’m making a point of listening to Spanish and Italian music every two or three days at least. If there were a language I needed to be fluent in, I’d structure my studies very differently. But this is for me. As long as the Spanish and Italian songs resonate with me, as opposed to sounding like gibberish, that’s fine for what I’m doing right now. As long as the Uzbek phrases come back to me as I flip through them, I’m fine. As long as I can play along with the Pimsleur dialogs from lesson to lesson, that’s fine too. I’m maintaining my French, Spanish and Italian and building on my Turkic languages. What more could you want?

    I think one of the hard parts is the expectations we set for ourselves and the conviction that things like midterms shouldn’t get in the way. They will, of course. So what you need is not a strategy to stick to it that won’t work. What you need is a strategy to get back to it when you’re pulled away. Set yourself some really easy short term goals, things that involve working on each language five or ten minutes a day. Take note of where your enthusiasm is – and isn’t. If you can’t get into studying a language at the moment, make a point of listening to some music – passively, no effort to learn or understand. You’ll keep the language and its sounds grooved in your brain and your curiosity will come back when the language is a fun part of your life you don’t know much about instead of a chore.

    I’ve been studying multiple languages for years. Some I get good at, others I don’t. Some I stay with, others I lose interest in. That’s the name of the game if languages are a hobby whose practical application is keeping you entertained, as opposed to something more concrete. The key is to work out in your own mind what you want and whether, for the effort involved, you really want it.

    If you’re looking for the best way to keep at all four languages, you need to recognize that you can’t progress with all four at the rate you’d progress with just one. But working at four can be more fun and more interesting! So, work at the ones that are peaking your interest at the moment and maintain the others. You’ll be surprised how far it takes you.

    By the way, with respect to the jumbling of languages, this is one more reason why it’s good to do sentences rather than words. Your brain is more likely to keep straight which words go with which languages if it has to process the grammar – the manner of thinking – around them rather than just maintaining an association between an English word and a collection of foreign sounds or symbols.

    Best luck with it,

  2. Josh March 12, 2009 at 6:56 am - Reply

    Hey Geoff,

    Thanks for your comments. I tend to forget about question #1, as really, I don’t have any concrete goals for any of them; it’s just for fun. If something else beneficial happens from learning them, great. At any rate, forgetting #1 leads me to get it in my head that I want to be fluent in all of them, to be able to pass off as a native. While I suppose that is possible, it’s not possible in a six month time frame. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Regarding sentence items… I’m coming around to them. I reread a good bit of Khatzumoto’s AJATT website, and I’m giving his ideas a go. I decided to do this when I realized that I seem to be picking up more grammar indirectly from Assimi’s Russisch ohne Mรผhe than I am from studying grammar directly in the New Penguin Russian Course. Go figure, right? I’ve been adding a lot of sentences for Anki, and in regards to German, I’m using monolingual definitions. We’ll see how it goes.

    One thing that I can note right away, however: reviewing the sentences is much more enjoyable than reviewing word pair after word pair.

  3. Ramses April 7, 2009 at 5:19 am - Reply

    The AJATT method means the non-use of learning programs. The only use they have (according to Khatzumoto) is that you can collect sentences from them. Everything else should happen through immersion with native materials (from day 1).

  4. Josh April 7, 2009 at 6:37 am - Reply

    I like the idea of collecting sentences in an SRS, but to completely forgo learning materials seems like shooting oneself in the foot. I’m not arguing that it can’t work – Khatzumoto is proof that it can work – but for me, learning materials are a shortcut to dealing with native materials easily.

  5. Ramses April 7, 2009 at 6:50 am - Reply

    Have you’ve seen Steve Kaufman’s latest vodcast on language learning and Stephen Krashen? We all learn the same mate…

  6. Ramses April 7, 2009 at 6:51 am - Reply

    And oh, how much I like Assimil, it’s by no means native material. Native material is… material made for natives. That means music, television programmes, movies, etc.

  7. Josh April 7, 2009 at 7:24 am - Reply

    Yes, I’ve heard about Stephen Krashen’s work via Kaufmann’s blog (too much, to be honest). Usually the setup is something like “Stephen Krashen input LINGQ LINGQ LINGQ input Krashen LINGQ LINGQ.” Hmm.

    I don’t really buy the theory that we all learn in the same manner. There are enough people learning languages in different ways to make that clear, I think. It’s also not as if people never learned foreign languages before Krashen put out his theory.

    I don’t mean to come across as short here, but I’m honestly becoming increasingly fed up with the “input method or you’re an idiot!” stuff. Yes, okay, Khatzumoto is a fine example that immersing yourself in a language helps you learn it. Great. I’m happy for the guy. But there are other ways, and if someone chooses to use those ways as opposed to native materials from the word go, that doesn’t make them wrong.

    And yes, I’m aware that Assimil isn’t native material. If I implied otherwise, I misspoke.

  8. zocurtis April 11, 2009 at 4:42 pm - Reply

    You guys write so much you should start blogs of your own.

  9. Josh April 24, 2009 at 7:05 am - Reply

    zocurtis: Geoff and Ramses both have their own blogs, actually. If I didn’t want comments, I’d turn them off.

  10. Nic at CrossLingo September 15, 2009 at 1:59 am - Reply

    This is a pretty good question really. I have been learning German as my number one second language, but also beginners Spanish. I’ve also been thinking about starting to pick up Dutch.

    I would maybe suggest using different materials for different languages. So for example, German on the PC with byki or anki or whatever you like, Dutch with a grammar/vocab self-study book, Spanish with a conversation buddy followed by watching a DVD? Then after a month or so switch around.

    On a seperate note, I managed to pick up es espanol 1 nivelinicial at 90% off today at the University Bookshop in Auckland. That was NZ$6 (about USD4!). I was very happy, especially that it includes a CD. I’ll have to see how it goes – maybe there’s a very good reason it’s so discounted.
    Cheers guys, Nic

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