How to Learn Two Languages at Once

Afghan students learning English.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week I had an epiphany.  It’s something that seemed to be staring at me right in the face, but might as well have been invisible to me.  As my Dad would have put it, “If it had been a snake, it would have bit ya!”  Now that I have realized this little trick, I really can’t believe that I never thought to do this before.  It’s the simplest little concept and probably too simple for my own good.  What is this little trick?  Let me explain some history first.

Learning Thai and Spanish

Despite the fact that I know Thai, I want to improve it to a higher level. I want to fill in my holes of knowledge and stop speaking around subjects I’m not familiar with.  At that same time, I am trying to learn Spanish, something I have much less experience with.    Either one of these goals are pretty large by themselves, let alone to be doing both.

Since my focus is on Spanish right now and I’m at different levels of proficiency with the two languages, I have up until recently compartmentalized the two languages.  5 days a week is Spent on studying Spanish and the weekend is set aside primarily for learning Thai.  Seems logical enough to study them separately like that, but what seems logical is completely false!

Using two languages when learning

It’s very common for us to use  English when learning another language.  As Aaron Myers, the creator of the Every Day Language Learner Blog, has noted, when learning another language, English is King.  There is more stuff available, free and paid, for English speakers than any other language.  Given this fact, it’s probably not uncommon for us to make notes or flash cards using English as a reference.  And if you know no other language than English, than there really isn’t much else you can do.

What I realized, was that I am not bound to that handicap.  When I study word about the Stock Market in Thai, why does my Spanish have to lack the same vocabulary.  When I follow the Luca method of translating from one language to another and back again,  why do I have to use English?  Learning languages should benefit you and not just one part of you.

How this has changed how I learn

As you have guessed, I no longer use English as my final reference.  I typically have to take the extra step and go find the correct phrase I am looking for (There’s not a lot of Thai- Spanish dictionaries out there), But I am better for it.  One of the most difficult things for me is switching from Spanish to Thai.  My brain almost has to reboot into another mode, kinda like those who have a dual-boot Mac/Windows or Linux/Windows computer.   This processes has already started to improve that difficulty.  My brain is making the connections between the two languages and they are both better for it.

This will also help once I move on to my Next phase and start another language.  Spanish wont be my focus anymore, but I can still use it to help me learn the next language.  Maintaining one languages does not have to come at the cost of learning another.

Now you know that secret, so no more excuses.  Pull out that language book you have meant to start, you don’t have to be perfect at the one you have to start learning another.  Just like me you can burst your language bubble.



Filed under How to learn

7 responses to “How to Learn Two Languages at Once

  1. Well Travis, that’s new for English speakers sure, but that’s all non native English speakers do all the time, when learning a language as Thai. I’am French guy and have little ressources French/Thai to grasp at, even on Internet, so I work in English/Thai full time. At homme, in Thailand, I use French and English full time, jumping from one to other at anytime. I cannot do that with Thai yet, but I plan to be able to in the few next years… I like your blog, Travis. Thanks for your experience, it helps a lot some time.

    • That is so true, the only French/Thai resource that I am aware of is the Assimil course, but I am not aware of much else. This subject is actually what helped me decided which language I will start next.

      Thanks for reading the Blog, my hope is that my experience can help others learn. Thanks again.

  2. Pingback: Tips To Learn Spanish Quickly | Learning Jigsaw

  3. I do this! I think it’s a great way to work on all your languages simultaneously. Whenever I am creating flashcards or notes, I write what I’m learning in more than one language. It also helps that sometimes certain expressions translate better into one language over another.

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