Studying Multiple Languages Simultaneously

I’ve been working on my French & German Comparative Tutorial this week, and also searching the internet to find other sites that help people learn more than one language at a time. I am so disappointed.

I’ve found a few vocabulary lists, but they’re mostly just showing the similarities among Romance languages. I can’t find any sites that include lessons for learning two languages, closely related or not. I’ve never been able to find books like this either, which is somewhat surprising considering that almost all graduate students must learn two foreign languages and I know I am not the only person in the world who studies French, German and Italian at the same time. Where’s the multilingual love?

Instead, all I’m finding is some misguided “advice” that learning two languages at once is a bad idea. Says who? Every single person learns in a different way. Maybe it’s a good idea and maybe it’s not, but you should at least try. Maybe you can learn as a beginner in two languages without confusing them, or maybe you need to be advanced in one but beginning in the other. It all depends on your learning style.

I took Intermediate French, Beginning German and Beginning Spanish when I was an undergrad and I never had a problem keeping the languages straight in my head. Apparently this is discouraged (!) at some American universities, like Georgetown: “Freshmen interested in pre-registering for multiple language courses must receive permission from the dean’s office. One of the deans will discuss your specific situation with you and help you determine whether or not studying a second foreign language is feasible.” You have to get permission to study languages?? How can studying a second foreign language ever be NOT feasible?? I. just. don’t. get. it. Quite a difference from French high schools, where students must learn two languages!

Of course, if you’re advanced enough in one language, you can always use it to learn another, i.e. learn German in French or learn Italian in Spanish. That’s precisely what I do when I buy language books here in France. I feel like I get two languages for the price of one. Even the cheap cahiers (usually no more than 5 € each) designed for collège-level students are useful for getting the grammar basics of German, Italian, Spanish and sometimes even Latin. LaRousse, Hachette, Magnard, and Hatier Chouette are all good ones.

Anyway, since I want to spread the multiple language love, here are some new resources that I’ve come across this week:

  • Pukka German is a podcast of informal German (slang, idioms, colloquialisms) from an adorable South African-German couple who live in Freiburg. It’s extremely useful since it’s the German that is not included in textbooks, i.e. the way people actually speak!
  • Deutschlern.net is a free Deutsch als Fremdsprache site with online interactive exercises. It’s all in German, which can be a bit intimidating if you’re a beginner.
  • Since there’s no amazon.it, I searched around for online Italian bookstores where I can buy Italian as a Second Language books. I managed to find two, Internet Bookstore Italia and Libreria Universitaria, but shipping outside of Italy is not cheap.

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’allemand :

Pour les francophones qui veulent apprendre l’italien :

There are other facile.com sites for learning Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Latin and even Provençal! (The English version of the site only includes lessons for French, Spanish and German.)

So if anyone else can find free online tutorials in learning two languages together (not necessarily just French & German or French & Italian), please let me know!

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  • http://unautrejp.blogspot.com/ Justin

    Thanks Jennie! I was looking to try and start learning some German now that I am far enough with my French to not get too confused. I will have to try some of the French books for German, that would really be a great way for me to work on both!

    Justins last blog post..In the search for a good Pale Ale…

  • http://unautrejp.blogspot.com Justin

    Thanks Jennie! I was looking to try and start learning some German now that I am far enough with my French to not get too confused. I will have to try some of the French books for German, that would really be a great way for me to work on both!

    Justins last blog post..In the search for a good Pale Ale…

  • http://52languages.blogspot.com J

    That’s a great tip about finding resources in your second language to learn your third (or your third to learn your fourth, or your fourth… etc.). Don’t let naysayers get you down about attempting to learn more than one language at a time — they’re just jealous and boring. Hey, I’m trying Portuguese and Arabic at the same time. In fact, they’re sufficiently different from each other that there is no danger of mistaking one for the other as I would if it were Portuguese and Spanish.

  • J

    That’s a great tip about finding resources in your second language to learn your third (or your third to learn your fourth, or your fourth… etc.). Don’t let naysayers get you down about attempting to learn more than one language at a time — they’re just jealous and boring. Hey, I’m trying Portuguese and Arabic at the same time. In fact, they’re sufficiently different from each other that there is no danger of mistaking one for the other as I would if it were Portuguese and Spanish.

  • Myles Freborg

    I sought such a product… but the only tutorials I could find (worth using) are from your website. ¡Enhorabuena! Thanks for such hard work.

    This is off topic, but I’m looking for a more extensive bilingual French dictionary. Which publisher do you recommend? (Oxford, LaRousse, Collins, etc…)

    Thanks…

  • Myles Freborg

    I sought such a product… but the only tutorials I could find (worth using) are from your website. ¡Enhorabuena! Thanks for such hard work.

    This is off topic, but I’m looking for a more extensive bilingual French dictionary. Which publisher do you recommend? (Oxford, LaRousse, Collins, etc…)

    Thanks…

  • http://nikiogkenneth.blogspot.com/ bluefish

    I studied Italian and Spanish at the same time in university and it was a disater for me. My brain couldn’t make a different and I was always confusing myself with both languages.

    bluefishs last blog post..Beautiful wall

  • http://nikiogkenneth.blogspot.com/ bluefish

    I studied Italian and Spanish at the same time in university and it was a disater for me. My brain couldn’t make a different and I was always confusing myself with both languages.

    bluefishs last blog post..Beautiful wall

  • Mom

    I am having difficulty learning one language as you know. I will attempt two, French and Spanish, and hope for a little success.

  • Mom

    I am having difficulty learning one language as you know. I will attempt two, French and Spanish, and hope for a little success.

  • skylar

    I love your blogs, I studied French and German at the same time after being fluent in Spanish, and it was awesome! I got soo good at both for a while! it’s all about focusing on not mixing the two languages. It’s interesting though, When I am speaking Spanish or German and I have to say either a phrase or a name of a person in the other language, I will then continue in the language I am not supposed to be continuing in. I was giving a presentation in Spanish to a class…I said something about Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and then I continued in German for a couple seconds…Class must have thought I was loco en la cabeza! P.S. I am moving to Germany this September! woohoo for two years to study in Mainz

  • skylar

    I love your blogs, I studied French and German at the same time after being fluent in Spanish, and it was awesome! I got soo good at both for a while! it’s all about focusing on not mixing the two languages. It’s interesting though, When I am speaking Spanish or German and I have to say either a phrase or a name of a person in the other language, I will then continue in the language I am not supposed to be continuing in. I was giving a presentation in Spanish to a class…I said something about Klemens Wenzel von Metternich, and then I continued in German for a couple seconds…Class must have thought I was loco en la cabeza! P.S. I am moving to Germany this September! woohoo for two years to study in Mainz

  • http://noemagosa.wordpress.com/ Noelia

    Awesome! Thanks for all those interesting links… I need to refresh my languages. Besides French and English which I practice everyday, I have so little opportunities to speak Spanish, German, Italian or (Brazilian) Portuguese! :-)

    Noelias last blog post..Expat-blog en español

  • http://noemagosa.wordpress.com Noelia

    Awesome! Thanks for all those interesting links… I need to refresh my languages. Besides French and English which I practice everyday, I have so little opportunities to speak Spanish, German, Italian or (Brazilian) Portuguese! :-)

    Noelias last blog post..Expat-blog en español

  • Ram kishore

    I have a question.Which is the best combination of languages to begin with?

    1.french and German
    2.French and Italy
    3.French and spanish

    which combination?

  • Ram kishore

    I have a question.Which is the best combination of languages to begin with?

    1.french and German
    2.French and Italy
    3.French and spanish

    which combination?

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com/ Ron

    Hi Jenny, just came across your website by looking on Google for ‘learning multiple languages simultaneously’, a topic I’m very interested in as well. Many would advice against it – mainly monolinguals I suspect, but it is not uncommon on a global scale, with multilingualism being the norm rather than the exception. I was going to suggest browsing through the Polyglot or Polyglottery forums on: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/, but the link is already listed in your language learning links section, so I assume your familiar with it. :-)
    Kind regards, Ron

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com Ron

    Hi Jenny, just came across your website by looking on Google for ‘learning multiple languages simultaneously’, a topic I’m very interested in as well. Many would advice against it – mainly monolinguals I suspect, but it is not uncommon on a global scale, with multilingualism being the norm rather than the exception. I was going to suggest browsing through the Polyglot or Polyglottery forums on: http://how-to-learn-any-language.com/, but the link is already listed in your language learning links section, so I assume your familiar with it. :-)
    Kind regards, Ron

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com/ Ron

    Edit: ‘you’re familiar with it’! Apologies about the ‘tiredness typo’! ;-)
    .-= Ron´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com Ron

    Edit: ‘you’re familiar with it’! Apologies about the ‘tiredness typo’! ;-)
    .-= Ron´s last undefined ..If you register your site for free at =-.

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com/ Ron

    Edit 2: Oeps! And it should be ‘Jennie’… :-(

  • http://www.ronpeek.blogspot.com Ron

    Edit 2: Oeps! And it should be ‘Jennie’… :-(

  • Anna

    Hi, Jenny. I’m really lucky to come accross such a useful site. I think you are really a very nice person – reading your biography I realized we have something in common:) I am completing my Masters degree in ELT department in Turkey , METU. Now i am at my thesis stage, I am working on the assessment of speaking. What you are writng about learning 2 or more languages simultaneously is so close to me – I am thinking to get PhD degree and then I am planning to work on learning 2 foreign languages at a time. It is quite a risky topic i must admit, as it is commonly believed that it is wrong. But the result is worth the risk:)
    I am a native speaker of Russian and Ukrainian and currently I learn Turkish. I also studied French and German at the University. So, if you need help (especially with Russian) you are welcome to address. Thank you one more time.

  • Anna

    Hi, Jenny. I’m really lucky to come accross such a useful site. I think you are really a very nice person – reading your biography I realized we have something in common:) I am completing my Masters degree in ELT department in Turkey , METU. Now i am at my thesis stage, I am working on the assessment of speaking. What you are writng about learning 2 or more languages simultaneously is so close to me – I am thinking to get PhD degree and then I am planning to work on learning 2 foreign languages at a time. It is quite a risky topic i must admit, as it is commonly believed that it is wrong. But the result is worth the risk:)
    I am a native speaker of Russian and Ukrainian and currently I learn Turkish. I also studied French and German at the University. So, if you need help (especially with Russian) you are welcome to address. Thank you one more time.

  • Morgan

    I study multiple languages simultaneously, but almost exclusively for literary / scholastic purposes (I’m currently in my third year of Biblical Greek, my second year of Biblical Hebrew, and my first semester of Modern Standard Arabic). I must eventually learn to read French, German and modern Hebrew. The only foreign language I can “get along in” conversation-wise is Spanish, and only in the present tense, though I hope to be conversational in Arabic eventually.

    Honestly, after learning a couple of grammars, it gets easier to pick up new languages – one figures out the basic parts of speech, what questions to ask of a new language, and so forth.

    I do think it’s a good idea to only begin one new language at a time.

  • Morgan

    I study multiple languages simultaneously, but almost exclusively for literary / scholastic purposes (I’m currently in my third year of Biblical Greek, my second year of Biblical Hebrew, and my first semester of Modern Standard Arabic). I must eventually learn to read French, German and modern Hebrew. The only foreign language I can “get along in” conversation-wise is Spanish, and only in the present tense, though I hope to be conversational in Arabic eventually.

    Honestly, after learning a couple of grammars, it gets easier to pick up new languages – one figures out the basic parts of speech, what questions to ask of a new language, and so forth.

    I do think it’s a good idea to only begin one new language at a time.

  • Ray

    I find Rosetta stone language packs quite useful here, thy contain the same pictures and phrases in the same learning order for all languages. This is especially helpful when I was trying to learn an easier language like Spanish after having first made my way through mandarin. After a while I started remembering sentences & phrases from my Spanish that would jog my memory of what they were in Mandarin and vice versa, I really like that.

  • traveller

    I learn bits of each language at the same time. Depending where i’m travelling to next, or what grabs my attention. You just can’t replace drive and motivation, so why not learn more than one? It’s like saying you can’t learn football and basketball in the same season?? what??

  • Crayton

    I “learned” Spanish in High School. And then I studied German in college. Upon visiting Honduras I found that German words had crept into what I thought was Spanish.

    I am fairly certain that the reason for this is that I did not truly commit Spanish to memory. I bet there is a way to do it right.

  • Crayton

    That being said, I can read both rather well. But while speaking the two are often confused.

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    Thanks for the recommendations!

  • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

    I recently came across Bref; love it!

  • Dango007

    Kudos! I totally believe everyone with enough motivation and time can learn more than two languages at once.  I can speak English fluently, and I am currently studying Cantonese (which I was kind of born speaking) and now will perfect Turkish, French, Mandarin and Japanese.  I don’t mix them up, they are very distinct! I think your suggestion about mastering a bit of one language, and using that language to learn another language is intriguing.  I think I will have to try that!  Whatever, happens it is worth trying, and besides who says bilingualism or multilingualism ever stops when you’ve reached intermediate or advanced level.  Even native language speakers have room for improvement.  Why not polygots~?

  • Charles Simmons

    I am excited about all of this!  As an elder professor and former international journalist in the U.S., my greatest regret is that I didn’t take the study of language serious when I was a student. Now I am studying Wolof and French in Senegal because everybody here speaks at least two languages. I intend to also learn more Spanish and begin Portuguese. My motivation now is the result of hating to use translators and/or being limited in research possibilities. 

  • http://mosereien.wordpress.com/ Andreas Moser

    With Spanish and Italian, I have the same problem. They are just too similar.

  • Olivia H.

    From my experience, French and Italian are easier to learn together. I speak English and French and I’m learning Italian Portuguese and Spanish. So far Italian and French are a good combo for me and I use Portuguese to learn spanish

  • Olivia H.

    LaRousse definitely. Oxford is missing some words!

  • kim

    I am studying Finnish, Swedish and Japanese. I already have French, German, Dutch. I am loving every moment of my language study.

  • Irina Dumitrescu

    Americans are unusually monoglotic, and so fear bilingualism in general. Families used to be advised to raise their children with only one language, which is of course very silly.

    Now, the drawbacks to multiple language learning as I see it, and judging from my own experience, are not having enough time to study each language regularly, and interference. Interference will happen anyway, whether languages are learned simultaneously or not, and I can imagine it might even be useful to learn two similar languages at the same time and make a special point of noticing the differences in pronunciation, usage, vocab, false friends, etc. The time thing is for every individual learner to judge.

    The advice I got from a polyglot friend of mine is to practice different skills in the different language. Learn one orally, the other one textually. Use different notebooks. I would even go so far as to use differently coloured pens for exercises.

    I love the idea of using foreign language textbooks! I have a lot of fun with the German Reclam editions of Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish books. They have footnotes or facing-page translations in German, so I can practice both languages at the same time. (It also makes me less likely to look to the crib for help!) The other thing I’ve always done is to write the equivalent of, say, a vocab word in the margins of the book in every language I can remember it in.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jessica.holting Jessica Holting

    Of course you can study multiple languages simultaneously if you want to. It might slow your progress in learning languages individually but if there is no need to be in a hurry so what? You will still learn them if you are dedicated. The truth is you never stop learning any language. You’re not even done with English yet and if it was possible to finish a language and be done with it we wouldn’t need dictionaries. That means even if you learn one language at a time, eventually you have to go back to studying more than one so you don’t lose your previous language. If you want to be bilingual or mutilingual you will have to continue to study those languages simultaneously for the rest of your life so you don’t lose them. I’m studying German, Spanish and also English even though I tend to forget I’m still learning my mother tongue! I would love to learn French too but that I have to admit is a bit too much for me right now. Consider languages a lifelong passion!

  • Alexey

    Hello! I wanna learn 2 languages now at the same time – Indonesian and German. Due to the fact that I’m pressed for time and can’t spend all the days on learning languages I think that the good way will be to spend the 1st day for German and the 2nd to Indonesian and so on. To study two languages every day and moreover improve English at the same time is a bad idea I suppose. I’ll try to separates languages by days.
    Thank you for your article

  • dannytran

    Firstly, thank you to your article, it’s really make me clean my mind. Before coming to this site from Google search, i faced a diploma of learn a new languge(Japanese) or not, though I always want to do. Just because one issue I thought about, my current first foreign language (English) is not OK yet, so, trying one more seem to be an idiotic idea. Eventually, I was just afraid of losing both in case I need both of them while I work. But, when i read your article, and also the comments of some friends from several countries (maybe), I realize that if I stop learning one (or some) more language(s), even if by simultaneously, I’ll become a real idiot. I need to try right away. Thanks again.

  • Okibe

    I really want to speak French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Cantonese/Mandarin so bad, Spanish is my strongest second language, then a little French, a tad bit of Russian, Japanese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and I learned how to read Korean. Right now I am mastering Spanish and learning Mandarin Chinese at the same time, why? Because I can. I will not take no for an answer. People say you need to only focus on one language, that’s bull. I can focus on two no matter what. I will make a schedule for myself, one day is Spanish and the next day is Mandarin Chinese.

Why is Jennie no longer in France?

I created this blog in September 2006 when I moved to France from Michigan to teach English. Many of the earlier posts are about my personal life in France, dealing with culture shock, traveling in Europe and becoming fluent in French. In July 2011, I relocated to Australia to start my PhD in Applied Linguistics. Although I am no longer living in France, my research is on foreign language pedagogy and I teach French at a university so these themes appear most often on the blog. I also continue to post about traveling and being an American abroad.

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