Don’t Learn Two Languages At The Same Time | TROLL 25

Now on the I Will Teach You a Language podcast

Which of course all self-respecting language learners listen to devotedly…

There is one question which, above all, has dominated the airwaves.

One question which, it doesn’t seem to matter how many times I answer it, someone still comes back and asks the very same question again.

There doesn’t seem to be an answer to this question that satisfies people.

It’s like with parking tickets…

Yes you are parked illegally, you overstayed the time, and you got a ticket…

But there’s always a reason why you, in this particular case, really didn’t deserve the ticket…

And it seems to be just like this with this particular question about language learning.

So what is this question?

Well long-term listeners to the podcast will, of course, immediately know the answer to this. It is, of course:

“Can I learn two languages at the same time?”

Now because I’ve answered this so many times, I have no chance of saying anything new or original on this topic. And so let me lay this out as a Rule of Language Learning right now…

Forever enshrined in the annals of the internet, so that whenever in the future anyone asks me whether they can learn two languages at the same time, I can just point to this post and be done with it.

The 2 Ingredients Of Fast Progress To Fluency

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Now…

I want you to cast your mind back to a moment in your language learning experience where you felt like you were learning a lot.

You know, when you felt like things were going really well and you were improving quickly.

Think about what you were doing. How are you were studying.

Got that?

Now, I don’t know what your situation is exactly, but I can be pretty sure that at that time you were quite focused on language learning.

You were studying quite a lot.

You were going quite deep on your language practice.

I think you know what I mean…

I’m going through this at the moment with my Japanese actually. I am speaking a lot, I’m making the time, I’m studying the language and doing bits of revision whenever I have free time, because I can feel that I’m just in a bit of a groove.

Do you know what that feeling is like?

Chances are this feeling tallies with your experiences of language learning going well, and there is a reason for that.

The reason for that is that there is a direct correlation between how deeply you focus and how much you learn.

On the other hand, when you’re a bit all over the place, snatching half an hour every few days, rushing your homework for class, and really doing anything but focus on your language practice, that’s the time when you really make very little progress.

Depth and focus equals progress.

Now, let me ask you this…

What’s the one thing you could do that would take that beautiful focus away from your language study?

Well I’ll tell you…

You could start learning another language!

The Big Problem With Learning Two Languages Together

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The fundamental problem with trying to learn two languages at the same time is that you’re taking your focus away from one language and giving it to the other.

And, naturally enough, you’re not giving your complete focus to either of them.

Now that feeling of depth and focus that I described just a bit earlier, when you’re really on a roll and using every spare ounce of focus and attention to drive your language study forward…

It’s a really fine balance isn’t it?

It’s difficult to get to that state and even harder to maintain.

So in my view, you really can’t afford to lose even 10% of that focus.

Sure, you might be thinking, well it’s only 15 minutes here or half an hour there…

But what you’re actually doing is driving a spear right through the heart of your main language.

Yes, I know that your situation is different…

I know, I know.

But, my friend, it doesn’t matter one bit how are you try to spin this…

The fact remains that you can’t study two languages at the same time and do them both justice.

Trust me…

You’ll feel great for a couple of weeks, get that initial buzz from your first few lessons in the new language…

But sure as night follows day…

As the days and weeks begin to pass, you’ll realise that everything you’ve achieved in your first language, all the progress you’ve made, all the excitement and motivation that you felt… without you noticing, in the shadow of the night, has slipped away.

And you have lost all that wonderful momentum that made you feel so great, and that excited you enough to want to start that second language in the first place.

Now we can argue this back-and-forth.

And you can show me counter-examples till you’re blue in the face.

But that’s my position on this.

And that, as they say, is that.

The Exception To This Rule Of Language Learning

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But of course, there is one situation that trumps my idealistic take on this topic…

One situation where you absolutely should learn two languages at the same time…

And that’s when you feel deep down: “I just need to do something a bit different!”

Maybe you don’t really care so much about being some ninja polyglot…

You just want to have a bit of fun and dabble in a new language…

You want some variety, and you’re just enjoying life…

And if that’s the case… Then I say… Go for your life!

Because, of course, it is perfectly possible to study two languages at the same time.

I mean, there is absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t study six languages at the same time. And there are some fairly famous polyglot-type people on the Internet who do exactly that, and who probably think that what I’m saying here is a load of claptrap!

(And they’re probably right!)

If spending some time with a new language is something that you feel would add value to your life, then by all means go for it, and enjoy every minute!

But if, like many people watching this, you’re not aiming to be a super polyglot, but rather you just want to do whatever it takes, come hell or high water, to master your main language…

Because it matters to you more than anything else…

Then it’s worth bearing this lesson in mind.

It’s worth thinking about the power of depth and focus.

And to consider what it really takes to do great things in just one language.

And if this is you, and learning your main target language to a good level is a big, hairy, audacious goal (a B-H-A-G) in your life…

If you’re committed, and you’ll do anything to avoid falling off the rails…

Then I would say…

Do yourself a favour, resist the temptations… as hard as it maybe…and: Don’t learn two languages at the same time.


Go on then, leave me a comment about how you've successfully learned two languages at the same time! 

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