IWTYAL 215: What’s the deal with “triangulating” languages?

Neil asks: “Should I use triangulation to learn French?”

Episode Summary:

On today's podcast:

The big questions:

Resources mentioned in today's episode:

Full Transcript:

Good morning everybody, welcome back to the I Will Teach You a Language podcast. Now we are 15 episodes on from episode 200 where me, Chris Brahmin and Kirsten Cable sat down for our little fireside chat that was done in the middle of the summer with a few glasses of alcoholic beverages in hand. If you remember towards the end of that episode Chris helpfully suggested that both myself, Chris and Kirsten choose one person each, three lucky winners, to receive our entire library catalog. Whatever you want to call it, our life's work so to speak, of language learning material and courses and things like that.

So, before we answer today's question I would like to announce the winners of this. These are three lucky people who have posted pictures of themselves or their language learning setting or language learning scene. It was a very difficult decision because obviously, all of you who listen to the podcast are all fantastic and you all are passionate, dedicated language learners. It was very very difficult to choose, but nevertheless, we chose one person each.

If this is you, if you are listening to this, which hopefully you are, then get in touch, drop us an email. Emailing me is the best thing to do olly@iwillteachyoualanguage.com. Let me know that it's you and I'll just do a quick verification and then you will be sent absolutely everything which will keep you busy for a very, very long time indeed. All our courses, books, stuff like that. It's a wonderful prize.

So, the three people are, the three winners are, first of all, Louise. Congratulations Louise. Louise has decided not to take a photo of her book shelf, but posted an image of her walking in the countryside where she goes to listen to podcasts in the language that she's learning. Which is fantastic. So, congratulations Louise.

Next number two we have Anna. Anna, you posted a picture of yourself in Japan, with a group of volunteer Japanese teachers, which is fantastic. It's something that I used to do as well when I was living in Kiyose, on the [foreign word] in western Tokyo. So, congratulations to you as well. You win access to everything that myself, Chris and Kirsten create. So, send us an email.

Then lastly number three, Louis. Louis congratulations. It sounds a bit like Louise, but it's not. Just in case you thought it was a duplicate. Louis has sent in a picture of a fantastic multicolored mind map about his journey learning German and also a very very long inspiring comment as well. So, congratulations to the three of you Louise, Louis and Anna. Please send me an email to olly@Iwillteachyoualanguage.com and we will get you access to everything that you have won. Congratulations again and the best of luck to all of you, to the three of you, but everyone else as well in achieving your dreams and your goals with language learning.

It's a great pleasure for me to be able to speak to you and to play some kind of part in that. I'm just grateful for you, for your support and happy to be able to give back in a small way and I'm sure Kirsten and Chris will echo those sentiments. So, congratulations to the three of you.

Now before we answer todays question from Neil, I'd like to thank the sponsors of the show. Another place where you can get a fantastic deal in fact. It is $10 worth of free lesson credit and it is with italki and its the place that I get all my language lessons from. If you would like to get this $10 worth of credit which equates to about at least two trial lessons, if not three. Then you can go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freelesson.

Let's hear today's question from Neil.

Neil: Hi Olly, this is Neil again and I have a question about language triangulation. I've been studying Spanish now for two years and have reached a reasonably good conversational level, approximately B2, thanks largely to your podcast, your courses, your recommendations and yes, the Fluent Spanish Academy. I'm considering trying to reinitiate my French which I left behind over 20 years ago after seven years of struggling and failing to learn it while living in Montreal.

This was the pre-internet; pre-Olly era and language learning resources were not that inspiring back then. I have gone back over your podcast on the advice how to learn a third language if it is close to your second. I'm totally paranoid about losing my Spanish by deciding to focus on French. Learning Spanish has totally obliterated my ability to form even basic sentences in French. I want to continue increasing my Spanish fluency and I want Spanish to be my dominant second language. At the same time, I feel an obligation and a desire to re-find that long lost French, but not at the expense of continuing to grow my Spanish.

I don't really want to hold off on French until my Spanish is clearly advanced, because that might take forever. The message I seem to be getting from your previous podcast is that I should work on both together so I can develop the ability to separate the two related languages in my mind. I've just read about the principle of language triangulation and see that Glossika offers the option of combining languages to assist in this. I'm curious about your opinion on triangulation.

Additionally, if you approve of triangulation, how would you recommend incorporating other learning activities such as italki lessons reading et cetera in to a learning plan for both languages. Thanks so much.

Olly: Okay Neil, thank you very much for your questions. Great to hear from you and an interesting question as always, I'd expect nothing less from you.

Congratulations on your Spanish. It's great to see that you've done so well, that you go so far. Two years is a decent amount of time to be working with Spanish. Especially when you work as hard as you do and it's great that you have got to that level. I also think it is great to start to look at French. I think it's the right time as well, because having reached B2 good conversational level in Spanish, I think you have done the hard work and you're right to say that becoming totally fluent in the language it may well take forever.

It won’t take forever, but it's an ongoing process. Any language is a lifetimes work. So, you're right to say that. I think you have also reached the level of which I would begin to recommend that you do, that you can if you want to pick up a second language, which is about that B2 level. What I found is that, I've said this many times before on this podcast, that once you do get that kind of B2 level you may well get rusty in the language if you put it to one side, but you will have it forever.

Now as to your concern. I think that it is a valid concern and I think it's inevitable that when you start learning French it will impact on your Spanish in some way. However, because you got to that good level, it will never be lost. The worse that will ever happen is that your brain gets a bit scrambled for a while as you recalibrate to French, but I don't think it's a problem. I think it's totally normal and as long as you take the long view and you trust that you will be able to get the Spanish back when you need it if it does get a bit scrambled then I think that's absolutely fine.

The bit that I'm going to pick up on, in what you said in your message is the idea that you should work on both languages together. The background for that statement that I've made a number of times is the following. So, I learnt Spanish first. I learned it to a good level and then I went to Brazil. I learnt Portuguese to a good level. Then I came back home tried to speak Spanish and I couldn't, not very well anyway. What I had to do was then go out and practice using my Spanish and Portuguese together so I could start a separate them in my brain.

That is very different from saying, “I'm trying to learn both languages at the same time” I actually learnt them separately. I learnt them both to a high level but separately. During the time, I was learning Portuguese I pretty much didn't speak Spanish at all, because I was in Brazil at the time, for much of it anyway. The point about using both languages together is kind of what happens later, it's what comes later in the game. It's developing the ability to switch between languages at will. That for me is almost like learning a different language altogether. It's developing a separate skill.

Regarding the French, you will have some memory of it because although you might feel that you can't put sentences together right now. That's just because you haven't been using it. As soon as you get back to it, you will find a far faster path through French than you did with Spanish, because not only do you have that memory from school, but also this is not your first rodeo anymore. You know how you learn languages, you've got things that work for you.

So, you are going to find learning French is far easier. You are going to know what to expect and you'll come at it with a stronger mind set, but you are going to have to approach French as if it were your first foreign language. Which means you're going to have to dedicate yourself to it. I wouldn't suggest that you try to spend equal amounts of time on French and Spanish, because then you are essentially only dipping your toe in the water so to speak. You are taking this fear of losing Spanish and you're letting that impact on your French.

I think for French, you have to go at it full force. With your whole heart and just say, “I am doing French now” and you can treat it as a trial period. If losing Spanish in the short time is an immediate concern for you, then why not set yourself a three-month challenge? Say, “I am just going to spend three months but I am going to go at French like there's no tomorrow. I'm going to really devote myself to it, really apply myself to it and see how far I can get”.

The worst case is that you spend three months away from Spanish and you really feel like it is not working for you, you can always pull the plug and you can go back to Spanish and what’s the worst that can happen in three months? Not very much. So, I think the most important thing is that as you start to take on French then don't take any half measures. Put Spanish to one side. By all means go out and speak it and use it, watch movies and enjoy the language. That's what it is there for after all. But I wouldn't try to keep learning it, because I would try to use your available time you've got to really focus on French.

I was in Montreal recently and every time I go to Montreal, I really enjoy hearing and using French there. I mentioned this a few episodes ago, but I wouldn't have said that I was enamored with French after spending time in Paris, not at all, and I think that's why I've never really developed this kind of love for French. But I find when I go to Montreal and I see the way French is used there culturally, I find it very, very appealing. I like it very much and having had that experience myself, I'm really excited for you to actually go back and rekindle that, because I think it's a wonderful thing.

It's more growth, isn't it? It's more personal growth for you to take on that language and to apply everything you have worked so hard for in Spanish. Neil, you are very deep thinker, I know, and you really like to understand things and you really like to go at things with all your energy. So, I think taking everything that you've learnt over the last couple of years and applying that to French, it's going to be a wonderful experience and you are going to grow and learn in all kinds of ways that you probably can't predict right now. That's the only kind of predictable thing for me learning a new language, is that it is very unpredictable and you don't know what you are going to learn. So, I think it's great.

Now in terms of triangulation, I've not heard this term before. I know that people use the term laddering. That's what we covered, we talked about laddering in episode 106. Richard Simcotts talks about bridging. So, using one language to bridge to another. We discussed that in episode 14 of the podcast, right near the beginning. The basic point, those that you are using one language to learn another. So, this is the second part of your questions. Once you have decided to learn French and you're going to go at it with full force, so to speak, should you use Spanish to learn French?

Now, I've for to say that I've tried this in the past and I just find that it slows down things a little bit too much. Here’s what I would say in a nutshell, if you pick up a book on learning French and the book is in Spanish, for example, and you are using Spanish to learn French, and you find that you can go through the material and access the material in just as effective a way as if it were in English. In other words, the fact that you're using Spanish is not slowing you down at all in your learning and not complicating matters too much, then I'd say go for it.

Personally, I've found that when I've tried to do this before, I just get a bit frustrated, because what I really want to do is learn the new language. I am kind of happy to put the other language to one side for a while, but I'm kind of reluctant to talk too much about that, because all I know is that it hasn't worked very well for me. I'm a big fan of using your mother tongue for language learning. I think that it is totally valid and there are all kinds of benefits to doing that.

So, if you want to explore that now then try a few different mediums to try to reach your own conclusion. So, get a book. You can get Assimil French in Spanish for example. You could also go for Glossika. Although, I wouldn't use Glossika as a beginning source for French. I think it's important to use more holistic stuff. So, I'd get a good textbook. I would, what we always talk about here, spend lots of time listening and reading. You'll find Neil, I think especially in your case that your existing knowledge of French, albeit from some time ago, combined with your knowledge of Spanish you're going to be able to notice and learn so much, fairly easily, providing you just expose yourself to the whole language.

You might even find that if you pick up my French Short Stories for Beginners, which is available on Amazon, you might find that just sitting down and reading that it's almost possible for you to just access that already because it's at an accessible level. So, you could try that, that’s not in Spanish though that is completely in French. You might also be able to find if you search for learning French in Spanish. Actually, go to Google and search in Spanish “Como aprender Frances”. Then you might find Spanish blogs about learning French.

I think, really the only way you can do this is to actually search for a few different resources in different mediums and just see what sits with you. I think it's vital that you find something that sits well with you. Whatever you do don't just kind of force yourself through it because you're worried

about forgetting Spanish. If I'm able or if you'd allow me to give you permission to set the Spanish to one side whilst you learn French, if that would help, then by all means go for it.

Friends of mine who do or who have learnt languages through other languages typically tell me that the main benefit of doing so is not necessary to keep up the other language, but it's to streamline the process of learning the grammar because it's already understood. For example, many people learn Cantonese using Mandarin Chinese texts. Of course, you can only do that if you read Chinese already, but the huge benefit of doing that is that the languages are almost the same. Certainly, grammatically and semantically. They are very, very similar. A Chinese textbook is not going to explain, there is going to be all kinds of things that the Chinese textbook doesn't explain about Cantonese because it doesn't need to, because it's the same in Chinese.

Whereas, if you have an English textbook, it has to explain all this stuff that is unfamiliar to the English ear or the English eye or the English brain, I guess. I think typically that’s the main benefit of learning another language through another. Now in the case of French the grammatical concepts don't differ widely between English, Spanish from French, there are some differences but the differences between English, Spanish and French are as nuanced between English and Spanish as they are between Spanish and French. So, I don't think there is any big benefit to learning French through Spanish, certainly not in the same way that it would be to learn Cantonese through Chinese for example or to learn Polish through Russian or something like.

The last part of your question Neil was asking for recommendations for organizing your learning in order to take on French and Spanish at the same time, but as you have probably gathered by now, I don't recommend you do that. I think I would prefer to give you full permission to set aside Spanish for a period of time in order to focus on your French, because I think that's how you're going to get far more enjoyment and results out of the process as well.

If you decide to learn French through Spanish, then by all means do that, but just be clear that the criteria always has to be what's best for my learning of French, not how, not kind of trying to clandestinely keep up your Spanish at the same time if you know what I mean, because you will make different learning decisions I think. On the whole until you are at the point where you just can enjoy the intrinsic challenge of using one language to learn another and you just kind of becoming the kind of technical linguist. Which many people out there are and they enjoy that. I think on the

whole it is far better to simply stick to one thing. Go at things simply. Don't muddy the waters but just try your hardest in the most straightforward possible way.

So, I hope that is helpful Neil. Do come back in a few months’ time and let us know how you get on. I do think that for you given your concerns, what I would recommended is setting a strict time period of three months and just saying, “Right, I'm going to go at this for this period of time and then re-evaluate after that” Give that a try, I think it might work for you.

If you would like to ask me a question you can do so by going to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/ask. Now at the end of every episode I like to leave you with a resource of some kind on the topic of the show and in Neil's question he mentioned Glossika triangulating languages. Now I have been digging around and Glossika is a product where you get a thousand sentences in a language, which you then learn and the idea being that those 1000 sentences are very, very powerful and they help you express yourself very quickly. It's a great price. I recommend it. I've used it myself and what they have done is they decided to create these, what they've called custom courses. So, you can learn one language through another.

So, you might decide, for example, to learn Korean through Japanese or French through Spanish or Polish through Russian. You can literally go through and you can select the languages that you want to combine. It's very interesting and it might appeal to some of you. It's not easy to the find on their website actually. You probably won't find it if you go directly there.

What I've done is, I've got the link that will take you to this custom course builder page for Glossika and you can find it in the show notes. So, go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/episode215 and there's a link there in the resources part of the show notes which you can click through to have a bit of a play around with. Who knows, you might find something that you like and fancy a bit of a challenge.

Thank you so much for listening.

Thank you so much for listening to today's episode, I really hope you enjoyed it. One of the questions I get asked most often about language learning is how to improve your memory because things get so much easier when you learn new words and you don't forget them later in

conversation when you really need them. So, what I decided to do is to put together a short email course. It's a three-part email course over three days that teaches you my favorite techniques for memorizing vocabulary and actually putting that vocabulary in to your long-term memory. It's a short course, three days. It's completely free and if you would like to sign up for it please go to iwillteachyoualanguage.com/freememorycourse.

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Kevin Richardson says:
3 May 2014 06:11

Having read about this, I looked for an iOS app with equivalent functionality. I’ve just started using SpeaterLite. I prefer the UI of the Android app you reviewed, but once I’d figured out how to set an A-B loop on SpeaterLite, I was smiling at how much this is going to help me. It even works with video 🙂

Olly Richards says:
7 May 2014 20:28

Cool Kevin – I’ve updated the post with your suggestion! Thanks again

Will says:
16 Jun 2014 09:28

Memrise just featured http://www.stepup.io which allows you to chop up and look video from youtube too. Would value your thoughts Olly.

Olly Richards says:
17 Jun 2014 14:33

Oooh.. I will check it out! Thanks Will, you’re my main source of cool new language tech!

Olly Richards says:
15 Jul 2014 23:24

Here’s a great tool for Windows, iOS and Android that’s also worth checking out: http://www.povalyaev.com/

(Thanks, Mariusz!) 🙂

Seb Pearce says:
2 Aug 2014 12:40

Hi Olly — found your page here from your post on “developing an awesome accent” on Luca’s blog.

I just wanted to let you know I made something similar which I offer on my site for free: http://sebpearce.com/come-again/
It’s nothing special but handy for listening to really tiny chunks of audio.

Still not fully tested at this point so if anyone has any problems with it, please let me know what browser/OS you’re running and I’ll try to address it.

Olly Richards says:
2 Aug 2014 22:04

Hi Seb – great piece of software! The feature I use most on Smart Repeat, actually, is the defined loop – is that something you’d consider adding to the tool?

Seb Pearce says:
2 Aug 2014 23:40

Absolutely. Thanks for reminding me — that’d be a really useful feature for me, too. I’ll let you know when I update it.

Seb Pearce says:
3 Aug 2014 07:47

Update is done! I had a bit of free time today. Enjoy. http://sebpearce.com/come-again/

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