I will never stop learning languages. Depending on how much time I have on my life the time invested will depend, but I will never stop. Now, I could focus on a single language and try to crush it. And well, it’s what I did with Swedish, and it went well but I’m currently studying several languages at the same time.
Scouting the internet, I found many posts advising me not to do so. Still, I stumbled upon some that recommended me to do so under certain circumstances. As always, I experimented on my own to see what worked and what not, and I have to say that study several languages is a great idea. Of course I’m not going to study 10 at the same time, but 3 or 4 makes a lot of sense.
Studying one language is not efficient. A language is a puzzle
In terms of being effective and efficient, studying one language is not productive. Of course if my aim was to learn just one foreigner tongue I wouldn’t be studying others, but for those like me who never plan on stopping learning, is farthest out better to study more than one.
A language is like a puzzle. Say I love doing puzzles (decoding a language and memorizing its words). Now I can spend every day of the week, several hours doing only this one puzzle. As much as I love doing puzzles, if I’m doing the same one all the time it gets boring. I would look for the right spot and the appropriate piece if I was doing a different picture. So now I have three or four puzzles to put together. It will take me longer, but it will be way more fun. Slow and control.
Mounting one single puzzle takes me 6 “points of tiredness” every day. If I have two, it takes me 4 points each. So to arrange the first one, will take me much more time, but I will be putting together the second one. Plus, 4+4=8, so I would be moving 8 steps forward every day instead of 6. True, it will get to every puzzle slowly but still steady and making progress in another language.
Of course if I don’t have the time I’m not going to be starting too many because that would be too stressing. I want something I can manage comfortably and I can deal with every single day.
Studying languages that are not from the same family
Let’s be efficient. If I’m studying Swedish, I’m not going to be memorizing also Norweigan, or Dutch or German. So yes, let’s focus on languages that don’t have the same roots. In my current days I’m doing:
- Swedish (Germanic, around 20 minutes of reading and memorizing words)
- Russian (Slavic, around 2 hours of Assimil)
- Portuguese (Romanic, around 30 minutes of Assimil)
- Finnish (Uralic, around 30 minutes of Teach Yourself)
The main purpose of this is obvious, not getting easily mixed up with the languages of the same family while studying them. Unless I know them very deeply and I’m pretty fluent with them.
Applying the 20/80 rule (Pareto’s principle) to language learning
As seen in the list above, there are several languages where I spend more time with. Russian is my main language, so I spend the most time with (around 80%). It makes sense then that I invest less time with Portuguese, since is pretty simple for me due the fact that my mother tongues are Catalan and Spanish. So 20% of my time is invested in Portuguese, but also with Swedish since I’m already conversational with it and my main goal is expanding vocabulary.
Why study several languages?
It’s true that I want to learn as many languages as I can handle. Not to put them to a CV and look for a job in the near future, but because is something I really enjoy doing on my free time. Understanding and speaking (or mumbling something) in a language I have been studying is one of the best feelings I have ever encountered. My first experience was with English and since then I haven’t stopped improving. Hell I even write stories on this language.