I am currently learning several languages, at very different levels. For each language, the difficulties and challenges are different. I am a native French speaker and I am currently learning or speaking German, English, Spanish and Irish. For each of these languages, my learning experience has been very different.
As I am a native French speaker, I do not have to „learn“ it. However, when you are living abroad and using another language most of the time, you can lose some fluency even in your mother tongue. As I know many other French people in Germany, I do not worry too much about my conversation skills but I plan to read more French literature to avoid ending up speaking „Freusch“ (Francais +Deutsch).
German is the first language I ever learnt. I was indeed eleven as I began taking German lessons at school. I had mostly very good German teachers during my school time, so I left school with a very good knowledge of German grammar and good translation skills, as well as a good knowledge of German culture. My conversation skills were however not half as good as my writing skills so I had to adapt as I arrived in Germany.
Nowadays, however, the situation has changed. My conversation skills have improved. I can now understand nearly everything people tell me. But although I am much more fluent, I am doing more small mistakes when I am speaking. This comes from the fact that I am thinking less before I speak.
My objectives for German are to refresh a little my grammar and to read more German literature.
I learnt English at school too. As the classes were rather structured too, I had also a good knowledge of English grammar. After I spent a few months in Ireland in the frame of the Erasmus exchange program, I was fluent in English. I even took a class about Irish literature and got a B. However, my accent has never been that good. This has always been my biggest challenge when learning English.
Nowadays, I am still using English a lot. First, I am using it to some extent at work. Moreover, I regularly read blogs and books in English. I am reading many literary classics in English and I have no problems to understand them (except Moby Dick, this was challenging).
I am actually facing the following difficulties. First, my accent is not getting better. Actually, I am getting a German accent instead of my French accent while speaking English, which is a little strange. And my listening and speaking skills are not as good as before. Finally, I am sometimes mixing up a few words with German. I have to be careful about that.
My objectives for English are to listen to more podcasts in English and of course to write on this blog!
I have been learning Spanish on and off over ten years now. When I was in business school, I took my first ever Spanish class. I had two hours of Spanish a week during two years and the classes were mostly dedicated to Spanish grammar. The problem is that after the two years, I had very little vocabulary and could hardly speak Spanish at all. The problem also came from the fact that French and Spanish are very close languages. As many Spanish words sounded like French words with „o“ or „a“ at the end, I did not invest enough time learning the vocabulary we had.
Then, I stopped learning Spanish for a while. I resumed learning the language a couple of years after that when I found the BBC languages website. However, I quickly came to a point when the beginners’ learning resources became too easy and the remaining learning resources were too difficult. So I made another break that lasted a couple of years too.
Then I finally discovered Duolingo. I loved it and I finished the Spanish “tree” (that means all the exercises for Spanish). Then I left for a while and after several months, I resumed Duolingo as there were many changes on the website. I lost my progress as the tree was updated but this enables me to resume working on it. And Duolingo introduced new exercises based on little stories that I really like too.
The problem that I am now facing is that even my vocabulary improved a lot, I forgot a large part of the grammar rules that I had learnt before and that I still am far from fluent.
My objectives for Spanish are to finish all the Duolingo stories, work on the grammar and listen to podcasts in Spanish.
I have been also learning Spanish on and off over ten years. Although I love Ireland and I really wanted to be able to speak some Irish, I have not been working enough on it. As I lived in Ireland, I bought a Irish school book with CDs to learn the language. I first learnt to say “Bless god it is not raining!” and tried to use this sentence. Irish people first did not understand because of the accent and then burst into laughter because “You will never need this sentence in Ireland. We always have rain here.” It was very funny but not very encouraging.
Nowadays, I am mostly working with duolingo and I have been watching a few Youtube videos but my level is still desperately low. My objectives for Irish are to finally finish the Duolingo tree, and to watch videos on Youtube to understand better the pronunciation of the language.
Learning several languages at once: some ideas
- Be aware of the relationships between languages
Some languages are very close, like for instance French and Italian. That means, if you already master French, learning Italian can be pretty easy. However, if you begin learning the two languages at the same time, you are likely to mix them up. So if you want to study two new languages at one, choose languages that are very different from each other, like Chinese and German for instance.
- Get exposed to your target language(s) as much as you can
You can find many resources on the Internet: watch films, listen to songs and read articles in your target language(s).
- Find new friends with whom you can speak your languages
You can either try to contact native speakers in your town if there are some local associations there or you can find a pen friend.
- Do not scorn rote learning
This is of course not the most interesting part of learning a language, but you also have to do it. If you do not learn grammar rules or vocabulary words, you won’t be able to use them when you need them. I had once a German teacher who made us learn all the grammar book by heart. It sounds crazy but it really helped.
- Keep motivated
The only way to keep progressing is to work regularly. Give yourself some minimal objectives. When you feel tired or have no time, you can limit yourself to these minimal objectives. When you are more motivated, you can do some extra work.
- Read books in your target languages
This is not as difficult as it sounds and it makes you progress very fast. You just have to choose the good book for your level. If you are reading a book in another language for the first time, choose a bilingual book or a book you’ve already read in your mother tongue. A good tip for any language is to read all the Harry Potter books in your target language. Indeed, as Harry gets older, the language in the books becomes more complex. So the first book is pretty easy to read, and each book is a little more challenging. When you finish the seventh book, you can be proud of yourself.