Please note: this article presumes that you've already made up your mind about learning two or more languages at the same time. If you're still on the fence, see the article called "Should I learn a few languages at the same time?"
Choosing your languages and avoiding wanderlustEdit
If you are interested in many languages and need to choose a few to focus on, consider the following aspects:
- passion: is there one or two you can't live without?
- how many languages your free time allows
- your level: are you starting from scratch, improving your skills, polishing an advanced language or reviving one you used to know?
- difficulty: Japanese, Mandarin and Georgian or the entire Romance group? Choose or split your goal.
- the "honeymoon effect": being a beginner is many people's favourite stage of learning because the progress is fast and noticeable, even in "hard" languages like Mandarin. This is exciting but temporary, and this can lead to the sunk cost fallacy in the long run.
- active vs passive: learning to understand a language shouldn't cause interference
- be cautious with closely related languages (such as Spanish and Portuguese), especially at the beginner level
Time management - the general principlesEdit
Especially when it comes to simultaneous study, language learning is a lifestyle choice - just like sports, vegetarianism or even fashion and subcultures. One language at a time can be treated more like a hobby, with occasional periods of neglect and then frantically making up for it. Learning several languages requires a lot of dedication and consistency.
If you're trying to become more productive, disciplined (or similar), best try to make those lifestyle changes before you start a new language. Chances are that your original plan will turn out unrealistic or at least somewhat less sustainable than you expected. The natural solution may be to drop your new language.
For example, you decide to get up one hour earlier than you used to, but through sleepiness, headaches and stress you learn that 30 minutes is the maximal extra time you can get in the mornings, and on some days even less. It will seem much more logical to devote this time to a language you're already learning. To avoid this problem, be more flexible and give your new strategy a test drive before attempting to use it for a new language.
The simplest scenario: two languages at a timeEdit
If you are learning two languages, on any given week you'll either divide your time equally between them or focus more on one of them. Take into account the languages' difficulty and your priorities. Some learners consider the simplicity of this scenario dangerous. As with anything in language learning, avoid excessive thinking and planning. The best strategy is the one you'll actually follow.
A common combination is a hard language+a relatively easy one. In this case you obviously should devote more time to the "difficult" language and study the "easy" one when you want to take a break. For a real life example, see the log of kujichagulia, a learner of Japanese and Portuguese.
Don't neglect your "easy" language either. You may want to "reserve" a specific time of the day for it, or one of your commutes. Consider doing a suitable challenge to give it the attention it deserves.
You might be tempted to assign different days of the week to your languages, but this will make it harder to switch between them, so use caution and consider other options. If you live in a multilingual city, this will lessen your opportunities to practise.
More than two languages at onceEdit
If it's unrealistic for you to study each of your languages daily, aim to study them all every week. As illustrated by the examples of A. Arguelles and Iversen, this can be done by following a rigid schedule or in a more relaxed way.
Some common ways of handling the situation:Edit
- an AJATT-style attitude of "All Foreign Languages, All The Time", a lifestyle change. Might work best with related languages.
- a less strict attitude to immersion where you simply make sure to have the materials readily available
- switching between the languages and techniques as you please - one day may be an immersion day, next day you do something else, and then you feel like having five short sessions in different languages
- signing up for various challenges - make sure they don't interfere with your long-term plans
- solving one problem at a time, whether language-specific or something which is a problem in more than one language. You can apply the 20 hour technique over and over.
- having a scheduled language or two for each day of the week - ideally this should be just the minimum and not something to limit yourself to
- having a scheduled language or two for a week or two (but not much more) of intensive studies and letting the other rest for that mid-length amount of time
- having a main language or two for a longer period of time and simply maintaining the others
Below you can find a list of forum members that contributed to this article, mostly via this thread. Their posts might provide an additional insight.