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How to Learn Two languages at Once (AND Maintain Them!)

by Michele
Top tips for How to Learn two languages at once and maintain them
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Dream of being a polyglot or just have a deadline? Here are 32 effective tips to help you learn two languages at once PLUS maintain them at a high level.

Did you know there are over 7,000 languages spoken in the world today? Learning them all in one lifetime is impossible, even if you devote all your life to learning languages. Nevertheless, it is possible to learn multiple languages and become a polyglot. Each language you learn comes with its own unique benefits and advantages, it gives you access to new information, a new culture, new job opportunities, and allows you to make new friends. 

In this guide, I’ve gathered some of the best tips on how to learn multiple languages (including how to learn two languages at once) and maintaining them at a high level. Let’s dive in and find out how you can become a polyglot, by learning and maintaining your languages more efficiently!

Here’s what we’ll cover:

11 tips on how to learn multiple languages

Learning multiple languages is not as hard as it seems. The thing is, the more you learn the better your general language learning skills improve. You notice patterns and make sense of various exceptions faster. Moreover, if you learn languages from the same family or group that share a lot of similarities, each new language becomes easier to learn as you are already familiar with some shared vocabulary and grammar structures from the related language(s) you know. 

However, ‘not as hard as it seems’ does not equal ‘easy’. Learning a foreign language can present various challenges, learning multiple languages – even more so. But do not worry – with these tips, you will be able to avoid or easily overcome most of them. 

1. Consider your motivation

Motivation plays a very important role in how successful we are in learning foreign languages. If you are not really motivated you will find it much harder to push through the challenges – and you won’t even enjoy the fun stuff that much either. 

Think hard about what makes you want to learn your target languages in the first place. Doing it to impress someone or just because ‘all the cool kids are doing it’ will hardly sustain you long-term. 

Instead, think of what you enjoy about the language, the opportunities it may give you and your goals. Do you have a trip coming up or want to community with your relatives? Whatever it is, write it down – on a post-it, in your private journal – and keep coming back to it to remind yourself why you started this journey.

2. Set a deadline 

If you want to achieve fluency in your target languages ‘some time in the future’ – that’s when you will achieve it. Such an unclear goal will negatively affect your motivation and your progress.

On the one hand, it can be hard to determine exactly how long it takes to learn a language because how fast you can achieve a certain level in your target language depends on many factors. On the other, achieving an A2 proficiency level is possible within just a few months practically for any learner and any language – provided you are motivated and work hard. 

Set yourself a clear achievable goal and work towards it. Setting smaller objectives can help, too: for instance, you can set yourself a deadline for covering a unit in your textbook or listening to a podcast. 

3. Surround yourself with like-minded people

Tips to learn two languages at once - Surround yourself with like-minded peopleIn a challenging endeavour – which learning multiple languages is – it is important to have support, people who will motivate you to learn, inspire you, and learn together with you.

Nowadays, it is much easier to surround yourself with a like-minded community or to join one. If there are no language learners among your friends and no language clubs in the area, go online – you will find whole forums and social media pages devoted to language learning.

There are lots of great options: language exchange platforms like Interpals or HelloTalk, forums, Facebook pages, YouTube channels, blogs. You can also start your own blog and describe your language learning journey to inspire others. 

The important thing is not to do it alone. Being in a supportive group provides for better accountability and higher motivation, making your learning more efficient. And among other things, it is also more enjoyable. 

4. Refresh the languages you already know 

It is impossible to finish learning a language in the way you can finish reading a book or watching a movie on Netflix – language learning is a never-ending process. If you don’t keep practising what you already know you won’t stay at the same level of proficiency – and over time, your level will slowly decrease if you don’t do anything to maintain it. To combat this, I have at least two italki lessons each week.

We’ll explore how you can best maintain multiple languages in the next section. 

5. Study two languages at the same time 

If you want to master multiple languages in your lifetime, you may want to save some time by learning two languages at the same time. 

Contrary to popular belief, you won’t get overwhelmed or confused by doing this, if you pace yourself and devote sufficient time to both languages. Read on for more tips on how to learn two languages at once successfully.

6. Focus on one language as much as possible

While learning two languages at the same time has its advantages, it may not be a suitable strategy for everyone. If you can’t devote relatively equal time to both languages, it is better to go the opposite route: choose one language and focus on it exclusively (with the exception of maintaining the languages you already know) until you reach the desired level of proficiency – then and only then, move on to another language. 

By immersing yourself in the language and focusing on it as much as possible, you will learn it faster and more effectively. 

7. Study new foreign languages in the languages you already know (aka ‘laddering’)

If you already know one foreign language fairly well, you can use resources in that language to learn another one instead of those in your mother tongue. For instance, you can find a podcast for Chinese speakers learning Italian or use an Italian-Chinese dictionary.

This way, you can practice one foreign language whilst you start learning the other. Comparing one foreign language to another can also sometimes offer unexpected insights. 

It’s important to recognise that using the laddering technique works best if the two foreign languages are quite different from each other and come from different language groups – this is to avoid mixing up similar or shared vocabulary.

8. Give living abroad a try

On the one hand, living abroad is not a magical solution to learning a foreign language – you still need to make some effort to learn and practice. On the other hand, if you’re up for the challenge, living in a country where your target language is spoken is a great way to ensure you get the immersion needed to learn it.

By living abroad you will be surrounded by your target language throughout your day: while shopping, watching TV, running errands, going out… You may also have an opportunity to use the laddering technique mentioned in the previous tip. For instance, take Italian classes at a language school while living in China.

Moving to another country is a serious commitment. If you are not ready to make one, give it a try with a short trip to get a taste of the local culture, have some language practice, and meet some locals.

9. Immerse yourself into your target languages 

Whether you have an opportunity to travel abroad for a language holiday or not, creating an immersive environment even at home is one of the best tips on how to learn multiple languages or how to learn two languages at once. 

This means creating ways to constantly use your target languages and being exposed to them in a variety of ways. Just attending classes and doing your homework is not enough, even if you do it frequently and well. 

Think of the ways you use your native language every day – and try to replace as many of these with one of your target languages. Switch your computer or smartphone system to your target language, watch movies and read books in it, chat to people online, watch the news, browse forums and social media – whatever you can come up with, do it in one of your target languages. 

It is important to remember to give more or less equal attention to all your target languages if you want to master them all successfully. 

10. Don’t worry about understanding everything

At any level of proficiency, there will be some things that you don’t quite understand, new vocabulary, ‘weird’ grammar. Do not obsess over every single one of them. And don’t rely on a dictionary to translate each new word. It will slow you down and ultimately demotivate you, and in some situations, it is simply impossible.

Instead, try to understand as much as you can from context as often as you can. This is a very useful skill to develop with any language and at any level. There may be some words that are hard to understand even if they come up often or are crucial words that prevent you from understanding a whole paragraph –  of course, it’s okay to look them up, but try to work things out from context first. 

11. Start using your target languages as soon as you can 

This happens to quite a few of us language learners: we seem to be learning successfully, coping with all the tasks, performing well on tests, but the moment we have to use our target language in a real-life situation we feel lost and can barely say a word. 

The problem is, learning and actually using the language are not the same thing and you need to start speaking your target language as early as possible. Some people put off using their target in real life till they ‘reach a high level’, which leads to a situation described above.

Don’t put off speaking your target language until you reach some sort of ‘high’ level or any level, for that matter – start speaking as soon as you start learning. Talk to your fellow learners, your teacher, chat to people online, and attend language events. At first, you may only be able to say just a few words, but your vocabulary and your confidence will grow exponentially with regular practice. 

12 Tips for how to learn two languages at the same time 

If you’re interested in learning multiple languages you might also be interested in how to learn two languages at once. Before you do it, first, think hard if you really want to. Studying two languages at the same time is not as hard and confusing as many believe, but it is still a bit harder than learning one language at a time. 

It may also be not suitable for your learning style or the languages you want to learn: for instance, learning two extremely similar languages from zero at the same time can get quite confusing. 

Nevertheless, learning two languages at the same time is definitely possible. It allows you to save some time if you need to learn multiple languages quite quickly for work or education. It can also provide you with interesting insights into both languages by comparing and contrasting them. 

If learning two languages simultaneously is something you have to do or just really want to do, here are a few tips that will help you do it with fewer difficulties and more success.

1. Study languages that are very different from each other 

If you study two languages that are very similar from scratch at the same time, there is a high risk of confusing and mixing them up. 

The thing is, languages that belong to the same group (like Spanish and Italian or German and Dutch) share a lot of similarities: there is a large portion of shared vocabulary and many grammatical principles are similar. But, apart from that, there are things that are somewhat similar (but spelled or pronounced differently), ‘false friends’ that look similar but mean something totally different, and, of course, certain things that are different. 

When you are learning two such languages from scratch, it is easy to mix up what is supposed to be similar and what is different because you don’t have any knowledge of either of the languages. As a result, you will often get a muddled mix of the two. 

If you can choose your target languages, choose two that belong to different language groups or even language families: Spanish and Hindi, Russian and French, and so on. If you have to learn two similar languages (for instance, for work or education) consider learning them one after the other instead of at the same time.

2. Study both languages every day…

If you take a break from studying one language to study the other for a few days, during these few days, you will forget a large portion of what you have learned in the first language. No matter whether you are learning one language or two at once, our brains need regular repetition to transfer information from short-term into long-term memory. 

It will be much more effective if you have short learning sessions in each language every day rather than longer sessions but with longer breaks in between. How you organize these daily sessions is up to you. They don’t have to be 100% equal (strictly 15 minutes in both languages) and you can schedule them throughout the day the way it’s convenient for you.

3. …but not at the same time

Research has shown that multitasking doesn’t really work. So trying to study two languages in one learning session – for instance, by doing flashcards in one language while watching a video in another language is not an effective or efficient use of your time. It may not be a total waste of time, but the results will be very low. 

4. Create different study routines for the two languages 

To minimize mixing up the languages and help your memory, it is a good idea to study the two languages in different ways. You can study one language through video lessons and the other with a teacher, one language online and the other offline, one language through mobile apps and the other through a podcast…

You can also ‘separate’ the two languages in other ways: study them in different locations, at different times of day, and use different colours for your notes. The idea is to create a clear division in the way you learn the two languages that will help your brain switch between the languages and avoid mixing things up. 

Tips to learn two languages at once - Use different colour notes

5. Don’t hurry

Learning two languages at the same time means that you will learn each one a bit slower than if you were to learn them one after the other. Don’t push yourself to reach your goals as fast as possible: give yourself sufficient time to practice and consolidate what you have learned, otherwise you’ll forget it pretty fast as well. 

6. Choose languages with a different level of difficulty 

This is another way to help separate the two languages and avoid mixing things up. If you choose one language that is quite similar to English, due to the similarities, it will be easier to learn. For instance, English and French or Norwegian have a lot of cognates (shared vocabulary) which means that you’ll know quite a few words from the start. 

A harder language will have fewer cognates and a different grammatical structure, which can make learning more of a challenge. However, it is a challenge that is good for your brain and overall learning process. 

7. Use the laddering technique (described in the previous section)

If you are at a different proficiency level in your two target languages, you can make use of the laddering technique, that is, learn one language (the new or lower-level one) through the other (the one you know relatively well). An example of this can be a podcast with Spanish speakers learning Norwegian vocabulary or a language learning app with Norwegian flashcards and Spanish translations. 

This will allow you to maximize your learning by practising two languages at the same time and to understand the two languages better by closely comparing and contrasting them this way. 

8. Pay attention to what works for you and what doesn’t 

This is an important tip when you are learning one language, and it is almost doubly important when learning two at once. On your language learning journey, you will try different resources and techniques. Some will work for you and some won’t – it’s natural. The important thing is to notice what is working for you and what is not, and to do more of the one and less of the other. 

If studying in the mornings is hard for you – switch to evenings. If you particularly enjoy a learning app – keep using it. There are many ways to learn a language and a large variety of learning resources available: even if you eliminate what is not working, you won’t run out of language learning materials. 

9. Take breaks 

Learning two languages at once can be quite intense and hard work. It’s okay to feel tired and overwhelmed occasionally. Don’t beat yourself up for wanting to take a break or breaking your learning routine. Stressing out about things like this can actually have a negative effect on your learning. 

Instead of stressing, just take a break. Have a day free of language learning and do something else instead: go for a walk, meet with friends, devote this time to another hobby. Taking short breaks when needed will help you stay motivated and avoid burnout. 

10.  Limit distractions 

The modern world is full of distractions: calls, emails, smartphone notifications… Depending on your situation, you may not be able to eliminate them all, but do your best to get rid of them where you can: switch your phone to silent mode or disable notifications from certain apps, turn off the WIFI or block access to certain distracting websites for a period of time, or study in a quiet room.

It is important to stay focused when learning. The more concentrated you are on your studies the better the results will be. 

11.  Use your native language as little as possible 

As your level in your target languages grows, you will be able to practice them in a larger variety of ways and you won’t need to translate them back into your native language as often. At some point, it becomes kind of a crutch: something that you are used to relying on but don’t really need. 

Eliminating your mother tongue from your studies completely may be next to impossible at the beginning. However, try to use it less and less as you grow more confident in your target languages – it will make your learning even more effective. 

12. Get creative and have fun 

Language learning, no matter how many languages are involved, doesn’t have to be a chore – it can be fun, exciting, and creative! Do the activities you enjoy, communicate with interesting people, come up with your own unique ways to practise your target languages. By bringing in more variety and creativity you not only make your learning more enjoyable but more successful as well. 

9 Tips on how to maintain multiple languages 

You have just read quite a few good tips on how to learn multiple languages, but another question may arise: after you achieve a certain level of proficiency in all your target languages, how do you maintain them all? After all, as I mentioned before, you should avoid not using and practicing a foreign language – otherwise, all your effort will be wasted.

Do not worry, though. Maintaining several foreign languages is no harder than learning them, and with the great tips below you’ll be able to do it even easier. Check them out and give the ones that seem most suitable a try!

1. Live in a multilingual city 

Immersing yourself in multiple languages is much easier in a place where most of them are spoken. If you have a chance to move or regularly travel to such a place, maintaining your target languages will get easier. Think of countries with more than one official language (like Switzerland) or large metropolitan areas such as London where many foreigners arrive for work or pleasure. 

2. Make friends 

Chatting with friends is a lot of fun and is quite easy even if you do it in a foreign language. By making friends who only speak your target language(s), you create both a need and an opportunity to practice the language(s) in a relaxed and enjoyable way. 

You can look for people who speak your target languages in a variety of ways. You can do it both offline by checking out local language clubs and language-related events, or offline on language exchange platforms or foreign forums related to your hobbies. 

3. Use your languages at work 

Working every day with one or more target languages is a great way to maintain and even improve them. There are a few possible areas of work that are traditionally associated with languages: tourism, translation and interpreting, language teaching, and journalism.

However, nowadays you are not limited to those professions. In the increasingly globalized world, people who speak multiple languages are needed more and more often in different spheres: advertising, medical, legal, construction, and many more. 

Do some market research regarding your target languages and your current or desired profession – you may be surprised by some of the opportunities you discover. 

4. Bring your languages and your hobbies together 

Your hobbies are, most likely, something that you enjoy doing, which also makes them a great way to maintain the foreign languages you know. Doing something you like won’t feel like an obligation and it will also be a way to learn new things, expand your vocabulary, and possibly meet new people. 

With some hobbies, ways to combine them with languages is fairly obvious. For instance, if you are an avid reader you can start reading original works in your target languages. As a bonus, you can also find forums and communities of readers who speak those languages to discuss them with.

With other hobbies, a variety of things are possible: you can watch tutorials on YouTube, listen to podcasts, find related forums online, take classes from foreign teachers, read textbooks in your target language(s), travel abroad for seminars and conventions, and many more. 

5. Consume content in your target languages

On an average day, we consume a huge amount of various content: news, magazines, movies, TV shows, books, emails, social media, YouTube, podcasts… To make maintaining foreign languages easier, make sure that you use them to consume at least some of this content. 

You are unlikely to miss out on any crucial information – most important things are available in multiple languages. However, you’ll be able to have some language practice and get a few fresh perspectives on familiar things. You may also find interesting and fun content not available in your mother tongue and expand your worldview. 

Related: 22 Genius Tips for Language Learning with Netflix

6. Use all the languages more or less equally

It is hard to measure this perfectly, but do your best to practice all languages somewhat equally. After all, you want to maintain them all. It is easier to do if you use the languages for work or education, or have friends who speak them. But even if you don’t – find ways to have some regular practice in each language. As I mentioned earlier,  to supplement my own language learning I personally use italki multiple times every week. This is where I get 1-to-1 support and speaking practice with a qualified teacher or community tutor. You can read my full italki review here and book your first italki lesson here.

7. Pay attention to all language skills 

The key four language skills are reading, listening, writing, and speaking. If you concentrate on one of them and ignore the others, the ignored skills will suffer. For instance, if you read a lot in your target language – that’s great, but if it’s the only thing you do, your speaking, listening, and writing skills will deteriorate or never improve over time. It won’t happen in a day, a week, or even a month, but if you neglect one of the skills for a long time, using it in the future will be harder. 

It’s okay to focus more on the skills you need in life – maybe you need to do a lot of reading at the university or a lot of writing at work, but don’t forget to practice the skills regularly as well. 

8. Teach others 

Teaching something is one of the best ways to make sure you never forget it. Teaching allows you to look at a language from a new perspective and makes you practice and revise things again and again. 

You don’t have to become a professional teacher to do that. You can also do other things, like help people with the same target language at language exchange platforms or start a language learning blog or YouTube channel.

9. Make languages a part of your life

This is ultimately what all the tips in this section come down to. Your target languages shouldn’t just be something you know and sometimes use. If they become an active, living, breathing part of your life – you won’t have to maintain it, you’ll just be living it!

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How to Learn two languages at once

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Over to you!

Are you learning two languages? What is your favourite tip on this list? What else would you recommend?
Let me know using the comments section below or join me on social media to start a conversation.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post.

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Louisana Rivera May 20, 2021 - 14:34

It takes a lot of motivation to learn two languages at once. And it’s very exhausting. For three months I tried to combine learning German and French. But it didn’t really work out. I got confused about rules, pronunciation, words. The problem was probably that I had no one to practice these languages with and therefore I didn’t succeed. However, I believe that people can practice learning multiple languages quite successfully.

Michele August 20, 2021 - 17:48

Thank you for sharing your experience Louisana. It is indeed challenging and requires a lot of dedication. Doing this will look different for everyone. Keep at it and you will succeed 🙂


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