Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

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Ciarán12

Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Ciarán12 » 2017-11-21, 10:49

I looked through the top the pages of the forum and couldn't find a thread about this, so I'm starting a new one rather than necro-posting on an old one.

My problem is oldie but a goodie - due to the lovely, delicious language-buffet put on my all you nice folks here at UL, I'm all hyped up on wanderlust again and thinking about starting to learn other languages (and/or revive some of my old ones).
The thing is, I pretty much do everything through Portuguese now - I spend hours a day speaking it, I read books in it, watch YouTube more or less exclusively in it, etc... and it seems to me that that's basically what it takes to get fluent. I'm frustrated at times because I don't express myself well enough in Portuguese, so clearly if I want to get past that awkward point I can't concede an inch to any other languages, right? I mean, almost all of my free time is done through the medium of Portuguese, so any space I make for other languages is space taken from Portuguese.
How do those of you with a fluent command of more than one foreign language manage? Is there a point you need to get to in one where it's kind of okay to use it less and have it still remain solid? I was considering trying to study the other languages through Portuguese, but if I'm trying to get equally fluent in those as I am in Portuguese, at some point I'd have to do with them as I'm doing with Portuguese now - live them, speak nothing else except them wherever possible, to the exclusion of all else.

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby kevin » 2017-11-21, 12:03

I don't quite fulfill your criteria, but I do speak one foreign language fluently and still learn others, so maybe it's relevant anyway...

Of course, it makes sense to me that the more time you spend with a language, the faster your progress will be. But it's not like you'll start losing your Portuguese or progress will come to a halt if you spend only half of your free time with it. It will just be a bit slower, but you'll keep improving over time.

I'm not doing everything through English, and I'm not at all actively studying it or watching videos just with the intention to improve my English. I still don't have the impression that my English is getting worse. It's still slow, but steady progress, happening almost unintentionally.

So I guess the question is whether you're impatient enough that your Portuguese needs to improve drastically right now, or whether you can treat it more like a long-term thing.

Ciarán12

Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Ciarán12 » 2017-11-21, 12:44

kevin wrote:I'm not doing everything through English, and I'm not at all actively studying it or watching videos just with the intention to improve my English. I still don't have the impression that my English is getting worse. It's still slow, but steady progress, happening almost unintentionally.


Okay (and at this point, I'm not watching videos just to improve my Portuguese - it's just that I actually like the channels and the content), but how much English (intentionally or otherwise) are you using on a daily basis? Is it the case that you're rarely using it but still maintaining/improving it?

kevin wrote:So I guess the question is whether you're impatient enough that your Portuguese needs to improve drastically right now, or whether you can treat it more like a long-term thing.


Well, some days I have no problems, I can speak about complicated stuff completely fluently without any issues, without having to think about how to say what I want to say. Other days, I have to fight to get to the end of a fairly basic sentence. I don't like that, it's very annoying. I don't necessarily want to get everything perfect, I just want to not have to worry whether I'm going to be able to say something, or that I'll struggle to say something, or that someone might use a word I don't know and I'll be lost. I think I need to get to that point of complete functional fluency as quick as I can. I'm wondering though if that's how it works - you reach a point where you feel you speak well enough that you don't need to keep progressing so quickly and then you can take your foot off the pedal a bit, or if it's the case that you need total immersion to sustain fluency and that it weakens if you slack-off on the immersion.

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby kevin » 2017-11-21, 13:18

Ciarán12 wrote:Okay (and at this point, I'm not watching videos just to improve my Portuguese - it's just that I actually like the channels and the content), but how much English (intentionally or otherwise) are you using on a daily basis? Is it the case that you're rarely using it but still maintaining/improving it?

I use it whenever it is necessary or at least the most convenient way to have a conversation. Which includes a large part of my job, as well as a few places such as this forum in my free time, so it's certainly not "rarely". But it's also not even close to "almost all of my free time", I spend most of it through German. There has to be some middle ground between both.

I just want to not have to worry whether I'm going to be able to say something, or that I'll struggle to say something, or that someone might use a word I don't know and I'll be lost. I think I need to get to that point of complete functional fluency as quick as I can.

We have a whole thread about words we didn't know in our native languages. Just for perspective.

Yes, it happens that you don't understand a word. Ask the other person to rephrase. Or if you want to say something yourself and don't know the word, you'll have to describe it somehow. I'm not sure what functional fluency means for you, but I'll claim it for my English, and this kind of thing still happens all the time when the conversation comes to a topic that I'm not often discussing in English.

you reach a point where you feel you speak well enough that you don't need to keep progressing so quickly and then you can take your foot off the pedal a bit, or if it's the case that you need total immersion to sustain fluency and that it weakens if you slack-off on the immersion.

I don't think you need total immersion to sustain fluency as long as you do something in the language regularly. It just means that you get to learn new things at a slower pace.

IpseDixit

Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby IpseDixit » 2017-11-21, 15:15

I'm fluent(ish) in two foreign languages and I managed to achieve this level only because I decided to use most of the time I had for foreign languages (and by "most" I mean at least 80%) to study that particular language.

Everytime I tried dividing my time equally between two languages or more, I never managed to go beyond the intermediate level.

I know people vary and not everybody is like me but if I had to give you an advice based on my experience, I'd tell you to stick to Portuguese and only superficially dabble in other languages if you really feel the need. I suggest you do so especially if the time you have is limited.

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-12-14, 6:40

Honestly, I think once you get pretty good in one language, it gets easier and easier to get similarly good in more of them, barring the all too common problem of finding enough resources to get to that point.

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Karavinka » 2017-12-14, 8:13

My best non-native languages are English and Japanese. I feel pretty confident I could fake and pass as a native. After all, faking as a native of what I am not is what I do for living these days. (Don't worry, the HR know I'm not a real Japanese.)

But before that. When I was living in Austria, my most important foreign language was of course German, and I spent much of the day while doing stuff in German, or learning other languages through German. But by that time, I was feeling comfortable enough with Japanese that when I felt tired of all things German, I fell back to Japanese as my "comfort zone."

Improve Portuguese until you feel comfortable enough that you can spend hours in it without getting fatigued... after all, many people spend all of their waking hours using their native language, and that doesn't tire them. Given what you've written, maybe you are already at that point. As you learn other foreign languages, you might feel tired of doing things in those languages, and fall back to Portuguese, not English, when that happens. Your Portuguese, by then, will improve by itself.

In my case, this "comfort zone" language was at first Korean, then English, and then Japanese. So long as you keep a certain "niche" in your daily life where you interact with that language, this kind of laddering shouldn't be too hard to maintain. I feel like I should retire Japanese as my "comfort language" sooner or later...
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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Saim » 2017-12-14, 9:33

I think at a certain point you have to accept if you're learning more than one language that you're not going to go past intermediate and you're learning it out of curiosity more than anything else. This is easier to do with languages that already have some deal of intelligibility because you can get a pretty high level of passive knowledge without necessarily learning to speak that well. It's always hard to figure out the balance, but really fluency doesn't always have to be the end goal. And if you get to a very high level of Portuguese, having a sort of intermediate understanding of several Romance languages won't be too difficult further down the road.

As for your Portuguese, it seems to me at the moment you're mostly doing extensive activities, which is great because that's most of what you need to get to a high level. Do you mix in any intensive activities at all, like say trying to transcribe or translate some of the media you consume or leafing through a grammar book? Since you say you still occasionally have trouble saying basic sentences, have you considered training automaticity in spoken production (one of the senses of the word 'fluency') as a separate skill, through something like sentence mining, shadowing audio, or a tool like the old Glossika GMS courses? (Obviously extensive activities should only make up a small portion of your overall routine, but IME I've found that they can help break through plateaus and clear up blind spots).

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Luís » 2017-12-14, 13:31

Saim wrote:I think at a certain point you have to accept if you're learning more than one language that you're not going to go past intermediate and you're learning it out of curiosity more than anything else.


I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. If you're learning two languages simultaneously, you can still reach an advanced level in both of them, it'll just take twice as long.

Anyway, I agree with you when you say fluency doesn't have to be the end goal. Besides, there's nothing wrong with being at an intermediate level. B1-B2 is more than enough to have conversations with people and survive in a foreign country without resorting to English. It's not enough if you want to read literature, discuss politics or study at university, but then again, most people probably don't want to do that.
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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-12-14, 18:09

Luís wrote:
Saim wrote:I think at a certain point you have to accept if you're learning more than one language that you're not going to go past intermediate and you're learning it out of curiosity more than anything else.


I'm not sure I understand what you mean here.

I don't understand. In particular: Saim Bhai, how do you define "intermediate"? And perhaps, when you say "you," who exactly do you mean? I don't understand how you can say this when you yourself speak all three of English, Spanish, and Catalan at an advanced level, if not also Serbian, Urdu, and/or possibly Punjabi.

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby Saim » 2017-12-16, 11:27

Luís wrote:I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. If you're learning two languages simultaneously, you can still reach an advanced level in both of them, it'll just take twice as long.


I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just not really realistic in my experience. When I try learning a number of languages one almost always takes precedence and the others fall by the wayside.

I also don't think it's a 1-1 correspondence between number of languages and amount of time required (two languages doubles the time, three languages triples the time, etc.). When you spend a lot of time in the week studying a single language you end up using a natural sort of SRS because you'll be encountering a lot of the same words and structures but from different sources, whereas if you're using a single resource for less time the words won't stick in the same way.

vijayjohn wrote:I don't understand. In particular: Saim Bhai, how do you define "intermediate"? And perhaps, when you say "you," who exactly do you mean? I don't understand how you can say this when you yourself speak all three of English, Spanish, and Catalan at an advanced level, if not also Serbian, Urdu, and/or possibly Punjabi.


For me intermediate is the B1-B2 range (B2 would be upper intermediate).

Catalan: I lived in Catalonia for three years. (C2)
Spanish: I studied Spanish for three years before living in Catalonia then lived in Catalonia for three years. (C2)
Serbian: Grew up speaking it, then was in Serbia for five months, including an intensive Serbian summer course. (~C2 on the best of days)
Urdu: I'm not convinced I'm past the upper-intermediate level actually, especially now since I haven't been using it much for months (and studying it in Pakistan didn't go so well). Sometimes I even feel my Hungarian is better. (~B2)
Punjabi: No way is this past intermediate. I'm sure if I tried to have a conversation in it now I would start slipping into Urdu after seconds. (~B1)

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Re: Another thread about learning multiple languages simultaneously

Postby vijayjohn » 2017-12-16, 17:00

Saim wrote:
Luís wrote:I'm not sure I understand what you mean here. If you're learning two languages simultaneously, you can still reach an advanced level in both of them, it'll just take twice as long.


I'm not saying it's impossible, it's just not really realistic in my experience. When I try learning a number of languages one almost always takes precedence and the others fall by the wayside.

Okay, that makes a lot more sense. I thought you meant it was impossible. That's why I brought up Catalan and Spanish (and Serbian, Urdu, and Punjabi, just in case! :P) because no matter how you got to the level you're at now, my point was that you still got there, which makes you living proof that it is possible to go past the intermediate level in more than two languages.


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