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Is It Difficult To Learn Two Languages at Once?

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Question: Is It Difficult To Learn Two Languages at Once?
Answer: Most people find it confusing to learn two languages at once, especially languages that are similar. That was the consensus in a recent discussion on this site's forum.

Following are edited excepts from the discussion:

Original question: Would it be difficult to start learning Spanish and Italian at the same time? I'm in my fifth year of German and third year of French, and I don't confuse them at all, but then again they have almost nothing in common. Would it be a bad idea to start Spanish and Italian at the same time, or should I wait a couple years in between the two? I love learning languages and I am interested in international business, so I want to learn many languages for personal enjoyment and for the future, and it would be better to start them now while I am still in high school. Can anyone give me any advice? If anyone here speaks Spanish and Italian, please let me know about your experiences differentiating between the two. Thanks.

CumbiaDude: Wait two years before learning the second language (of the two). I wouldn't even recommend learning French and German at the same time, or rather, starting at the same time. Get a good, solid base with one of the languages (Italian or Spanish) before starting on the other one.

Rocer: Yes, you're going to get confused. You're going to mix both.

SoyLaura: If you haven't studied either of the languages yet, I highly suggest you do not start them at the same time. You will get confused.

After six years of taking advanced Spanish classes, I decided to start learning Italian when I went to college. Since I already knew Spanish, the classes were so ridiculously easy and SLOW MOVING that I literally wanted to die in the class. I even walked out of class a few times (and I never do things disrespectful like that, ever). Especially at the early stages of learning the language, I felt that I had done all of this before, and realized I was wasting a lot of money and time on something I could study on my own, at my own pace.

So, if you had already known one of the languages, I would tell you that it will be a "cinch" learning the other. However, unless you are really good at distinguishing between similar things, you are going to screw yourself over learning them at the same time, ESPECIALLY if you are learning two other languages as well! (French is also similar to Italian, which can help and hurt you)

So, as far as language learning in general, Spanish and Italian will probably be easier for you since you have already studied French. (You will already have a better understanding of verb forms, etc) However, Spanish and Italian are sooooooo similar. I felt I was learning Italian from Spanish; I would think, "oh, that's like the Spanish word for...." or "oh, that's like when you do this in Spanish," which probably isn't the best way to learn.

The largest way I was able to distinguish was just because I was more familiar with one language than the other. Even then, I still mixed up a lot of words, but interestingly enough, I did not usually substitute Spanish words for Italian ones, but vice versa. Even after almost eight years of Spanish and only one of Italian, I would do this. One time I was editing a friend's Spanish composition (intermediate level), and when she had written "llamada" ([phone] call), it was only after I crossed it out and written telefonata that I realized that this was actually the Italian word for "phone call."

I'm sorry if this was more longwinded and pointless than actually helpful, but I thought I should share my experience with you. Good luck with whatever you decide!

Babunia: I support your advice. A few years ago, when my Spanish was quite advanced, even though not perfect, I decided to study Portuguese. It seemed ridiculously easy, I was able to communicate quite easily with the Brazilians during my vacations there, and I was getting a huge amount of amazed compliments from the natives. Then I stopped in Argentina on a way back home, and I discovered that it considerably affected my ability to speak Spanish. I now had to make frequent pauses while frantically deciding which verb ending was correct.

It was a shock, particularly that I was so self congratulating and full of myself. I invested quite a bit of effort, time and money into studying Portuguese but I dropped it because it was ruining my Spanish. On the other hand my Brazilian friend speaks excellent Spanish and doesn't get confused. So my take on it is that you have to gain a total mastery of a language before you start learning a similar one. At least it was my sad experience. I still read Portuguese almost as well as English, but I don't try to study it or speak it, and when I do I can't help mixing it with Spanish.

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