How to Learn Two Languages at Once

Studying multiple languages simultaneously aids in learning.

For many North Americans, learning two languages at once sounds like a real challenge, but in many parts of the world, people live in multilingual environments. According to Janet Werker, a researcher with the University of British Columbia, the brain is perfectly capable of switching back and forth between languages. In fact, the brain can benefit from the special nuances learned when acquiring multiple languages at the same time.

Languages with different alphabets are the easiest to distinguish from one another.

Choose two languages that are not from the same language family. According to Dr Mikihiro Moriyama of Nanzan University, languages that are closely related can be confusing to learn at the same time because the vocabulary and grammatical structures are so similar. If you choose two very different languages, such as German and Arabic, you'll have a much easier time keeping them separate in your mind.

Make a plan to start one language slightly ahead of the other language.

Start studying one language several weeks or months before starting the second language. Once you have the basics down for the first language, you will feel more comfortable starting the second language. Researchers at Nanzan University found that students acquire languages more quickly after having begun studying one foreign language.

Card files can help keep your vocabulary words organized.

Keep a written record of vocabulary learned from each language, and review this record regularly. You can make flashcards out of 3 x 5 cards and store the flashcards for each language in a separate card file. Or keep a spiral notebook for each language, and write down new vocabulary words in each notebook as you learn them. Regular review will keep the words fresh in your mind and help you to avoid confusion.

Ask for feedback when talking with native speakers.

Speak with native speakers of both languages. In order to pick up on the nuances and correct pronunciation of both languages, you'll need to listen to native speakers and practice speaking to them. If you find yourself allowing one language to influence the other, make a point of listening carefully to native speakers and asking for feedback on how you're doing with your pronunciation.

Study the history and culture of each language.

Learn about the countries where each language is spoken. As you learn about the cultures, history, and people involved with a language, the idioms and expressions common to the language make more sense and feel more natural in everyday speech. You'll also be able to keep the two languages separated in your mind better when you associate each language with a distinct culture and people.

  • Join foreign language clubs to get support from others who are learning foreign languages.
  • Try to visit areas where the languages are commonly used.

Rachel Terry has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Brigham Young University. She has been a freelance writer since 1998, authoring literary study guides, as well as articles and essays.