I can’t believe that we’re almost finished with 2021. A year that started on a hopeful note but turned out to be little more than an echo of 2020. Here’s to a fresh start and hopefully better times in 2022.
After I published my JLPT post, a few of you requested that I write about how I structure my language learning – especially now that I juggle two languages at the same time. For a real expert opinion on how to study multiple languages I will refer you to the incomparable Lindie Botes, but please read along as I share my ten tips for learning two languages at the same time.
1. Keep separate notebooks
I like to take lots of notes when studying and I recommend trying to keep things separate. As I’m currently learning both Korean and Japanese, I keep at least one notebook for each language. Another way to go is to have a notebook with dividers so you keep a separate section of the notebook for each language.
2. Have plenty of fun pens on hand
I don’t use separate pens for each language but I do try to use many colorful pens as it just makes studying so much fun. I’m a big fan of the thin gel pens from Pilot and Muji. As you can see in the picture of my little study corner I have a lot of pens. Bonus tip: if you’re learning a language that requires writing detailed scripts like Chinese characters it is easier if your pen is really thin and sharp.
3. Prioritize your languages and carve out time to immerse yourself
While learning foreign languages requires a lot of time and dedication, you’ll be surprised to see how much you can improve if you carve out small chunks of time during the day. Here’s an example of how to study while working a full-time job: 10 minutes practicing vocabulary on Memrise while sipping your morning coffee. 15 minutes listening to a language podcast while getting ready or during your commute. 5 minutes reading a short news article in your target language during your lunch break. 10-20 minutes of podcast listening while preparing dinner and 30-45 minutes studying with a textbook in the evening may sum up to more than 1.5 hours of study in a day. Doing this consistently will help you improve faster than you can imagine. Strive to make learning your languages a daily habit.
4. Search for content you enjoy in your target languages
One of the best ways to make your learning fun and relevant for you is to use your target languages to enjoy entertainment or gain information. Youtube is a treasure trove of content in any language, so if for example, you enjoy cooking then try watching cooking videos in your target language. This will also provide you with the necessary words to talk about your hobby. Even if you’re a complete beginner, I still recommend watching content with subtitles as it will greatly improve your listening skills.
5. Designate focus time for each language and mix up your learning styles
If you’re learning more than one language it’s important to focus on each of them and designate time for studying. Since I’m learning Korean and Japanese I usually study both languages every day but not necessarily 50/50. Some days my main focus is on Korean – other days Japanese takes up most of my time. Especially while I was preparing for the TOPIK and JLPT exams, I strictly focused on the language that I was about to take an exam in. An important piece of advice is mixing up your study methods – not just during the day but also when shifting from one language to the next. For example, if I’ve been studying Korean with a novel in the morning and I then study Japanese in the afternoon, I usually choose to study Japanese with a podcast or a news article. Alternatively, I will practice writing characters in my notebook. Watching Youtube videos with grammar points is also a great way to learn.
6. Don’t be afraid to utilize synergies between languages
If you are studying languages that share some similarities I highly recommend using this to your advantage. I use my knowledge of Korean grammar to help myself understand Japanese grammar, and I often find that my Korean skills are reinforced through my Japanese studies. Many may warn you that you risk mixing up the languages but I don’t subscribe to that argument. On the contrary, I feel that learning more than one language is quite helpful, although I wouldn’t necessarily advise that you start learning two languages from scratch at the same time.
7. Listen to podcasts
I LOVE podcasts. They are usually free, and you can listen to them ANYWHERE. There is no excuse not to expose yourself to your target language because if you have a smartphone you can listen whenever and wherever you want. Moreover, you can find podcasts on almost any topic, so no excuse not to immerse yourself in your favorite content right now.
8. Plan ahead but don’t worry if you end up in a different direction
Usually, I make a tentative plan for my language studies so I know where to begin but I’m always very mindful of following my interests and allowing myself to go in a different direction as long as I’m still learning. If for example, I have planned to read a few chapters in Korean but instead find an interesting Japanese news article, I’ll let myself follow my curiosity as I find that it makes for the most enjoyable learning. If it’s not fun it will feel like a chore and in the end, it will become so much harder to stay motivated.
9. Be careful with making comparisons between the two languages
Don’t feel bad if your skills in one language don’t measure up to your skills in other languages yet. You have probably studied them for different amounts of time and may be fluent in one while being a beginner in another. This is okay and all part of the process. As long as you make sure to work with materials that match and challenge your current level, you will continue to improve.
10. Strive to venture out of your comfort zone as your skills improve
Continue to push yourself in your target languages. If you don’t practice speaking often, then try scheduling a lesson with a teacher on Italki. If you rarely write in your target language then try keeping a journal in that language for a few weeks. If you want to improve listening then try listening to a new podcast or watching a new show on Netflix. A good routine is crucial but I always like mix it up and challenge myself.
These were my ten tips. I hope you all found them useful. Please let me know if there are other topics you would want to read about on my blog in 2022.
I wish you all a happy and healthy new year!