Once you learn a second language, learning a third one really doesn’t seem so difficult. You’ve already been through the process, so you have a good idea about what it takes.Learning a language can actually be quite addictive because you get a fantastic sense of accomplishment once you can start speaking to native speakers in their language.
One thing to keep in mind, you can’t compare languages, not even regarding how easy they are to learn. Each language is a different learning experience. The tricks that worked for your second language may not work for your third – especially if your third language is completely different than your first and second.
Here are the three tricks that you can use to be successful in learning your third language (and beyond).
Be Careful About Mixing Language Learning
If you are currently bilingual and want to learn another language, make sure you stick to learning just one more language. It can be incredibly tempting to try to learn a couple of languages at one time after the rush of successfully learning your second. Fight that urge.
It is still too early for you to start learning two languages at a time. That is something that should be restricted to people who already have several languages under their belt, and even then it is extraordinarily difficult to accomplish.
When you begin to learn a language, there is a learning curve that you must take into account. If you are trying to learn two languages at the same time, you are far more likely to frustrate yourself. That is where the real problems occur. You are far more likely to give up learning both languages, or you can develop a block against them.
If you want to work on two languages at once, you need to be on very different levels with each of them . You should be at an intermediate level in one as you begin learning the next. This ensures that you already have a sense of accomplishment in one of the languages. The rhythm you’ve already established for the first will also help you determine how well you are adapting to the early phases of the language you are just beginning. If the rhythm of the one that you started first is interrupted, you probably are not ready to take on that next language quite yet.
To determine your level, evaluate how well you can manage passive work with the language. If you are comfortable reading and listening in the language without much difficulty, you can consider taking on another new language.
Managing Your Time and Keeping a Language Balance
Remember that you will also need to continue to maintain all of the languages that you have already learned. You will need to dedicate a lot of time to the new language as you build the core, but you don’t want to lose what you learned from your second language. Keep your available schedule in mind as you determine if it is the right time to start a third language.
The following are a few things that you can use to help you better manage your time to keep a balance between maintaining your second language and learning a third.
Time boxing takes a large task and breaks it down into smaller, manageable tasks. When it comes to learning a language, you need to decide how much time you are going to put to it every day. If you want to spend two hours studying, you divide that into smaller chucks over the course of the day. Multiple sessions will be a much better way to learn than trying to do a full two hours of studying at one time.
Smaller chunks of time are also easier to mentally accept. When you are only going to be working on something for 15 or 20 minutes, you are much more likely to do it.
There are several apps that can help you with this if you want the clock broken down for you. For example, Focus Keeper will track the time in intervals (25 minutes working, 5 minutes breaking) so that you can focus on the actual studying.
Macro and Micro Management
You need to track your progress on two different scales, a macro level and a micro level.
The macro level is the big picture. It lets you see how you are doing toward your final goal – in this case learning a third language. It helps to drive you to do more, but it much harder to see your progress, particularly in the beginning.
The micro level is all of the tasks that are part of the macro break down. For example, learning greetings is part of the micro level. The small blocks of time and tasks give you a sense of accomplishment while moving you forward toward your larger goal.
You need to focus on both of these levels for both the second and third language.
Be Careful about Language Families
Virtually all languages belong to a language family. For example, the Romance Languages (French, Spanish, and Italian) are all closely related. The rules that apply to one usually apply to others, and the vocabulary can be pretty similar as well.
Your second language sets the stage for how to learn your next language, and the more closely related the languages, the easier it could be. Learning a language that is related to your second language is generally easier than learning a language that is similar to your first (if your first and second languages are really different).
The Benefits and Problems of Learning Related Languages
If your second and third languages are related, you have a built in cheat for learning the third. You already know most of the structure and cognitive differences with your first language. It also means you could have a difficult time remembering the elements that are specific to the third language.
For example, if you learned French, and then Spanish, you will have to actively fight incorporating French words into your Spanish speaking. They are similar enough that you may find yourself doing this more often than you might think. While it can happen no matter how different the languages are, you will make this mistake a lot more often with similar languages than widely different ones.
One way to down play this is to spend more time reading in your third language. Read children’s books to get a feel for the rhythm and flow, as well as reinforcing the words for the language.
The Benefits and Problems of Learning Unrelated Languages
Going into learning the language, you have to know that it is going to be just as much work as learning your second language, possibly more. The grammar will be more difficult, and the vocabulary will take longer to memorize.
My second language was German (as a native English speaker, I can’t imagine any language being as easy to learn). My third language is Japanese. My primary reason for choosing German was because of its similarity to English. When I chose Japanese for my third language, it was purely out of an interest in the language and culture. Going in I knew that it was going to be nothing like my second language learning experience, and it wasn’t. I had to start with learning not only a very different vocabulary and grammar, I had to learn an entirely different writing system (3 of them).
For several months, I did find myself slipping into German, but usually that was instead of saying something in English. I simply didn’t have the vocabulary to speak in Japanese. Over time this dissipated. I also know that it was much better than if I had learned Spanish and French for my second and third languages. I honestly believe it would have been more difficult for me personally to learn to speak and read related languages for my second and third languages.
In the end, you have to know how your brain works and what will be the most effective approach for you. Make sure you know the relationship (or lack of one) between languages before you start learning your third language.
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