Once you learn a second language, learning a third language really doesn’t seem so difficult. You’ve already been through the process, so you have a good idea about what it takes. You’re familiar with the best language learning methods and you felt the benefits of being bilingual. But there are certain things to look out for when you’re learning your third 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 becoming trilingual.
1. 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 the same 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. You can also determine if you’re ready to learn a second language simultaneously. If your studies in one foreign language aren’t going well, you can hold off on the other until you get more comfortable.
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.
2. 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. Keeping a balance between maintaining your second language and learning a third is very important.
Timeboxing 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.
3. 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 languages, the easier it could be. It might be easier to learn a language closely related to your second language, rather than your native tongue.
The Benefits and Problems of Learning Related Languages
If your second and third languages are related, you could have an advantage. You already know most of the structure and cognitive differences with your first language. But it may come with its own difficulties, especially when it comes to vocabulary.
For example, if you learned French, and then Spanish, you’ll often fight the urge to incorporate French words into Spanish sentences. This is because the sentence structures and base vocabulary are very similar. Of course, this can happen regardless of which two languages you study. But you’ll have a bigger chance to make these mistakes if the two foreign languages are related.
One way to downplay 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
Learning unrelated second and third languages has different benefits and problems that come with it. Although the chance of mixing them up diminishes, you’ll have to work more to achieve fluency. Every language is unique, so learning it will require a unique perspective. If the two languages are unrelated, you can’t apply methods that worked before seamlessly.
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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Being bilingual has many benefits. Learning a third language has even more. Although you’ve done it before, that doesn’t mean that reaching fluency in another language will be easy. Sometimes, it’s quite the opposite.
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