Can you learn too many languages?

I find myself in a position that’s the complete opposite of how I usually feel. Normally I’m trying to scrape together disjointed reasons to learn a language, or just learning a new tongue because it interests me.
But as of this summer, I have three languages on my plate. And I kind of really need to learn all of them.
First up is the tried and true Spanish. I’m skipping another year of Spanish, so I am in desperate need of this summer to catch up on the stuff I’ve missed. After all, I can speak Spanish pretty well, but complex grammar rules have never really been my cup of tea. But at the same time, I am taking a trip with a lot of Chinese students at the end of the summer. As a linguist, it pains me to listen to a conversation in a different language and not know what’s going on, especially one like Chinese that I’ve studied for a while. So in addition to my Spanish studies, I have a mountain of HSK vocab to get through so maybe I can understand more than 5% of the Chinese conversations on the trip.

But my third language is the one that, out of all three of the ones I need to study, excites me the most. I just got a job working part time at a local café, and everyone who works there speaks Guajarati. Oh my goodness, Guajarati. It’s basically my dream–getting paid to chop chicken while getting constant exposure to a new language. Granted, it’s minimum wage, I have no experience in the language, and chopping chicken makes my arms sore. But there is crazy potential in the situation and I can’t help but want to dive right in.

Thus brings me to the ultimate question–Can I do it? Is it possible for me to juggle THREE languages at once, along with all my other activities this summer? My answer to that question is yes. Despite urgings from the likes of Luca Lampariello, I am officially deciding to learn all three. Why? Because I want to, because I need to, and because I can.

Not everyone is in a position where they absolutely have to learn multiple languages. But if you are, or if you just really want to try multitasking, here’s a few points that I am intending to keep in mind as I work this summer.

1) Prioritize.
I’m keeping Chinese my top priority this summer because I feel like I need it the most. And I’m putting Spanish on the bottom of the list because I know that, if I’m in a pinch, I can absorb the language like a champ. Guajarati will be somewhere squeezed in the middle of thw two–I need it the least, but it will definitely be the hardest.

To find your priorities, those are the two questions you should ask. Which do I need the most? Which is the hardest? Give the majority of your time to the ones you really need or the ones that will take more time to master.

2) Be wise with resources.
While most teenage girls may want to hit the mall, I have a problem with office supplies and language materials. I can’t help grabbing new books to add to the small library of language resources in my room. But if I really want to focus in and get stuff done, I need to keep my mind on only one or two resources per language at a time. If I start to dabble in all sorts of materials, I will start to scatter my learning process too.

When you’re picking materials, try to find ones that are holistic and achievable. Get smaller books that you can complete one after another, not three huge books that you work on simultaneously. With a narrow reach of resources, you will be able to focus on the subject matter that is most important to you.

3) Don’t forget that this is fun.
If you’re on my blog, chances are you’re a total nerd. Congrats. If it makes you feel any better, I will always be the bigger nerd since I’m the one who writes the blog.
You’re here because you think languages are fun. Because it’s something that you CHOOSE to pursue. There are plenty of people who probably need to learn another language for work or school like me, but just don’t. Taking the step to learn a language is always, always, always a choice. If you’re finding that it doesn’t make you happy, let it go. If it’s too much, or you’re not in love, then let it go.

It’s been a while since I’ve written on the blog. But I plan to get some fun stuff up here in the next few months, including some incredible teen guest posters. If you’re interested, email me! No one is too big or too small to contribute. 😉

Que tengas un buen dia.

Sydney Sauer • June 8, 2016

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  1. Adhithi June 21, 2016 - 9:07 pm Reply

    I think your blog is cool! A lot of my friends speak Gujarati and I’ve asked them to teach me little phrases before for fun. Good luck with learning it 🙂

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