Help me live in the Tower of Babel
September 17, 2008 11:09 AM   Subscribe

LanguageFilter: Having a little bit of a few languages under my belt, I'd like to add more/get better at the ones I know.

Is it generally a better idea to master one language before proceeding on to another, or would it be good to study, say, 3 languages at once from the ground up? How about grouping like families of languages (i.e. learn italian, spanish and french together)?
posted by ikahime to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I would say it depends on what works for you. Some people are better at accessing/learning certain parts of language faster than other parts. The biggest assets to your language acquisition are going to be motivation and security, regardless of your approach (which will be largely dictated by your motivation and comfort level anyway).

On a personal note, I found it really hard to learn Spanish and French concurrently, because I would confuse the cognates and similar sound systems (French with Spanish accent and v.v., good times). But I am learning American Sign Language now while I continue Spanish, and I find those two REALLY help each other along...for me. YMMV. I find that being able to do the sign, while thinking of the Spanish words is reinforcing. That may change as my awareness of the syntax and morphology of both languages develops.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:23 AM on September 17, 2008

There's nothing inherently bad about learning multiple languages simltaneously. It does depend on what your goals are, how much energy, time, and money you have to devote to the studies etc. If you are starting from scratch, it is not necessarily a great idea to study very similar languages, espeacially Italian and Spanish at the same time. The brain does get confused. And if you really want to master something, it is alwasys a good idea to spend some time in a country where you are really immersed in that particular language and culture and cannot get away. But hard to comment further without knowing more about your circumstances.
posted by keijo at 11:26 AM on September 17, 2008

In my experience, it depends on your goal.

My foreign language combo Spanish/French/Italian combo is a great help in comprehension. Basically, I got 3 languages worth of cognates to filter through and find help. However, it's terrible for my pronunciation. Italian is definitely my dominant foreign language, despite the fact that I now hear and converse much more frequently in Spanish. All my pronunciations sound Italian. Mr 26.2 is beautifully fluent in Spanish and he occasionally cringes at my attempt to order pan dulce (which always sounds like dolce until he corrects me).
posted by 26.2 at 12:03 PM on September 17, 2008

It does depend on what works for you, but my general advice would be to focus on one and really give it a lot of time and attention. It's all too easy to play around with a language for a while and then let it slide. That's fine if all you want is a nodding acquaintance (I've done that with a bunch of languages), but you seem to want to really know another language, and that requires time and effort (and getting past the hump where it seems like you're pushing the rock but it's not getting any farther up the hill).
posted by languagehat at 3:34 PM on September 17, 2008

seconding languagehat. while I sort of 'tinker' with certain languages (Turkish, Georgian, Welsh) by learning the script, basic vocabulary, grammar, etc, I put a big effort on one language at a time. Seconding the folks above who advise against learning closely-related languages at the same time. I grew up speaking Spanish at home, so French was a breeze for me in school. But if I tried to learn Italian and Spanish at the same time, it would've been horribly confusing. Mind you, I eventually learned basic Italian by osmosis, which i don't recommend, either, as I speak italian with all of the precision of a bag of doorknobs photoshopped onto a panda and posted on Fark.
posted by LMGM at 5:19 PM on September 17, 2008

For starters, master a second language. Any second language. By doing so, you begin to understand what rules are 'universal' in languages, and can begin to pick up other languages more easily, even if those third and fourth languages are totally unrelated to your first or second language.

As an example, seven years of academic French, and I am conversational, can read the newspaper, blah blah blah. I decided that French was ultimately not going to help with my future career, and started learning Russian. Russian is about as far from French as one can get in the Indo-European family, but because I was aware of what needs to be learned to know a language, my learning time, memory and absorption of the language proceeded a lot more quickly then it did when I was trying to learn French.
posted by palindromic at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2008

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