Is Spasnian a good idea?
June 13, 2010 2:04 PM   Subscribe

How can I learn two languages at once?

I have a base of Spanish. I took 4 years in high school and 1 in college and now, 5 years since taking a class, I still feel like I have a pretty good base knowledge of the language, but my vocabulary is weak from lack of use. Eventually, I would like to become fluent and I feel like this is a pretty acheivable goal for me. I plan to travel spend serious time in South America and Spain in the coming years. However, I am good friends with a Bosnian person. We plan to travel together to Bosnia and Croatia...and I'd like very much to be able to speak on a very basic level with his family and the people I meet when I travel with him. I really love learning languages. I already know some of the very basics.

However, immediately (or at the longest, shortly) after traveling with him is when I plan to branch out to my Spanish speaking countries. Is it reasonable to try to strengthen my Spanish while getting the basics down of Bosnian (a language similar to Russian...having few root words similar to English, my native language, or Spanish). Or should I just focus on one? I know that no matter what I am going to get confused and speak some "Spasnian" in my sleep. Does anyone have any techniques or study routines for learning two languages at once? Or has your experience told you that this is really not a very good idea, now matter how dissimilar the languages?
posted by hannahelastic to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I'd kind of counsel against it, because my experience and formal study in second language acquisition suggests that, unless you're a rare bird, you'll learn neither language very well while you're trying to learn them both. There's a kind of psychological immersion into the cadence and culture of a language that's necessary to pick it up very well, and trying to do two at a time prevents you from doing this very effectively.

There is one possible case I can think of, if you want to do this, though. That is using one of the languages as the bridge to learn the other. You could do this, for example, by taking a Spanish course while you're in Bosnia, where Bosnian is actually the language of instruction. It's quite challenging, but it can force you to think semi-immersively in both languages simultaneously.

I did this learning Tunisian Colloquial Arabic in Tunis, where French was the language of instruction. It was a nightmare, but really forced me to learn French very quickly, since I was reliant on it as a language of wider communication while learning the Arabic. I wouldn't recommend it, though.
posted by darkstar at 2:20 PM on June 13, 2010

I think this kind of depends on the person. I've had no issues studying two or even three languages at a time, but I know other people who had a lot of trouble with getting things mixed up. In this case, though, I don't think that mix-ups will be a big problem. Bosnian is pretty different from Spanish. Since you already have a good base of knowledge in Spanish it's going to be pretty easy for to separate which words are Spanish and which are Bosnian.

My advise would just be to separate out your study of the languages as much as possible. Don't study Spanish for an hour and immediately do an hour of Bosnian - if you do that, you risk having it all blur together. Instead, study one in the morning and one in the evening, for example, or alternate days entirely. To distinguish them even more, you could try studying Spanish in location X, and Bosnian in location Y. Then if you're trying to recall which language some grammatical thing belonged to, you might remember, "Well, I was sitting in that comfy chair when I learned that, which means that it must be Spanish." Linking distinct locations, times, sounds, smells, etc. to one concept can all help with recall.
posted by mandanza at 2:29 PM on June 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

This really must be person dependent, so you will have to give it a try. I see the wisdom in mandanza's recommendations, but I've always been one to flit between topics and, for the most part, can keep things straight.

One thing I am sure of? If you don't lose it, you will lose it. If you don't at least maintain your Spanish, you will have a setback to overcome when (if) you get around to it later.
posted by whatzit at 2:41 PM on June 13, 2010

I think you could easily do this by having two really separate methods of instruction.

Spanish seems like it will be of more use to you, so perhaps a more systematic/academic approach is in order - classes, flashcards, textbooks. Luckily it's pretty easy to find Spanish-language media and the like online for free to keep you in practice.

For Bosnian, why not let your Bosnian friend's friends and family help you out? Maybe a group e-mail in simple English (which many of them may study) soliciting them to help you out with personal anecdotes and other fun things, like narrating the contents of their kitchen to you in a video they post on YouTube or something. You could also do a language trade of some kind - you help someone's 8-year-old nephew improve his English on Skype while he teaches you how to count to twenty.
posted by mdonley at 2:42 PM on June 13, 2010

Additionally (I always regret hitting post...), I find that studying more than one language at a time actually helps me understand each one better as I actively compare their structure, sounds, and shared (or not) vocabulary.
posted by whatzit at 2:43 PM on June 13, 2010

If your main problem with Spanish is lack of vocabulary and if your basic understanding is as good as you say how about finding soem basic stuff to read and watch and not do any 'formal' learning of Spanish? That then allows you to focus on 'learning' some basic Bosnian phrases.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:54 PM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the replies! I agree that more "formal" spanish may be more useful to me. Any recommendations on textbooks, flashcards, etc?

I really like the idea of just learning personal Bosnian...i.e. contacting his family and learning their use of the language (like the kitchen contents, thanks mdonley). And I would love to help them with English!

I guess I know that learning two languages at once is not ideal. But supposing I give in to my masochistic language learning tendencies, any other recommendations on how structure study of two languages at once.

Thank you everyone for the replies...they are very much appreciated...and definitely taken into consideration.
posted by hannahelastic at 4:05 PM on June 13, 2010

I've studied multiple languages at the same time quite frequently. I don't think it's as hard as people imagine, to be honest. The only problem I've had is learning two from the very start at the same time, which wouldn't seem to apply to your situation.

I'm Bosnian, by the way. Bosnian is so different from Spanish that it wouldn't lend itself to confusion much. A plus is that although the two languages have some different sounds, most of the letters that they share are sounded in pretty much the same way - more so than in other language combinations I've experienced - so that shouldn't be a big problem. In any case, plenty of people around the world speak a half dozen languages or more, and I've never met any who considered it a big problem.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 5:45 PM on June 13, 2010

It would be difficult if they were similar languages, like French and Spanish. Trying to learn those two simultaneously could lead to a headache. But I would imagine that Bosnian is so completely different from Spanish that it might not be such a bad idea. I wouldn't be able to do it myself (when I learned how to speak French I could barely even focus on English let alone a third language) but there are many more people more adept at learning languages than I. Good luck!
posted by fso at 7:27 PM on June 13, 2010

I studied Spanish and Russian at the same time in high school. Like someone else said, it can actually be beneficial, because you are more aware of parts of a sentence (the direct object, the indirect object, perfect tenses, etc), and structure of a language. But yes, it also depends on the person. For me, it was pretty easy, especially in the early stages of learning, when your brain is just soaking it up. I slow down a bit in the 'just beefing up the vocab' stages.
posted by statolith at 7:29 PM on June 13, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Any specific study strategies for learning two languages at once?
posted by hannahelastic at 8:28 PM on June 13, 2010

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