How to learn many languages
Lindie Botes

Lindie Botes

I'm a South African designer and language YouTuber with a passion for foreign languages. I aim to inspire, motivate and guide you in your journey to learn new languages!
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Yes, it is possible to learn many languages at once!

I’ve been doing it for many years, and this year, I’m tackling 12 languages. There are many methods you can use to learn more than one language at once. Here are some of my best recommendations. As for the these tips, you can try some or all – ultimately it’s about finding the technique that works for you!

Learn one language to intermediate before moving on

You might want to choose one main language and look at the other languages as fun side projects. It’s good to stick to a rule that if you’re a new language learner, first learn 1 language to an intermediate level and then tackle others.

This especially works if the languages are different. It’s tricky to learn two similar languages from beginner at once, as you’ll often confuse them. Once you reach intermediate in one language, learning a similar language through another is easier.

I try to learn one language to an upper-intermediate level so that it’s good enough to be a language of instruction for the other language. For example, once I learnt Korean to a good enough level, I was able to study Japanese using textbooks written in Korean.

Split your time (Pareto Principle)

You can consider the 80/20 approach if you’re learning 2 languages at once. Spend 80% of your time on one (main) language, and then 20% of your time on the other language. This works best when they are two different languages or if you are intermediate+ in both. My friend Jonathan Seabolt from Seabolt Speaks on YouTube learns Afrikaans when he takes a break from learning Japanese, his main focus. 

Online immersion

Browsing YouTube or Twitter are amazing way to practice languages and get content in your target language.

What some polyglots do is to have different YouTube accounts for different languages. This way, when you browse and get recommendations, all the videos will be in one language. Having a different account for each language creates an immersive space that you can go back to and put yourself in the mindset of the language each time you open YouTube. 

Other people have Twitter accounts specific to a language, where they only tweet in the language they are learning and only follow accounts in that language. This can be tedious if you are learning more than 3 languages and keep having to switch between accounts, though. 

What if you encounter words you don’t know online?

There are Google Chrome extensions you can use for language learning on YouTube or Netflix, like Language Learning with Netflix which creates subtitles and vocabulary words for you as you watch. As for static websites like Twitter or blogs, you can use the extension called Readlang Web Reader and as you hover over words, it will translate them for you.

Create a flexible schedule...

If you’re the type to get stressed about all the languages you want to study, try to create a loose schedule. You might have the tendency like me to not feel in the mood for studying a certain language on the day. If that’s you, rather make a list of activities you can do in multiple languages, and do those in the languages you feel like. 

I prefer to study multiple languages in little bits in one day (e.g. doing Spanish grammar in the morning, Korean vocab in the afternoon, and watching a French series at night, for instance)

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...Or have a strict one.

If you are the type of person who works well with rules and guidelines, having a strict schedule might help. I choose to focus on one or two MAIN languages alongside the other 10-11 I’m studying, and these ones usually get a schedule.

Because I have a Korean exam coming up (TOPIK II), I’ve made a robust Korean grammar and vocabulary study schedule in preparation. Usually, I don’t schedule my language learning, but this is a way to keep my main languages in focus while I use the others as a fun break. 

My Korean grammar study schedules:

Get rid of the perfectionism mindset

Perfectionism is a negative mindset that does nothing to help you acheive your goals. If you’ve decided to learn more than one language at once, you’ll have to face the fact that you are going to progress slower in all of the languages than you would learning one at a time. I receive lots of comments like “you are not gonna get anywhere learning 12 languages at once”. While that is untrue, it is true that my progress will be slower since I’m focusing on so many. I choose not to be perfect in all of them, and my goals for each language are unique. I don’t need to be fluent in Burmese – my goal for 2020 is just to learn how to read and write, and that’s enough for me.

With learning any language comes making lots of mistakes. You’re in the position of sounding and speaking like a baby again. Don’t let trying to be perfect stop you from working on your language goals. Embrace making mistakes. If you have a language exchange partner or italki tutor, use this as a safe environment to feel comfortable to make mistakes in. Once your mistakes have been corrected, you can write them down and practice the correct way of saying it. It’s a learning opportunity, not a race to perfectionism. 

Try NEW methods and learn from others

I’m often inspired by polyglots like Steve Kaufmann. Here’s a video I did with him in which he shares his language learning tips. It’s always exciting to try new techniques or just listen to what other people have to say so you feel motivated again! (On that note, here’s an article about how to stay motivated!)

Different apps or resources per language

You can use different methods, notebooks, apps or systems for your languages. If you don’t know where to find good resources, take a look at my language resources page. 

You can choose to have one app only for one language so you make that connection in your mind (E.g. using the Bunpo app only for Japanese, Forge for Spanish, and Duolingo for French). Whatever works for you! Remember to work with comprehensible input. This means things that are at, or just above your level, that you can understand and learn from. Here’s a blog post that might help you:

Have a positive mindset

You can have all the right methods in the world but if you have a negative mindset, you won’t improve. Here’s a video I made that explains some healthy mindsets you can adopt around language learning.

Don't underestimate the importance of rest

It’s important to build in rest too. Don’t overwhelm yourself. You need some off time to let things MAriNAtE in your mind! Here’s a video I did with Mari about making a schedule for your languages, in which we also talk about how important it is to take a break!

Set language-specific goals

Finally, set language-specific goals. Your goals can (and should) differ from language to language. This helps you prioritize the time you spend on each. Here’s a video I made about my language goals for my 12 languages in 2020, and here’s my follow up a few months later. You can see that each language has a different level of priority.

If you feel like you’re too busy to learn a language, there are always things you can do to fit language learning into your schedule!

Do what makes you comfortable.

Don’t worry too much about how other people are doing it. If you prefer to focus on one language at a time and stack them, that’s awesome. If you wanna go full-on and do 5 at a time, as long as you know your progress might be slower, that’s fine too. 

Happy studying!

Related posts:

Tracking my language progress

Language goals: 2020 Q1 progress check

At the end of 2019, I set some (pretty lofty) language learning goals for myself. I documented them in a pinned tweet on Twitter so I can

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Making time for languages in a busy day

Many people have the mindset that language learning goes something like: taking classes, doing homework, and practicing now and then when you can. It’s much more than that. It should transform your life and fill your days if you really want to improve. Solid results come from the shift to transforming your daily life to be completely in your target language. Immersion, that is. And I don’t mean traveling to another country!

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When you don’t feel motivated to learn a language

You’re probably here because you’re looking for motivation to continue studying a language. Maybe you’re burnt out or maybe the original passion you had for

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4 Responses

  1. Lindie, você acha melhor assistir séries com legenda no idioma que você está estudando ou sem legenda ? O seu nome Lindie parece com o adjetivo “Linda” em português que significa uma pessoa bonita. Então é engraçado escrever seu nome.

  2. Lindie, i don’t know how to find Korean Friends….do you have any recommendations app for learn Korean and find Korean Friends?

  3. Definitely, I never thought about having different accounts for different languages. That’s definitely something I will need to try out. I often just let the search recommendations and everything mix together. I suppose there is an easier way than that! With learning multiple languages at the same time, I always try to incorporate one language into the other. Instead of using my native language to understand my target language, I try to use my preceding language to learn my subsequent languages. For example, I speak Japanese fluently as my second language. I use that language to look up meanings and understand grammar in my third language. With the introduction of learning Cebuano on top of that, I now look everything up for Cebuano in Spanish. I also use Cebuano to Spanish dictionaries (as well as Cebuano to Japanese. But I never use English. I find this system of attaining and retaining languages useful.
    Thanks for the post, it was helpful!

  4. I’m working on six languages now. I reserved a day for each language. For example, Friday is Japanese day, so I try to set my day to Japanese, remember as many words and expressions as I can throughout the day, listen to podcasts, and etc. And that’s the day I study the language, too. People often tell me it’s not going to work and I’m not going anywhere. I am at different levels on each and I just started, so I didn’t see any results yet. Do you think the way im doing it is worth it?

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