How to Learn Multiple Languages At Once

I’ve written on this topic before, but I feel I need to touch on it again, especially right now. I’ve been re-organizing my language learning schedule and strategies, since my work schedule has calmed down a little bit. Currently, I’m learning Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Korean, and Kannada. To be perfectly, it’s not entirely accurate to say “learning” for Hindi and Kannada. I already know how to speak both languages, and I’m just improving my vocabulary, since I really don’t like having to throw in English loanwords.

A lot of people, even in the polyglot community, think that learning multiple languages at once is impractical, a bad idea, impossible, or all three. This depends on who you are, your learning propensities, and your schedule. If you have a lot of work all the time, it’s not a good idea to be trying this. I was working on papers, presentations, and extracurricular activities, so I concentrated on Mandarin, because I was preparing for a placement test. This is because it was difficult for me to balance four languages and all my schoolwork, and so I prioritized. This is the key to learning multiple languages. When you’re thinking about how to organize your multiple-language learning, ask yourself these 3 questions:

  1. How important are these languages to me (in descending order)?
  2. How much time (per week) can I commit to studying?
  3. Do I have decent access to resources for these languages?

The first two are fairly self-explanatory, but the last one may confuse some people. This question is important, because you don’t want to be spending a lot of time looking for resources. You should make sure you have organized your materials before hand. Know what you’re using to study, and you’ll streamline your learning!

For example, I use Anki and Memrise for my vocabulary learning for all my languages, since I can usually find a decent set of vocabulary cards. For grammar, I locate a reliable and accessible grammar site or book to read from. Always keep your sources consistent, because even if you might learn something wrong, you can easily find where you wrong. The thing is: you should also cross-reference! Make sure that multiple sites or books on grammar say the same thing about certain principles, especially the ones that confuse you. I have some three or four different textbooks for Mandarin, and I always cross-reference if something stumps me. For some languages, I know there aren’t that many resources. For Indian languages and many minority languages, it can somewhat to very difficult to find decent resources. For Hindi, I recommend Hindi: An Essential Grammar by Rama Kant Agnihotri, from Routledge. I’m going to be very frank, but many websites out there for lesser-known Indian languages like Kannada or Tamil are absolutely terrible. Poor romanization methods, insufficient explanations, and other problems predominate.

Wikipedia is always an OK start to reading about grammar, but I warn you that Wikipedia is not only subject to change, but also can be very academic and not suited to the purposes of the language learner. I, myself, am an aspiring academic, so it’s a little easier for me, but I highly recommend finding sites written by and for language learners, like this one! I try to write explanations in the most down-to-earth way possible, even though I still believe in using the technical grammatical terms, like “conjugation” and “case declension”, because they’re convenient and acceptable ways to describe the way a language works.

Another key part of learning more than one language at once is what I call the “degrees of separation”. What this means are the ways you separate each language. A really basic one might be already be present: the languages are different structurally and historically. Mandarin, Korean, Hindi, and Kannada are all from different language families, and have very little intersections of vocabulary. Sure, Sanskrit is a common contributor to Hindi and Kannada, but Sanskrit is simply a generator of academic and specialized vocabulary for Kannada. In contrast, Hindi derives its internal structure and much of its vocabulary from Sanskrit. Similarly, Korean has borrowed quite a few words from Classical Chinese, but shares very little in common with Mandarin otherwise. There’s also temporal separation, where you study different languages at different times or on different days. You can also use methodical separation, using different methods or programs to study (ex. using Memrise for Hindi and Kannada; Mandarin and Korean on Anki). The only other one I could think of is spatial separation, where you physically study in different places for each language.

I hope this article was helpful and informative! Don’t forget to share, like, and follow my blog on Facebook and Tumblr!

My Chinese Learning Progress!

So, as you may or may not know, I’ve been learning Mandarin Chinese for the last six months. I’m making slow but steady progress, thanks to my Mandarin-speaking friends at NYU! They all speak Taiwanese Mandarin, so I’m getting used to that more than Mainland or Standard Mandarin. I also practice traditional Chinese instead of simplified, since kanji in Japanese are largely in their traditional forms, which will make learning Japanese later on easier for me. For those who don’t know, simplified is exactly what you think it is: simpler versions of certain characters to expedite writing. Traditional is still used in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as in calligraphy and writing that is meant to look aesthetically more appealing.

In this post, I’m going to list the characters that I know so far, so that you can use this list if you so desire. I’ve been learning them in sets of 5-8 characters per set, which may or may not consist of related words. My general rule is that I practice a word (not just characters!) enough times to fill out three lines until I feel that I’ve memorized the word. To test myself, before I start a new set on a blank page, I write out the sets of my characters, labeling them by number. Once I finish writing them all out, I then write the pīnyīn as well as the meaning. Another thing I do is write out mini-conversations to help practice using the words in context, and I ask my friends to look over them.

So here are my first eight sets: (First is traditional and then simplified)

Set 1:

時間/时间 – shíjān – time
點(鍾)/点(钟) – … o’clock (ex. 八點(鐘)/点(钟) = 8 o’clock); you don’t have to say 鍾/钟
半 – bàn – half, partly, halfway; there is a similar character 伴 that means “to accompany”
刻 – kè – quarter
分鐘/分钟 – fēnzhōng – minute (again, you don’t have to say 鍾/钟)

Set 2:

剛才/刚才 – gāngcái – (just) now
小時/小间 – xiăoshí – hour (“little time”)
應該/应该 – yīnggāi – should/must/ought
秒 – miăo – second
現在/现在 – xiànzài – now

Set 3:

呢 – ne – additive particle (“What about you?”; That’s the kind of situation where this would be attached to the pronoun)
老師/老师 – lăoshī – teacher
謝謝/谢谢 – xièxie – thank you
沒/没 – mĕi – negative particle (for 有 and 過/过)
有 – yŏu – to have/exist
(要/想) – (yào/xiăng) – to want/intend to (direct/polite); these are different words for the same idea, but not traditional versus simplified

Set 4:

幾/几 – jĭ – how many (can be substituted with 多少 (duōshào); needs to be used with a measure word, like 個/个)
前天 – qiántiān – day before yesterday
作天 – zuótiān – yesterday
上學/上学 – to attend (a school)
走 – zŏu – to walk/general verb of motion (very easy to confuse with 去 (), which means “to go”)
再見/再见 – zàijiàn – goodbye

Set 5:

早上 – zăoshàng –  early morning
上午 – shàngwŭ – late morning
中午 – zhōngwŭ – noon
下午 – xiàwŭ – afternoon
晚上 – wănshàng – evening

Set 6:

去年 – qùnián – last year (“gone year”)
今年 – jīnniān – this year
明年 – míngnián – next year
上個/上个 – shàngge – last…
上次 – shàngcì – last time
這個/这个 – zhège – this
下個/下个 – xiàge – next…

Set 7:

喝 – hē – to drink
吃 – chī – to eat
飯/饭 – fàn – meal/food (attach at front 早, 午, or 晚 to make “breakfast”, “lunch”, or “dinner”)
咖啡 – kāfēi – coffee
茶 – chá – tea

Set 8:

(號/号)/日 – hào/rì – date
星期 – xīngqī – week (add to end number 1-6 for Monday through Saturday; add 天 for Sunday)
月 – yuè – month (add number 1-12 before for January through December)
零 – líng – zero
都 – dōu – all/even
生日 – shēngrì – birthday

I hope you find this post useful for your own Chinese studies, and please don’t forget to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

The Challenges in the Life of a Polyglot-in-Training

This is something that all polyglots, and even language learners who aren’t planning to learn any more languages, should read. Working on a language is a long and grueling process, which catches up to even the best of us. That said, we shouldn’t get lazy because we feel like we’re not getting anywhere. In fact, if you’re in that place, chances are that there’s an area you need to focus on. But it’s not wrong to take a break once in a while. In this post, I’m going to talk about the things that challenge me when learning languages, and what to do about it.

Leafing through so many resources to find certain information.

This is a big part of my work on language learning and on my books. Depending on the language, this can be incredibly frustrating. This is actually why the Hindi book is coming along so slowly. There are very few good sites out there that describe Hindi grammar, though my personal favorites are hindilanguage.info and learning-hindi.com. Even those either are largely restricted to very basic things or don’t explain the grammar in a way that makes sense to me. This is coming from a person who prefers to use grammar as the basis for language learning! But whether the language is Hindi or Italian, it takes a while for me to compile the information into notes and coherent lessons. Sometimes, I just find it all so tiring that I just let it be for a little bit. I’ll go watch some television or read and let my mind unwind a bit. Never be afraid to get up and walk around for an hour to just take a break. Don’t do what I did and work all day and all night, going to sleep at 1 or 2 in the morning on a regular basis for an entire summer. Believe me, it wrecks your sleep schedule and wears you out.

Learning from others and not being afraid to do so.

This has two situations packed into it. First, there’s learning from native speakers. The whole point of learning a language is to talk to these people! Don’t be afraid to speak up, try out your skills, and see what they say! Most of the time, they’re happy to oblige to correct you if you’re wrong about something. You should be careful about what and how you say things, though. I’m attending university in New York City, and while there are plenty of people to practice my languages with (particularly Mandarin for me right now), there are definitely people who are not in the mood! The other situation in with this piece of advice is other polyglots or learners who are fairly advanced in their learning. If they speak your target language better than you, then listen to them! Other people’s experience is invaluable to building your own. Standing on the shoulders of giants, in a way (I realize that’s not what it means but it works for the situation). Ask them about what they did to get so good at speaking a language or learning in general. It will help you in the long run, especially if you’re in a slump.

Find what works for you. Experiment!

When it comes to method, there is no one method that works. Software like Pimsleur and Glossika (the latter of which I love) can be touted as the best way to learn a language, but everyone has their own way. For example, Duolingo is a good way to keep some practice going, but personally, I find it very bland to a point. The language used in Duolingo is restricted to as many phrases are put in the system (nothing you can do about this), which does an admirable job. But to be honest, Duolingo should encourage what I call the “synthesis” skill, which is crucial to learning a language. “Synthesis” is being able to concoct and put together new sentences yourself without having to pause too much. But that’s just my opinion. Don’t take my word for it and try it out for yourself! It’s important to test out different things and find a sure-fire method tailored for your needs.

Take a break!

I already said this, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to do this. Set your materials and notes aside for a moment, and do something else! You need give your brain time to process all the information you’re taking in. That’s why sleep is important, too, so don’t sacrifice your physical well-being! By taking a break, you’ll be able to test how well you retain information in the long-term. Even though Memrise prompts me to work on it every day, I only do it once in a while to refresh my memory, at least for the languages I’m already quite familiar with.

That’s my piece for now, but I hope you guys re-read some of the older articles as well. Please don’t forget to share this on Facebook and Tumblr!

The Messy Genius of Kanji (Guest post by Ineptidude)

こんにちは, everybody! I’m Ineptidude, and I’ll be posting today.

Today, I want to talk about the bane of the Japanese student’s existence: Kanji. (For those that don’t know, Kanji are Chinese characters used in Japanese to represent nouns, verb stems, and adjectives.) When I started to study Japanese, I was initially daunted by the immense number of kanji I would have to learn. (There are 2000 kanji, called jouyou kanji, that the Japanese government deems the most “common” kanji. Adding to this, there are other kanji that are considered generally good to know.) Continue reading The Messy Genius of Kanji (Guest post by Ineptidude)