Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Learning multiple foreign languages- help please!!

Hi guys! I would really value your opinions on my topic here!!

I am currently trying to learn German from scratch by myself (from books and a vocab CD), and am also revising Middle Egyptian and need to start revising French soon, too.
I am finding that it gets a bit overwhelming and confusing learning (or revising) more than one language simultaneously. Especially when there are different rules in the grammar between the languages, I am worried that I will get confused over which rules apply to which language! So I am wondering whether those of you who have learnt multiple (2+ foreign languages) recommend learning just 1 at a time, or is there another method you can recommend?

Some background:
Until Year 10, my schools didn't teach languages well. They didn't teach us language properly, whether it was French or English language classes (rather than English Literature classes), and although I was above my age-range in my reading level and loved creative writing, I couldn't tell you what an adjective or a verb was! In French (and then in Spanish in Year 9), all we learnt was (mostly useless) set phrases "Je joue au foot", "J'aime mon chat" etc.

Then, just before Year 10, my family and I moved to France. Although I went to an International School, where the main language was English (even the Spanish, French, Italian etc students had to speak English to attend this school), in French classes we weren't allowed to speak English at all. My poor French teacher had to deal with lots of different-level (beginner to almost fluent) French-as-a-foreign-language students, so the classes weren't custom-made for me, but I loved learning it, in particular the grammar. I wasn't brilliant at French, but the grammatical skills I learnt in French class at school in Years 10-11, and in Years 12 and 13 (French A-Level) in school back in the UK set the foundations for me to be able to learn other languages.

In my undergraduate university degree, we had to learn Middle Egyptian (Hieroglyphs), which obviously you can't exactly have a GCSE or A-Level in as a foundation! We had excellent teachers, world experts, who have literally written the book on it! It was so much fun to learn, and being a very different language to either English or French (obviously), that added an extra layer of challenge to it! At the start of my MA, I also learnt Old Egyptian (which has slightly different grammatical rules to Middle Egyptian). In my university degrees, I really learnt HOW to learn a language.

I am trying to teach myself German, because along with French, it is one of the primary languages of Egyptology. I am learning it from books (I have an amazing German grammar book), and also have a cheap CD from Aldi with German vocab, which I will mainly use to help me learn how to pronounce German words. I'm also revising Middle Egyptian and should start revising French too soon!
I'm not struggling to learn or revise these languages, and I don't need something like Rosetta Stone (wayyyy too expensive!!). I just want to know whether I should only learn one at once- which I am reluctant to do, because I think if I postpone learning one, I will never get back into it- or if there is another way to separate them in my mind, so I don't get confused with them!!

So what do you think?



  1. Hello!

    Colour coding often helps visual learners. My friends (multi-lingual family) taught their children to write and read Italian in green, French in yellow and English in red. When they picture a word in their head, it appears in the colour they learned it in and they know which language it is. They picked those colours because they found an Italian dictionary with green text, a French with yellow etc. so even if they're looking up a new word it's in the right colour. Prior to this method the kids had been scrambling languages together when they spoke. Not anymore.

    J. (Also from a multi-lingual family, sometimes wishing I had learned this way)

  2. Bonjour /guten Tag!

    I'm in Year 11 and am currently studying for IGCSEs this summer in both French and German - languages are my passion!

    To begin with I used to get seriously muddled up and say "ich" in French lessons and "je" in German. However, whilst studying I realised that I needed to split the two up so that it could be hammered home that they hare two different languages! I recommend starting out by alternating with French one day, German the next. Doing both on the same day can be mind-boggling-ly confusing! Also, try not to learn the same topic area at the same time in each language - for instance, don't study the French numbers and German numbers at the same time. Switch it up! My syllabi in French and German are identical, but translated. When I made my revision timetable for the mocks I made sure I wasn't doing the same thing in each language too close together.

    Like above, colour coding is brilliant if you're visual like me. When you imaging the words in your head you can instantly tell if it's the wrong language. This can be applied to grammar too - say French was green and German was red. Write French grammar on green paper, and German on red paper.

    Finally, although when spoken the languages sound vastly different, some aspects are quite similar as a few German words look similar to French - the French for wallet is "porte monnaie" and in German, it's "portemonnaie". Looking out for these similarities is preety helpful too!

    Good luck!

    PJ x

    PS - there's a free site called

    Have a look around and try the vocab and grammar exercises on there, they're so helpful! :)

  3. I want to share with you an awesome site to learn both German and French for free. I hope it helps you reach your goal. I am learning Dutch on the site.

  4. Hello, late reply but I hope you find it useful. I can speak English, French and Spanish fluently and I'm currently learning German and Korean. In my experience, I never confuse them as long as I pick several very different languages to learn at the same time.

    I couldn't do Dutch and German at the same time because they are too similar but German and Korean are obviously quite different, which means that I find it much easier to remember grammatical rules and vocabulary.

    Another tip (although I'm sure you'd already picked up on this) is that some languages share similar concepts regarding sentence structure, which will help you understand new grammatical structures. Korean verbs for example always go at the end, this was an easy concept for me to assimilate because German verbs do too so no surprises there.

    I also underline several elements in my sentences in colours and then the equivalent words in English underneath in the same colour. Example (excuse the rubbish romanisation, my Hangul keayboard is not currently working): 'Myotshi eh hesa eh kayo?' means 'at what time are you going to the office?' so I'd underline 'myotshi eh' (at what time) in pink both in English and Korean, 'hesa eh' (to the office) in blue and 'kayo' (I go, going) in green.