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How to Learn Multiple Languages (Without Burning Out)

Learning multiple languages is daunting, with burnout a distinct possibility. We show you how to learn multiple languages without burning out!

There are many of you who speak multiple languages or at least have friends who do. Some people have had a bilingual upbringing and learning a language is easy. For example, where I live in South Africa, it’s common to speak multiple languages. Heck, we have 11 official languages! I myself speak two - English and Afrikaans. I was able to learn these languages without much effort as I was surrounded by English and Afrikaans growing up.

But if you’re learning to speak a new language for the first time it can be daunting, particularly if you’re not surrounded by the language 24/7. And learning multiple languages? Well, that’s another ball game altogether. If not approached correctly you can burn out.

I'll show you that’s it’s more than possible to learn multiple languages. It starts with understanding yourself, how you learn best, planning, and following through. But before I jump into this, it’s important to understand your why.

Why Do You Want to Learn Multiple Languages?

How often do you start something full throttle, only to lose motivation? I’ve experienced this. What I've realized is that if you understand why you’re doing something, your chances of following through increase tenfold. It’s simple: when you lose motivation, you return to your reason for doing what you're doing. Continuing the journey shouldn't be difficult, assuming your motivations are sound.

The same applies to language learning. Ask yourself: "Why do I want to learn a new language? Is it to broaden my horizons? Get out of my comfort zone? Broaden my cultural understanding?" If it’s only for bragging rights, you need to dig deeper. Because when the going gets tough, bragging rights aren’t going to keep you motivated.

Get started by writing down your motivations. Keep it in a nearby place so that when motivation's an issue, you can remind yourself of why you started. Also, if you’re unable to nail down your why, start anyway. Often clarity is only achieved once you start taking action. Trust that your motivation will surface with time.

Do You Have a Propensity to Learn Two Languages Simultaneously?

In European and Asian schools, it’s common to learn two languages concurrently. However, it's less common in North America. But, there’s no one route to learning multiple languages. It depends on you.

Are you someone that has the ability to learn several new things at the same time without overwhelm? Then concurrent learning might work for you. If not, shift focus to one language before moving to the next. Narrowing your focus is something Benny Lewis from Fluent in 3 Months recommends. He focuses on one language until he’s satisfied with his level of fluency, before moving on to another.

By understanding yourself and what works for you, you’re playing to your strengths and preventing burnout. You also need to factor in your time to learning the languages. If you’re already strapped for time, it wouldn’t be wise to pile on two extra languages.

Decide on Your Language Learning Goals

Now it’s time to decide on your goals. Do you want to be able to read, write, or speak the language? What you’re trying to achieve will dictate how you learn multiple languages. Once you have a better understanding of your propensity to learn multiple languages and your goals, choose your learning method.

Choose The Right Learning Method

Everyone learns in different ways and your productivity will increase if you’re using a suitable learning method. It also means that chances of burn-out are less likely as you’ll be using your time better.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Am I visually driven?
  3. Do I learn better through listening to audio?
  5. Do I learn better through writing?
  7. Do I prefer human interaction?
  9. Am I more productive when I write things down?
  11. Do I learn best with a combination of the above methods?

With an understanding of how you learn best, select your content.

Choose the Right Content

It’s important to expose yourself to topics you enjoy reading about and watching in your native language, else you’ll lose motivation. Again choose the right content that plays to your strengths.

Select a Few Resources

If you choose too many resources prioritizing becomes difficult and can cause overwhelm. This is what happened when I started learning Spanish. So, be selective with your language resources. You can always add more as you become more comfortable learning the target language. Language learnings apps are often a great place to start.

Quick note: make sure the resources are aligned with your language learning method and content choice.

Set Deadlines

In my experience setting deadlines ensures I get things done. Often an article that I’ve written over two days, could've been completed in a few hours if only I set a deadline. When setting a deadline also be realistic. If you have a full-time job and want to learn multiple languages concurrently, it doesn't make sense setting a deadline of a few months.

With your deadline in mind, create a schedule and stick to it.

Allocate and Schedule Time

It’s important to create a schedule that ties in with your current life and routine. If it throws your current routine out the window it’ll make it harder to learn multiple languages. And if you dedicate 2 hours a day, after a full day’s work, well you might overwork yourself. So again - as with your deadline - be realistic!

Find An Accountability Buddy

Holding yourself accountable is important when you’re doing something new. Even better than that, is if someone else holds you accountable. Isn’t it weird how when we’re doing something for someone else, we do it better and complete the job (well that’s my experience anyways)? If you have someone who’s holding you accountable to your deadlines, you’ll be able to stay motivated when you feel like giving up. Find someone who has experience with the language. That way you can also immerse yourself in it.

Final Thoughts

Learning multiple languages is doable. Hell, as we’ve seen some people even learn two concurrently. The important thing is to understand yourself, how you learn best, and move forward from there. Choose the right content, select a few resources, set realistic deadlines, allocate time, and find an accountability buddy. Else, you’re going to be riding a slippery slope, subject to burn-out.

Do you constantly feel intimidated when you speak a new language?

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