Studying Multiple Languages: What’s the Point?

Laoi is a girl after my own heart. Or, possibly, a boy after my own heart — the name is not a dead giveaway in terms of gender. Anyhow, Laoi loves foreign languages and wants to study tons of them. I was, and still am, the same way.

If you speak foreign languages competently, you’ve got a great step up on your competition for just about any job out there. Couple that with the fact that Google Adwords advertising and Facebook advertising now allow you to advertise directly to people in any country you wish, and you’ve got endless business opportunities at your feet if you speak other languages.

Speaking multiple foreign languages increases your employability...AS A BADASS INTERNATIONAL SPY.

Plus, the ladies dig it. Anyhow, here’s Laoi:

Hi, my name’s Laoi (pronounced Lee, I know, it’s odd).Β This Fall I’m going to a four-year university after having gone to a community college for two years. I don’t have any debt yet, thanks to that.

Fantastic! An outlandishly intelligent way to do your first two years of college, as I’m often heard saying around these parts.

So, I’m going to be taking about 16 credits, 4 of those being Advanced Beginning Japanese.

Good luck. Japanese is rougher from the get-go than most other languages, partly due to the two extra alphabets you have to learn. But I suspect you know that already.

Now, I love foreign languages. I want to learn as many as I possibly can, my ultimate goal being to learn a language from every continent except Antartica (only aborginal languages count, of course).

I don’t know what you mean by that, but OK.

Which is why one of my questions is “should I take another language class this year?” If I did it would be German or Spanish because those are the only ones that don’t overlap with my other classes.

I took German and Japanese at the same time in college, actually (you definitely wrote the right guy! :). And it’s not that bad. They’re actually pretty easy to take together, because there are no similarities between them that trip you up in your mind. Same is true of Spanish.

It’s harder when you’re taking two Romance languages (Spanish, French, Italian, Portugese, or of course Latin) at the same time, because they’re so similar and it’s easy to confuse yourself. However, this isn’t a problem with Japanese and — well, any European language, that’s for sure.

However, I do want to participate in campus life, find a job, do things with friends, etc. I don’t know how much of my time would be taken up by this extra class.

If it’s a beginning class — not much. Spanish 101 and German 101, remember, are designed for the absolute beginner, and even at tough schools don’t become terribly rigorous. Sure, you may have to study vocabulary and basic verb conjugations and whatnot, but that gets easier with every additional language you take, IMHO.

Yet, I only have two more years before I would graduate. If I wait until next year to take another language, then I’d only be able to take a beginner class and would not be able to get to intermediate. Should I or not?

Yeah, sure. Doesn’t matter that you won’t get to intermediate levels — if you choose, you can still continue to learn on your own after you’re out of school. And that’s true now more than ever with all the free language podcasts and Internet resources out there.

ESPECIALLY with Spanish. First of all, the alphabet is easy and there are no crazy sounds that you’ll need a teacher reminding you how to say. Second, even in the hinterlands of America, you have wide access to Spanish-language TV stations (a great way to learn) and in larger cities, Spanish newspapers.

Third, there are built-in Spanish translations of a gazillion words available to you every time you go shopping — most boxes of food at the grocery store, for instance, have the Spanish translation right below the English one. Not everywhere, but lots of places — even Wal-Mart up here in super-white South Dakota does.

And lastly, of course, we have tons of Spanish speakers around the country to help you learn if you want to. I used to go to bars in Phoenix and would end up chatting up Spanish-speakers who were delighted to help a gringo practice his Spanish over beers.

Long story short, here’s the advice I can give you from my experience: Use your time in college to study the HARDEST languages — Japanese, Russian, Chinese, etc. Those are the ones where you’ll need the most support from your professors and classmates.

If you have time after that, take a beginning semester of an easier language(s) like Spanish, French, German, etc. — one semester of learning the absolute basics with a teacher will be plenty to get you rolling and able to continue studying on your own, post-college, if you want to.

My second question fits into this by asking, “Is Grad school a good idea?” I’m going in for linguistics, not yet decided what career I want, though I am thinking anthropologist.

Just to clarify — a master’s in linguistics is NOT a degree full of advanced foreign language study. You’re studying, in considerable depth, how people learn and use language, how language changes over time, how language use varies with sociological factors, as well as syntax, phonology, etc.

If I go to grad school, obviously I’d have more time to learn more languages.

Probably not, actually — see above. Remember, grad school doesn’t grant you extra “time” for anything Β (the clock is always ticking wherever you are and whatever you do) — it just requires you to pay a lot of money during a short period of that time. πŸ™‚ And it also fills that time with work assignments, which would preclude you from studying languages.

What do you think? Any answer would be appreciated. Thank you very much!

You’re very welcome. The question of whether you should go to grad school is a big and sprawling one, but my answer usually boils down to this: if you have a compelling reason to attend graduate school that you feel justifies the financial cost, time, and opportunity cost of going — then by all means, go. And just a quick refresher:

Financial cost = the money you pay for the program
Time = the time out of your life it takes to complete the program
Opportunity cost = the opportunities that may or may not arise for you while you’re completing the program which you must turn down because you’re in the middle of completing the program and don’t want to ditch it.

It doesn’t sound like, just based on this email, you’re quite there yet, because you’re not yet sure about what profession you want to enter (and therefore, you can’t weigh the career benefits of a master’s against the three factors I just mentioned).

Finally, and not for nothing, I suppose I should mention the Armed Forces and their language learning programs. You’ll learn languages a hell of a lot faster there than you will in any classroom — the pace is much faster, obviously, because your competency is a critical need, not just a nice-to-have. And they’ll actually pay you to learn them, and give you free housing and insurance and benefits and all that jazz, too.

Of course, you’ve gotta live the military life for a while, which can of course be dangerous, but not always so much. The Air Force, which is the branch of service where you have the least chance of getting killed in battle, has linguistic positions available if you score highly enough on the ASVAB, and they’re in exotic languages like Arabic, Pashto, etc.

Just sayin’, for a fellow language lover, it’s worth pointing out.

That’s all the advice I have today. Fellow language lovers/haters/teachers…any thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.

43 thoughts on “Studying Multiple Languages: What’s the Point?”

  1. Britt Strader

    One doesn’t just study foreign languages in order to speak them (which skill comes easiest when one lives, works, and/or studies in a foreign country). Other reasons include gaining a deeper understanding of one’s mother tongue, improving one’s grammatical skills, learning how ancient languages have influenced modern languages and the link between the way people think and the way they express themselves. I have studied about five ancient languages and ten modern ones and am grateful for the opportunities I had to do this. Because I believe the study of foreign languages helps one maintain good grammar, I am all for the study of foreign languages, since I am finding the lack of correct grammar appalling today. This incorrect spoken and written English presents a bad example of American culture for all the world to see.

  2. Grad school for masters programs is expensive. PhD programs are usually paid for by the university that you get them from, but of course those programs are twice the length of masters programs. And yeah, you don’t learn a ton of languages if you go into linguistics (although linguistics could help you learn them). Linguistics is the study of language structure. That’s something that my girlfriend gets a lot of when she tells people she’s studying linguistics (they ask, sprechen zie deutsch? no…).

  3. I think she should just choose one language and excel in it. I believe these 80 minute classes, 3 times a week, unable to get the real feel of the culture and locals who constantly speak the language, makes language learning in school much more difficult. I took a semester of Japanese and MAN, any other courses I was taking did not exist because Japanese TOOK OVER. I learned a lot, but I realized it would be more beneficial to be living in Japan (or whatever country of the language you want to learn) and pick it up naturally. Right now i’m in Quebec and it’s almost entirely French speaking. I took French for 3 years in HS and it’s only been over a month of me being here, but i’ve learned so much more than those 3 years. We have A LOT of time to pick up languages, and living in other countries, being immersed in the culture is WAY better than struggling to boost your GPA, balance other classes, work, and a social life just trying to cram languages into your head. Language is not like learning a mathematical method. It’s just like learning to cook or seeing from the eyes of a foreigner. You have to *live* it, breathe it, be in it. Language spoken within a country/culture has more passion and.. I can’t explain, but I think it’s definitely better to wait and live elsewhere.

  4. I majored in German, minored in Spanish and Politics in college, and also had two years of French in high school. I can tell you that without a doubt my multilingual abilities, as well as my year abroad in two different countries in college, are precisely what landed me my first, second, and third jobs after college (I’m on my fourth). I highly recommend it, though respectfully disagree that two languages of the same family are hard to learn at the same time (I actually feel it’s easier). At the very least, you can read the news in whatever language you want!

  5. Definitely consider taking Spanish along with Japanese; it sounds like language is your passion, so why not give yourself the leg-up now? I’m graduating this year with intermediate Mandarin and advanced French, and recruiters tend to light up when I mention my language skills. In this economy, you need to take any edge above your competition, and if you are naturally good at language, take advantage of it!

    Also, as long as your course load is at four or five classes, it shouldn’t interfere with your ability to participate in campus life as long as you don’t have a job. If you do have a job, I recommend limiting yourself to three or four classes.

    1. Hi, I was wondering, where does everybody learn these languages? I don’t know if it’s where I live, but I can’t seem to find any places that offer more than just spanish, german, and french. I already know spanish and want to learn so much more but I don’t really have any opportunities to. Also, I’m not sure what degree to study or even what job fields to go for. All I know is that I want to learn languages and speak them. If anyone can answer this for me I’d greatly appreciate it.

  6. I’m going to assume that other than English, you don’t speak another language? Because if you speak French, Spanish is (all things being relative) easy. Also, a plus for your Japanese study, the sounds in Japanese and in Spanish are actually pretty similar. Okay, granted, if you listen to Japanese and listen to Spanish, they won’t sound alike. But if you break them down into individual letter and syllable sounds they are… take “gato”, which means cat in Spanish and I-don’t-remember-what in Japanese… but it’s said almost exactly the same. Which would be a lifesaver compared to trying to wrap your tongue around some of the German consonants.
    Although, speaking English is a leg-up for German, so I guess maybe it comes up even. But I digress.
    I am studying intensively in French for my BA (in Communication, in French immersion… half of my classes are in French) and I had just enough electives in my first year to take entry level Japanese… and I loved it. Even though I didn’t have the space or the time to continue it beyond basic classes (and my favourite teacher left, so i was kinda lacking on motivation!) I am still really glad I did. I’m a firm believer that learning something new is never a waste, and who knows, some day even beginning Japanese could come in handy! And taking something as popular as Spanish (expecially in the States) could come in handy, even if you never get to take upper level classes. A basic class could be the jumping off point for your own individual study, or maybe one day you’ll find yourself in a Spanish (or German) speaking place and remember enough phrases to get by (or at very least find it easier to get the hang of).
    If you have the time and the ability, go for it! The course will likely be easy but high on course work (like memorize these ten words after every class type thing) and so it shouldn’t be too disruptive. And it’s fun! πŸ™‚

  7. 19 hours in one semester is too much for anybody.
    You can learn a language anytime, it doesn’t have to be in “school”.
    I say take what you need for your degree and study languages on the side as time permits.

  8. also, just wanted to add.. how could you pass up that employability as a bad-ass international spy option! haha

  9. I agree with joining the Peace Corps. If you’re not placed in an anglophone country, you’ll definitely be immersed in another language (or languages!). The PC also has perks for prospective grad students and can help you pay off your ugrad student loans. You only have 2 years, but consider study abroad (you might be able to knock out a language requirement and/or another elective during a summer session abroad) or doing an internship overseas.

    Bon courage and happy learning πŸ˜€

  10. I studied languages at university. I got my degree in French but I also took a year of Spanish, an introductory Swahili class and lots of linguistics courses and I don’t regret it. If you love language you should pursue that! It can be hard to stuff all that info into your brain, especially if the languages you are studying are quite different from each other… but if you’re up to the challenge it can be totally worth it. Knowing even a little of several languages is great for travelling (or awesome if you’re going to be a translator!) and it gives you a really great appreciation for the world’s diverse cultures.

    I would encourage you to follow your heart and be ambitious. Take on whatever you think you can (and don’t put it off because learning languages can get harder with age)

  11. Grad school = LESS time to study languages, unless you’re getting a Master’s degree in a language or languages.

    It is always worthwhile to know languages, even at a basic level. In my experience, people who don’t speak English appreciate the effort, even if you’re not perfect. (Now, this does NOT mean that you should start up a conversation with someone who looks, say, Hispanic in Spanish, because that can be construed as insulting–as if you’re assuming they couldn’t possibly speak English.)

    If you’re choosing between Spanish and German and you live in the US and have no plans to move to Germany, I recommend learning Spanish. Most Germans who come over here speak English, and a knowledge of Spanish is often deemed more valuable in the workplace than a language like German or French. Trust me…it’s helped me get jobs, even with only a moderate knowledge of Spanish. Meanwhile, my friends who are fluent in things like French are not having any luck in this economy.

  12. Heyyyyy!!!

    Wow, you sound so much like me!! I took French and Spanish at the same time. I’m linguistically inclined so I didn’t have difficulties in either, but damn, I was meaning to speak French and half the sentence would end up Spanish…

    With German and Japanese obviously you won’t have that problem. Seriously, I’d go for it. After taking both French and Spanish, I’m teaching myself Portugese (Brazil) right now and let me tell you…it gets easy. =] I wish you the best of luck!!!!

  13. If you think you can handle it without messing up your GPA, or confusing the languages too much, then it is DEFINITELY worth it. You can travel to more places and communicate with more people, and it’s great for a resume. It opens up so many doors, socially and economically.

  14. Thank you for the great advice, Judge Josh and everyone who replied. After reading everyone’s replies I think I will take German. Languages aren’t hard for me. I should have mentioned this in the question and forgot to, but I did take two years of Japanese at my community college (one year when I was a senior in high school and then one year my first full time year of college, but then there wasn’t enough interest in the college after that and the Japanese program was shut down). I know I’m good with languages partially because in that class; I never opened the book outside of class except to do homework, yet I never got less than a 95% on tests and always A’s.
    Also, as far as the military and Peace Corp are concerned… I would consider the Peace Corp, but never the military. I have various reasons for it, but I have zero interest in it and besides, my two older siblings already joined the military and I’ve seen what it’s like. It’s not for me. But the Peace Corp is something I’ve honestly not considered before. I’ll look into that.
    Again, thank you everyone!

  15. I think being able to speak a different language is an excellent skill. Right now, I’m taking a Japanese course and an Italian course because I want to visit those places after I graduate from my undergrad in two years. Going to another country and being able to speak even just the slightest amount of the language there gives you a better sense of what’s going on. If you can learn to speak the language fluently, you won’t have to hire a translator or anything like that, which saves you money :D. I don’t want to have to spend extra cash for a translator if I’m only going to spend a week, maybe two tops in a unknown country. Besides the leg up career wise, languages are just useful period. They can be a pain to learn, but once you got it, you got.

  16. As long as you are happy learning foreign languages, that is all that matters. Even after you graduate, it will be easier to find a job you love with the multiple languages you will be able to speak. Such jobs could be in the UN, translator, reporter, anything you set your mind to. Good luck!

  17. I’m a getting a double major in Chinese Language & Literature, and Asian History.

    At the moment, I’m in China (in a little city with no foreigners) teaching English to 3 – 12 year olds (a sort of gap-year thing), and let me tell you, even after studying Spanish, French, German, and a little Arabic, These eastern languages are different animals altogether. If I hadn’t taken the first year Chinese classes to get the basics of the language and grammar, I would likely not be alive right now. For languages which are completely different from English (assuming it’s your mother language), having a good college-level introductory course is the way to go, no matter which direction you take afterwards.

    As for whether or not you study linguistics, that depends on your interest and goals… Do you actually want to speak languages, using them actively to accomplish work and social goals? Or would you rather spend your time examining many different languages, how they are formed, and when different structures are used in different situations?

    As for multiple languages at the same time… at least for me, at the end of the day after classes, my brain was buzzing with 4 different vocabularies, using phrases from every language that had my active study attention, and while it was eerie, I managed to keep it together, and it is possible. As an exercise, each evening practice speaking in one target language for 10 minutes, on whatever topic your limited vocabulary can support; strive to only stay in your target language. This helped me.

    I like linguistics, but mostly as a side hobby when I’m not busy with other things. Learning Mandarin, however, is a more important activity. For a good basic gist of linguistics, just have a good browse of wikipedia, check some of the references at the bottom of the article, and find those books in the university library.

    Whichever language you pick, stick with it, be persistent, and even when you flirt with other languages, keep constant with your target language.

    η₯δ½ ε₯½θΏοΌ

  18. Laoi:

    I am normally a lurker with this column and don’t read every one, but this one intrigued me. I am currently an English major at California State U at Fullerton, looking to add Linguistics as a second major. For most students, the Linguistics major REQUIRES at least two semesters in two different languages, or four semesters in one language. You will find out when you start studying Linguistics that having language (even basic) about how another language (or even three or four) work becomes a huge advantages when studying how languages both old and new, living and dead work. I’d like to give Fullerton a plug regarding the Linguistics major … it’s a great school. I have only been in the program a semester and the students are wonderful, and the faculty is very hard working and hands on. We have faculty who are currently active researchers, so you won’t be getting lectures by someone who just is tenured, but you will be getting an education from people who are active in the field, important if you eventually want to end up working in the field. Just a word of warning … Fullerton, like many other schools, has lower division Linguistics requirements for those seeking the Masters, so you may find yourself being required to take lower division courses before you can complete your Masters program. It’s good to research this so you don’t end up with any expensive surprises. Best of success to you!

  19. Using college credit hours to study languages is a tricky decision. In my experience, and in that of many fellow linguistitics students, the foreign language classes offered at many universities are very slow paced for anyone who has experience in learning langauges (or has some inborn talent for them, but that’s a linguistics debate (as is ending a parenthetical citation with a smiley face πŸ™‚ ). If you want to learn languages, and you’ve an aptitude for it, you may be better off taking classes outside of school (I know that sounds weird right). Many schools offer night classes to the community for foreign languages, often with the same quality of teachers as you’d see in the classroom (and sometimes better since many classrooms are taught by graduate students or assistants who’d rather be doing something else). Studying languages is a great ambition, particularily if you’re looking into linguistics, but investing credit hours in them beyond one solid language (generally a major), which sounds like what your japanese is going to be, may not be the best plan. Those credit hours could just as easily go towards upper level linguistics classes or other look-good-on-my-transcript courses, like science (don’t underestimate the importance of science couses in a linguistics major). Anywho, to break the pragmatic chain, good luck!

  20. You should DEFINITELY take that up. I’m a French major; took one semester of Japanese; beginning Spanish next semester; studying multiple languages in the future. Not only is studying the language good for grasping the language, but it’s good culturally, as well… plus you get bragging rights when you understand “Genki desu-ka?” hahahah Go for it. Never second guess a language course.

  21. Alejandro Gonzalez

    Hi there. My first language is Spanish, I’ve been fluent in English for about 10 years and been studying French for about 6 months and I am getting really good at it.
    It’s really fun and interesting to know different languages. It doesn’t matter if it’s basics of fluent. I’m not saying to go crazy and try to learn many at ones but enjoy them.

  22. Single Mom 2 kids

    Hey go for it! I would lean more towards Chinese – specifically Mandarin. My 2 kids have recently began learning Mandarin, and its fun for all of us to learn the tones and meanings of the characters. In Houston, some schools are dropping French for Mandarin. Now I’m in my forties and my kids are 5 yrs and 10 yrs, so its really never to late. We have a family member teaching them Portugese this summer also, while my little one has never been exposed to a foriegn language formally, my older one has had Spanish for 6 years in school. The world is so global – and China has become a strong force economically I would strongly suggest you consider it. Also learning one Asian language, makes it easier to learn another one.

  23. Take as many languages as possible! I am a Spanish major, and in the fall I am taking a second semester of French and my first semester of Portuguese (I guess I enjoy Romance languages). I dabble in Japanese outside of school, but it’s probably better to take that in school if you are serious about it. Learning another language introduces you to new cultures and ideas. You also begin to realize that vocabulary lists only teach you the closest cultural equivalent. The word “casa” in Spanish implies a differently constructed abode than the word “house” in English.

  24. Dear/Sir,
    I advice her to learn. Speaking many languages it self is a power. speaking two or more langauges is gathering information from many dimentions which is very impotant than any asset. this can be explained in terms of job opportunity, solving problems, internationa meeting participation, touring, learning and teaching , knowing the culture of others,work with others, live with others and so on. Even me my self if i get this chance , i could not express my happness. So, this is great opportunity ever seen go it.

  25. If you want to study linguistics, you definitely want to learn as many languages as you can right now. I personally took Spanish and Dutch in high school and have continues with my Spanish in college and plan on taking Russian and maybe another language. I’m alos thinking about doing a masters in linguistics, and I’ve talked to a bunch of people who say that you definitely want to speak as many languages as you can before you go in (this will probbaly also help you get in in the first place!)
    Also, is it possible to audit the Spanish course? This way you can make other classes the priority, but still have Spanish “just for funzies.” I agree with Josh, it’s not gonna be a hard class either, so you should be OK taking it on the side. If you audit the course, though, it’s a) cheaper, b) less pressure, and c) a great resume fluffer–if you ever apply for a job that requires Spanish, your limited knowledge of Spanish is still better than the next guy’s no-knowledge of Spanish. Also, in general Spanish is a great way to learn about yourself, others, and particularly to understand your surroundings (in an increasingly Latino-influenced US).

    Overall, for so many reasons, I say go for the 2nd language. You can always drop it later if it’s too much.

  26. Freddy L.S. da Gama

    Multiple language learning is now one of the important key for people who would want to work different communities (i.e. United Nations Volunteers), but what should be underlined is the pratical use of language in our day to day work (usefulness), if not it is simply a wasting of time.

  27. Cassidy Rae Henry

    I would also suggest looking into the State Department- languages there are a hot commodity (as they are in any federal government job-including police areas).

    Also look for foreign language experience. I have a french professor who also speaks Swedish and got a job once at a mid level career after applying for a beginning level just because she put Swedish on her resume!

  28. Learn a language. In high school, I blew off my French classes and now i regret it. I am currently a college sophomore, but I am also teaching myself Spanish.

    And go to grad school. I have friends that are majoring in linguistics and they said you pretty much have to go to grad school to get a job.

  29. I disagree with Josh a little here, when he says that beginning level language classes can be easier. In my opinion, 100-levels in languages can be underestimated. Remember some students walk to class with no background whatsoever in the language they’re studying, so they have to build a foundation entirely from scrath. I’m taking beginning Arabic currently, and don’t let “beginning” fool you: it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. In fact, I’m looking forward to intermediate and advanced, because i suspect (and have been told) that they will be easier because, unless you are a native spaker, 101 and 102 is when you have to adjust your brain to an entirely different way of processing information, if that makes sense, and after that is when the real fun begins. So beware, beginning does not always mean easier!

  30. I agree. Take as many language courses as you can. I took one year of French back in 1986-87 in high school. I took a year of Spanish while at community college (2007-08). I am currently prusuing my BA in History, and will be taking French. In my spree time I am alos teaching my self Cherokee. I learned Latin in 8th grade.

    I speak some Klingon, and some broken Ethiopian–learned from employees when I lived in California. I love learning languages. It adds to your knowledge of different cultures, as well as your own. It helps improve your grammar, an make you more selective in your choice of words when communicating in general. It makes you think–I have yet to meet someone that can learn a language by rote.

    It can’t hurt your future plans to know several languages, even beginner levels. So if you can handle the load by all means take languages. My Spanish teacher did laugh alot at my pronounciation of words in spanish, usually with a French accent, but I plugged on.

    I plan to add Russian, German, and Italian at some point to my list of spoken languages. I do plan to travel to France next summer and hopefully Germany by time I graduate. I know I may ot become fluent in all the languages I learn but I enjoy every minute of the process. I rarely use my Spanish, though I live in the US. But with broken Spanish speaking with a person fluent in Spanish and broken English skills I have found we manage to communicate just fine. My French is better then my Spanish, but I am still glad I took the Spanish.

    With the world being global one never knows where a job or other opportunity may take you. So having even a baisc skill in another language is a bonus. Remeber: If you speak two languages you’re bilingual. If you speak three you’re trilingual, and if you speak one you’re an American:)

  31. I would say pick 1 language, or 2 if you can handle it, and excel in that 1, or those 2. There is no point being at the beginner level of 6 languages. I would choose to master 2 others besides my mother tongue. Being trilingual is better in my book than being at the elementary level of 6 languages. :S

  32. Yaaay for fellow language-lovers! I’m also learning as many languages as possible while I’m in college, even though they’re not required for any degree program I’m doing and it’s nice to see that there are others out there doing the same thing.

  33. The most important thing to remember at the beginning level is that each new language gets easier the more languages you have studied in the past. When we use our native language we are not encouraged to think linguistically, so when we begin our first foreign language, especially as an adult, it is extremely hard to learn any grammatical differences. When I first studied French I couldn’t get used to adjectives coming after nouns. As I browsed through about 10 different languages, I was able to associate any new differences with something similar in another foreign language, so when I studied in Japan as a beginner, I was able to handle sentences that often translated completely backwards into English without much difficulty. From there I spent 3 months in China, and my Japanese obviously helped me a great deal in learning to read and write in that language. In other words, it is actually harder to only study one foreign language than it is to study 2 or three or more.

    The three months I spent in China taught me much more than I learned in 2 years of German class in the states. There is a big limit to what you can expect to learn in a classroom. Most of the work by far will be done outside the class. Laoi I am a little worried if you can get an A in a class where you never once open your book outside of class. That doesn’t mean you are that good at the language, per se, but rather that your class is much too easy. I was taking 3rd year Japanese and Chinese simultaneously last year, and the difference between the two was tremendous. The Japanese (which at Wisconsin ranks among the top in the country) is extremely difficult, Japanese is spoken exclusively in class, there is a ton of homework, and we learn very advanced material. The Chinese course of the same level at the same university is ridiculously easy, where one can sit through class for an entire week without speaking Chinese, very poor pronunciation is tolerated and not even corrected (you absolutely cannot speak Mandarin without good pronunciation), and like you said, study outside of class is basically optional. A good example of this is when we watched a movie in each. In Japanese we had to understand most of the dialogue and took three oral exams on the themes of the film (meaning we had to watch it carefully outside of class). In Chinese we basically got a week off of class as there were no assignments based on the film and we watched it during class time. I got an A last year in Chinese, and a B in Japanese, but needless to say I learned much more in Japanese, and my abilities in Japanese now far exceed those in Chinese (they were pretty similar before). Next year I am not even bothering with taking Chinese because I am not learning much from it. Fortunately my roommate is a Mandarin speaker.

    That is the thing you should consider when deciding to take multiple languages: are the classes helping you become fluent in the language? An easy A in Japanese will not mean much if you cannot communicate with a native Japanese speaker (other than your teacher). I know this feeling and it is humiliating. You really should not even be able to pass a language class if you do no outside work, no matter how good you are, because if you can you are simply not learning enough material for the class to be worthwhile. You would have learned more if you had ONLY studied outside of class.

    If you continue with studying languages you should decide for yourself to spend as much of your free time as possible studying the language, whatever the requirements of your class, as that is the only way you will really become good at them. In class your drive to get a good grade will actually cause you to cut corners in what you learn if the requirements are too low or too specific. Also, seriously consider spending your senior year abroad. I learned more Japanese in my neighborhood izakaya than I did in the classroom.

    Finally, as to studying more than one at once, don’t be obstinate about it. While in Japan I took a 4th year German class, a 2nd semester Japanese, and a 1st semester Chinese class at the same time. I enjoyed how impressed everyone was with me, but had I honestly considered what I would get out of it I definitely would have dropped the German: the “fourth year” Japanese students could not pronounce a single word of German (‘ich’ was pronounced something like ‘eehee’) but were just waiting to graduate with their German “majors.” I learned very little, and it took quite a bit of my time I could have spent learning the other two. As long as your goal is to get as good as possible, and you stay determined, you can learn as many languages as you want. The classes you take and especially the grades you get should be secondary.

  34. Richard Ngelula

    Well: studying as many foreign languages as possible is like oppening more than one curtain of your sitting room’s windows to allow air and ligth circulating in. You become more famiar with words’ cultures, the world becomes a true village for you, and chances of exploiting world resources is evenb higher toyou than would otherwise be the case.

  35. If learning languages is your passion then go for it! I love learning languages. I am currently majoring in Spanish and have taken Haitian Creole in the past semester to perfect my culture’s language. This semester I will be taking beginning Swahili with my Spanish courses. I believe there is no greater time then now to learn new languages. Also if you do a program such as the Peace Corps after graduation you will already have a heads up with knowledge of foreign languages! Good luck!

  36. I agree with the poster above. πŸ™‚

    I’m in love with learning languages… My parents are Polish so I’m a first generation American, I started French in 7th grade and fell completely head over heels for the entire culture and language (it’s still my absolute favorite). I decided to take German my junior year of high school (at the same time as French), took German II senior year and actually got a scholarship (CBYX Vocational Youth Exchange. Seniors: APPLY by the end of this January. It’s an incredible program) to do internships and live with a host family in Germany for a year. I’m now at Austin Community College for a semester before I transfer to (hopefully) the NYC area. Good luck! πŸ™‚

  37. I speak 2 languages already. I speak Arabic and English. I have exercised my french a little bit last year. I have Brazilian friends whom I want to learn their Portoguese so much. I love to learn new languages.

  38. I grew up bilingual (English and Hungarian) and studied Spanish in high school, German and Russian since freshman year of university and now I’m starting French as a junior. I also studied Czech while studying abroad in the Czech Republic. I think studying as many languages as possible is really important. Especially if you think you’ll ever be competing against europeans for jobs. In the Czech Republic, university students are required to study a foreign language in addition to English.

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