More than fifteen years ago I was living abroad and I was a student. My idea of a well-spent day was a day where I managed to do several things which were important to me: studying, playing sport, having meaningful interactions and studying languages. I have always liked living abroad—I find it such a thrilling experience because I can learn something new every day just by living my life, for example something related to language or about an aspect of the culture. I had the chance to live in a small but very international place and I was so keen to meet people from all over the world. I have always loved contact with people and foreign languages and I started doing language exchanges— the combination of learning new things, talking to nice people and helping them was very motivating.
At the beginning I started with German and Italian but then I added Spanish, Portuguese, and Russian. Of course I also had other things to do—at the time I was also working, so I decided a minimum time for each language. During my studies I had learned that small steps every day can take you really far. So I started with fifteen minutes per day for each language. After all one hour was a reasonable time for my goal without it taking all my time. And it worked! I really improved. After that I kept learning more than one language at the same time according to where I was living and to my goals. I developed my method until the day I started not only learning several languages but also teaching them in the same class.
I was not born with a special talent, at school I only had French as foreign language and I started speaking other foreign languages when I was twenty years old. Now I can teach thirteen languages, eight of which at any level, and I have studied a dozen more. I believe that any of you can learn more than one language at the same time, of course providing this is meaningful to you.
I have taught multilingual classes for some time now and all my students can study and use several languages. It does require some dedication, like anything you want to learn in life, but I am very proud of their results. Maybe I need to point out that my students are not normally polyglots before starting their classes with me. I am not saying that everyone should do it, just that if you have a strong desire or motivation to do it you should know that it is not only possible but that there are several advantages in doing so.
Here are four benefits of taking multilingual lessons:
1. Achieve your goals
First of all, you will be doing something you are really interested in—why wait one or two years to start achieving your dreams and goals?
2. More Efficient
Secondly, with the right method, you can learn more languages in the same time that you would learn one. The fact that the learning process is quicker does not mean that you will not have to work for it, for the simple reason that learning anything requires a certain level of commitment.
On the other hand, five minutes per language per day is enough to make steady progress. Time spent on learning is not directly proportional to the number of languages you want to learn, especially if you are able to make comparison or if you have a teacher who can do it for you.
3. Use language patterns to your advantage
The logic behind languages is often the same so you can apply it to more languages at the same time. For example, in many language families irregularities are quite similar among the languages. Also, the time you need to learn words in languages belonging to the same family is much less if you compare them and concentrate on the differences, that is on the words which are totally different and the different spelling and pronunciation. Even when learning languages of different families it is possible to find similarities and ways to speed up the learning process.
4. Stop mixing languages up
With the right method, you will learn not to mix languages up, which instead often happens to people who already know a second language and start learning a third one. How could you achieve that? The method that I use with my students is the following: first we work on languages separately, especially if a language is totally new to them, and then in the same class there is some time dedicated to comparison. Switching from one language to another is also crucial so that our brain gets used to it.
For example, I could ask things like:
- Could you tell me how to say "I speak" in Italian, French, and Spanish?
- Could you tell me about your weekend in German?
- Could you try to say more or less the same thing in Russian?
- Or, talking to another student: Could you tell us what, let's say, Daniel has just said using another language of your choice?
Especially if you are a beginner it is important to learn the main language features of the languages you are studying because this will help you not to mix them up.
Similar techniques can also be used on your own. Just remember that in order to reach fluency you do need to practise speaking. Please also take into account that the method you use is important because the more efficient it is, the more you will notice your progress and this will help you keep your motivation high. A good multilingual teacher can help you to compare the languages in a clear way, to switch from one language to another and to find ways to remember words.
If you want to know more about it and watch videos where some of the people I taught speak several languages you can have a look on my website www.speakfromdayonewithelisa.com. If you would like to try my classes you can find me on italki.
You will find many practical hints in two books I am currently preparing on this topic: one about practical language learning strategies and the other where I compare several languages in a practical way, which can be used in lessons or on your own.
And remember: if you wish to become fluent in the languages you like, why not save time and start learning them at the same time?