Learning Four Languages at the Same Time has been transcribed from Steve’s YouTube channel.  The original video was published on November 3, 2012


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Hi there, Steve Kaufmann here. I often get asked about learning several languages or more than one language at once, do I do it, what do I think about it and, usually, my answer is that I don’t, that I focus on one language at a time and I think that’s probably still my answer if I am starting from scratch with a language. By that I mean if I were to start studying Turkish. However, I now find myself in a situation where I’m going to be doing four languages over the next six months or so, so I thought I would talk a bit about it.


First of all, I want to really learn Korean. About five, six, seven, I can’t remember, seven years ago, I spent about six months doing a lot of listening and reading of Korean, you know, part time, an hour a day and, of course, I’m helped in Korean because I have Japanese and Chinese. I’m at the point where I can say a few things and, basically, don’t understand anything that’s said back to me or very little. I can’t really maintain a conversation, but I have some sense of how the language works. I would say that in Korean I’m somewhere between A-1 and A-2 on the European scale. I’m a beginner.


Now, I want to go after Korean and I want to do a five-days-to-fluency thing like I did with Czech. I want to go to Korea in the spring and, hopefully, in five-six days really improve my Korean. So that’s my number one focus, but I definitely want to work on and improve my Russian and my Czech. Korean, Russian and Czech, those are languages that I’ve really only started on in the last six-seven years, so I’m going to tell you what I’ve been doing. Also, because I was in Germany and I was a little bit disappointed at my German, I’ve decided to put a little more effort into German. So how am I going to go about sort of juggling these four languages?


First of all, last week was my first week of starting to do this and fortunately or unfortunately I injured my back playing hockey on Tuesday. At the end of the game I kind of pulled my back, so I didn’t play hockey Wednesday and I didn’t play hockey Friday. That means about three and a half hours there that I have available for language learning that I would otherwise have spent playing hockey. I actually did quite a bit more than I usually do, so what did I do?


Well, let’s talk about Korean because I have the advantage in Korean. First of all, I’ve spent time at it before. I can, with difficulty, read the hangul, but I still get lots of stuff wrong, especially if I don’t have a context. I know the Chinese characters and the Japanese characters and so, for me, reading the very informal Korean is, in fact, a lot more difficult than reading more formal sort of newspaper-type articles, except that I don’t know what the characters are.


I actually emailed Ross King who is a professor of Korean and, in fact, was head of the Asian Studies Department at UVC. I said is there any easy hungul to hanja converter so that I could take these texts written in hangul and instantly see where all the characters are and he said he’s not aware of any. So I kind of struck out there, but when I was in Japan two years ago I bought a number of books on learning Korean.


I tend to buy books. Even though I’m very much committed to LingQ and I love learning on LingQ it’s not the only thing I use, I also use books. I think most people should and enjoy having a variety of tools to go at more or less the same content from different directions. I always recommend someone starting at LingQ to get a starter book in your own language. If it’s English get some Teach Yourself. Go through some that, as well. These books that you have lying around when you don’t want to look at your iPad or listen to your mp3 player or doing something on the computer, just read the book.


Anyway, I bought this book, which is ________, which means A Thousand Words in Korean. The advantage of this thing is that it’s done for the Japanese learner. All of the words where there are Chinese characters, _________, these ________ show up. So there’s a thousand words here, I’m reading through it, it’s got examples for each word and I get to see the character. So I’m hopeful that as I plow through thing, I’m about halfway through it, I’ve done about 500, that I’ll start to get used to the patterns of how the Chinese or Japanese pronunciations of these Chinese characters change in Korean. So that’s one thing I’m doing.


Also, when I was in Korea back two years ago, I bought these two books, which are by a Professor ___________ and they’re very, very good. It’s Hanguru Bunpou, like Korean grammar, and the other one is called Hanguru Kaiwa. They come with CDs and I’ve long since put them into iTunes. They’re just a series of short sample examples of how the Koreans speak in their everyday speech. Different patterns and, of course, I’ve always felt that language should be taught as patterns.


I’ve got this other book for Russian, 53 patterns in Russian. Well, this _______ is just a series of patterns with five examples of each and it just keeps on going. I read through it and I read through it and I listen to it. It’s all in the background and slowly I get a sense of how the Korean language works. Then I go to LingQ and I work on either easy content, which I don’t find that interesting, you know, hi, how are you, what are you doing, or there are some more difficult texts.


There’s a news series at LingQ and, of course, I have to save every third word, but hopefully in my ________ dictionary I can find the character and put it in. I’m also reading my own book, the book I wrote about language learning called The Linguist: A Language Learning Odyssey. I’m familiar with the book. I’m reading it in Korean at LingQ and saving words and phrases. All of that amounts to a fair amount of time. Plus, I walk around listening to stuff. I’ve always got my old Nano.


However, the problem is now I can’t spend all my time on Korean because I also want to work on the other languages. So today I decided I would make Russian my second language, so I went into Ekho Moskvy, my favorite source, and I downloaded three interviews into iTunes. So I have them on here and then I downloaded the text, because at Ekho Moskvy you get the text, imported into LingQ and I went through all the blue words, the words that are new to me, many of which I know or are forms of words that I know or they’re names.

Steve Kaufmann

Anyway, I go through them all, bing, bing, bing, bing. I get rid of anything that’s blue, which is stuff that I haven’t seen before on the system, so now I have only yellow words. I did that for three articles, one was an interview with _________, one was an interview with __________ talking about the new opposition group that’s formed there and another one was __________. She always has the most rather exotic theories on different things, but it’s good stuff so I’m listening and reading.


Once I have gone through and gotten rid of all the blues so there’s only yellow, then I can read it on my iPad. So I can read and listen at the same time and I do that not because I don’t understand it, but because I want to really nail down the structures. So I’m looking at the _________, whatever it might be, some of those phases or some of the case endings ________. It’s helpful. When you’re actually looking at it, too, it helps you notice. So I did that. I did part of it while on my stepping machine, so I was able to work it in with some exercise, and part of it just sitting there. It’s very comfortable and so forth.


So tomorrow will be my Czech day and I typically go to _________, which is a Czech radio program. The interviews on Ekho Moskvy tend to be about 30 minutes long, the interviews at _________ are about 20-25 minutes long. So, there again, I will download the sound and then take the text into LingQ, get rid of all the blue words and then I can sit and read them on the iPad. I may not go through the whole article, it depends how interest it is. I may not listen to the whole article, but I will get some exposure to Czech tomorrow.


The other thing that I’m going to do is I am going to step up my talking. I had a Russian conversation with Alana, one of our Russian tutors, and I really stumbled. A lot of Czech words came out, but it got a better as I went along. I also had a conversation with Yarda in Czech. So next week I’m going to do the same, I’m going to have maybe one or two conversations in Russian, one or two conversations in Czech. So I’m going to be doing my input activity and I’m also going to have regular conversations, typically 30 minutes long, in both Russian and Czech.


I am also going to start speaking regularly with Rinehart and, perhaps, other German tutors at LingQ. I’ve already signed up for a discussion with him. I also decided to use German more. So in some of my follow-up emails with people that I met in Berlin at the _________, I wrote my email in German. I put it in for correction, Rinehart came back within 24 hours with the thing corrected and then tomorrow, in time for their Monday, I’ll be sending the emails out to Germany. Where I have time I’m going to read the German newspaper, but I’m not going to put as much time into Germany as I’m going to put into Czech and Russian and, of course, into the Korean.


So the goal is that my Russian and Czech should not deteriorate, should continue to improve, that German should improve and that next spring sometime I’ll be able to converse in Korean. I’m not going to start talking to Korean tutors at LingQ until I get my Korean up to a level where I can maintain my end of the conversation, but I have had someone in Korea who wants to do English with me at LingQ so I will encourage her or her son. She’s got a son who works. I’m not quite sure what their ages are. Between the two of them I’m sure I can find a willing Korean language exchange partner in exchange for my English, but I’m going to have to wait a few months until my Korean is up to snuff.


So there you have it, a quick rundown of what I’m doing in terms of trying to maintain or improve in four languages. Thank you for listening, bye for now.