Learning two languages, and how long it takes.

I was asked the perennial question about learning two languages, and also about how long it takes to learn a language, at our Forum at LingQ. Here is what I had to say.


Hi Guillermo,

Your enthusiasm is great, and a guarantee that you will succeed. Each person has to find his or her own way in language learning. Different people enjoy different learning activities. The most important things is to keep at it, and to put in enough time to succeed.

I find it easier to focus on one new language at a time. Once a language is at an intermediate level I can mix it with other languages.

If you are most keen to learn German, I would stay with it for now, for at least 6 months. You can always dabble a little in French, here at LingQ for example, since it is much closer to Spanish. But I would keep my main focus on German. Maybe 80% German and 20% French. You will find that you will be naturally more attracted to one or the other.

I would not worry too much about German grammar right now. I would get myself a small book explaining some of the main grammar issues that you will come across in German. You can also search for German grammar explanations, summaries, as well as verb and noun/adjective tables on the web. Use these to refer to from time to time when you are interested. Don’t expect to remember much. Don’t expect to use the grammar correctly. Focus on listening and reading. Don’t worry if a lot of the text is unclear, even after you have looked up all the words. It takes time for your brain to get used to the language. When you have enough exposure and a larger vocabulary, the grammar rules will become easier to remember.

As to how long it will take, I cannot say. Try to focus on enjoying your learning rather than on how long it will take. Assume that it will take a long time. I think it might take a year before you can comfortably converse in German, but it could go faster if you have a lot of time to spend on it.

Good luck.



7 comments on “Learning two languages, and how long it takes.


A suggestion: especially at the beginning, using one language to learn another is an idea. At http://www.book2.de you can download mp3 files and read the text of parallel lessons in any two of the 48 languages they offer – French and German would be no problem. This means you don’t have to worry about forgetting one language while learning the second – the texts are read in the known language and then in the less familiar one. (The online materials are all free – if you want a printed text, I think they’re $10 from Amazon.)The lessons have no grammar – just dialogs, so this shouldn’t be the only source you use, and the vocabulary is restricted. But once you can read and pronounce things properly, you can start building your word stock by reading and listening to whatever you find interesting.


I think the advice you gave here is really on-point. Especially regarding grammar – it’s too hard to remember the rules before you’ve got enough exposure.In fact, I’d recommend that Guillermo focus all his effort on exposure for a while. Then, later, focus more on actively learning.Brett

I agree, you should have one main language you’re focusing on and that’s it. I’m concentrating primarily on Spanish right now and playing with Russian and Brazilian Portuguese a bit, but Spanish gets probably 80% of my time and energy, easily. How long it takes is dependent on a myriad of variables such as the language in question and whether the learner has any previous experience with a similar language (e.g. a Spanish-speaker learning French vs. a Spanish-speaker learning Russian), whether they have any experience learning <i>a</i> foreign language before (this one’s actually pretty important as it determines whether or not you know <i>how</i> to learn a language), etc.I have a question for you about Russian since I know you speak it: do you think that a prior knowledge of it would help someone wanting to learn Czech or Polish? I know those two languages are actually very different from Russian, but they’re still Slavic, so I was hoping that a knowledge of Russian would help me when I went to learn them eventually. I was sort of hoping that it would help in the way that knowing Spanish would help with French, but I’m not sure that they’re even <i>that</i> similar to Russian as what I’ve read so far indicates that they’re not, that although they’re Slavic like Russian they actually don’t have that much in common with it.Cheers,Andrew

Steve Kaufmann

Russian helps a lot with Czech. The grammar is very similar, so you do not have to relearn the basic patterns of Slavic grammar. The vocabulary is about 50% similar, and therefore not as similar as is the case with Romance languages/ Good luck.


Steve, my culture is French and when I tried to learn Spanish, it took roughly a little over a year to learn being it is very close to French of course. However, my new endeavor Russian is tough because of the Cyrillic script used for alphabet. So this will definitely play a part in the length of time it will take to learn Russian. This is a very nice article. Thanks for sharing! Steve I also wrote a similar article to yours below on my blog. http://learnalanguagesite.com/curious-about-how-long-does-it-take-to-learn-a-language-realistically/

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