Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Your target language should become second nature

A quote about skills in general that would also apply to language learning skills (from Time):
"Once skills… become second nature, you can call them up much more easily when you need them," [theoretical physicist Lisa] Randall writes. "Such embedded skills often continue operating in the background — even before they push good ideas into your conscious mind."


  1. After learning spanish in college I didnt think it was officially "skilled" with it until I went to europe and was able to use it- no problem-. Simply because, being the third most common language around the area I was, it was the only thing I could use to communicate with others.

    That being said, What are your thoughts on learning multiple languages? I'm learning French and Italian. I just went to Italy and did fairly well, but put french on hold. Should I get one down before I hit the other or keep studying at them at the same time?

  2. Given that I've learned 7 foreign languages to some degree of proficiency, by necessity I have learned (and continue to learn) multiple languages at the same time. My typical route is to make one my main focus (usually the language of wherever I am), while the others are at a much lower intensity. For the others, I'll do things like listen to music, read websites, chat with friends, etc., with the exposure time being comparatively small.

    That said, it's probably good to get one up to a pretty decent level before the next, because as you learn each language, you get better at and that'll make learning the next one quicker. So if those are your first two, maybe tackle the Italian before jumping full force into French? That's not to say you should stop everything with French, but perhaps just keep it on a low simmer while you focus on Italian.

  3. Vincent, Thanks for this post. It is a good reminder. I want to teach my children Spanish, and have started talking to them in Spanish, but I forget (too often). Got to make it second nature. Useful observation. Thanks.

  4. I hear that all the time from people with kids... they want to teach them language B, but they always slip into language A.  My wife and I have it easy in that we both strictly speak our native tongues with our kids (and never let them pidgin the two), but I have a similar forgetting problem: my wife and I speak English in front of the kids so they can get English-language exposure in this Japanese-language land, but when they're not around our intention is to speak Japanese to boost mine... but we forget (too often).