As I forge onward in my Japanese studies and toy with the idea of dabbling in Italian again (I studied Italian for a couple months long before getting into Korean), unsurprisingly, I find myself faced with road blocks. It’s not an easy task self-studying one language and it seems counterproductive to study seven or eight at the same time, but I’m sure I’m not the only language learner out there to indulge in the occasional new-language sabbatical. I don’t know about you, but I really miss that “Everything is New and Shiny and Exciting!!!” phase of language learning.
That being said, these are a couple of things I’m trying to keep in mind as I start to study Japanese in earnest.
1) Kill two birds with one stone. If you’re comfortable enough in the first foreign language (FL1) you started out with, try to incorporate it into the new one you’ve decided to tackle. Again, be logical with this, because it’s probably not a great idea to learn Japanese through Spanish, if Spanish is your FL1. It might make more sense to study French in Spanish, and just stick with your native language to study Japanese. Use grammar books, dramas with subtitles (see my previous post) in your FL1 to learn your second foreign language (FL2) and you’ll be learning and reinforcing both at the same time. Take notes in your FL1. When I was taking Japanese in college, I went through my textbook and wrote most of my grammar and vocabulary notes in Korean. This way, you don’t even have to feel “guilty” about abandoning your FL1. The key is to get comfortable enough before taking on FL2.
2) Don’t feel guilty. Did you spend three months on your FL2 and completely ignore your FL1? Don’t feel bad. You may have forgotten a few things here and there, but that’s fine. I’m a big proponent of learning languages because you love them, not because you have some grand goal to achieve (though the latter is fine too). The difference is that one makes you purely happy and the other has a sense of obligation attached to it. If you’re like me and you’re learning languages because you just love language, then learn whichever one makes you happy at that moment. If Japanese (or whatever your FL2 is) captivates you for a certain period of time, go for it. Don’t feel like you “have” to go back to your FL1. Don’t feel like you’re wasting time on a new language when you could be progressing in another one. No one’s tying you down and forcing you (if you’re self-studying, that is). Go back when you’re ready. Chances are, if you’ve spent considerable time with your FL1, you will go back and you will still remember it. (Again, the key is to stagger your language learning so you have a solid basis in your FL1 to fall back on.) Enjoy learning FL2 as thoroughly as you can.
3) Don’t compare language learning experiences. Are you slower at learning Japanese than you were Korean or vice versa? Don’t let it discourage you. It took me a while to understand this myself but languages are obviously different. And it’s likely that what worked for you in FL1 isn’t going to work for you in FL2. It’s all about exploring your options and experimenting with different learning styles until you find what works for you in your language of interest. I learned most of my Korean by reading, but this doesn’t work for me at all in Japanese because Kanji is such a hindrance. I actually find that I’m learning more Japanese through listening, which, unlike my experience in Korean, is helping my vocabulary grow faster than my grammar.
4) Don’t overwhelm yourself. This applies to learning foreign languages in general, be it FL1, 2, 3, or onward. I’m sometimes guilty of reading or writing something in Korean and being proud of myself for having understood the nuances correctly and/or expressing myself well. Then I turn around and despair that I’ll never be that good in Japanese/Italian/French/Hindi/whatever else I want to learn. I’ll never learn to be eloquent, I’ll be stuck with my textbook understanding of the language forever. Granted, I’m not even that great in Korean, but it worries me that I won’t even reach this level in Japanese, etc. My advice if you think like this: STOP. Remember that you started out with a clean slate in your FL1. It took you time and effort to get to where you are now. You’ll need to put in time and effort to achieve the same level in FL2. Depending on the language (see #2), this might vary, but just because you’re somewhat comfortable with FL1 doesn’t mean FL2 will come easier. Remember to face that learning curve.
5) Communicate. This falls in somewhat with #1. Try to find native speakers of your FL1 who are learning FL2 and try and learn along with them. If you can meet up with them in real life, that’s even better, so you can practice your FL1 speaking. Online is great too. I don’t have any Korean friends learning Japanese at the moment, but it’s certainly nice to be able to communicate with people who started out learning Japanese first. I follow several people on Lang-8 who are Japanese learning Korean or vice versa and it’s nice (and interesting) to be able to use a mix of both languages to communicate with them.
I’m sure there are a billion other things I could add, but these are the main things I have to remind myself of daily as I study Japanese. Best of luck to all you would-be polyglots out there! :)