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How to speak multiple languages without mixing them up

| 49 comments | Category: learning languages

Let’s face it; being able to speak multiple languages would be really cool. But can it be done by the average person without getting really confused?

When I was living in Spain, still only able to speak English, I hung out with a Brazilian who absolutely wowed me as he switched between people at our international meet-ups. He would talk to me in flawless English, make an aside to another Brazilian in Portuguese, turn over his shoulder to say something in French and shout over to the group organizer in Spanish. All with total ease.

There was less than a second between switches – how was he not mixing these languages up??

This “show” impressed me so much that it significantly influenced my decision to devote several years to learn languages. It was a long road to take on several of them, but you know what? A few months ago I was at a Couchsurfing meeting in Budapest and pretty much did what my Brazilian friend did – but in seven languages. I could have done even more, but nobody present would have understood them.

I didn’t mix them up, my accent was pretty good in each one and I even transformed my body language and facial expressions enough that one of the Brazilians said it was almost as good as talking with one of his buddies from home, and then funnily enough the Spaniard to my other side said exactly the same thing in Spanish a couple of minutes later. And I made switches between each language in an instant.

Some of the languages were somewhat similar (Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese), and others were completely different (German, Hungarian and English), but I didn’t mix them up.

In this post I want to share with you what I feel are the essential steps in taking on more than one language, while being able to maintain conversational fluency in all of them without mixing them up.

Taking on several languages

I already wrote a post about how to become a polyglot, but here are some of the key points from what I wrote there:

  • If possible try to take on a language you would find easier FIRST. I recommend Esperanto. This will allow you to get the feeling of speaking a language quicker, and that will speed up the process for the second/third one.
  • Only learn ONE language at a time! A mistake I feel a lot of people are making is trying to learn both (or more) of their target languages simultaneously. This will make it much more likely that you will mix them up. I may speak several languages, but I have only ever learned one new language at a time. The trick is focusing on that until you reach fluency, and then you can start the next language and only have to worry about maintaining the previous one, since you already speak it.
  • Be ready to feel stupid: After mastering one language, you are starting from scratch in a new one and have to feel very frustrated once again. This is part of the journey and a frustrating stage I have to go through several times a year despite already speaking other languages.
  • If you take on another language in the same language family (e.g. Romance languages) the amount of work you have to do to learn a second one is reduced, but the chances of mixing them up are higher. People who think it’s a lazy short-cut to take on languages in the same family are blissfully unaware of the huge amount of work involved in skilfully compartmentalising them so you don’t mix them up. When you do it right, and appreciate each one for what it is, you will see the vast differences between languages in the same family. Having said that you can just as easily mix up vocabulary in distant languages if you don’t apply the suggestions below.

The magic ingredient: a ridiculous amount of spoken practice!

I won’t ever get tired of repeating the golden rule of my language learning advice: speak, speak, speak!! No, you can’t study your way to speaking multiple languages (but you could study your way to understanding them passively of course). The main reason above all others that I can switch between all my languages is because I am constantly practising them.

This current mission is entirely about that – but even when I was in Budapest and Berlin I was meeting up with Spaniards, French, Italians etc. The reason I can switch so “effortlessly” between my languages is because I am not out of practice for them.

The amount of work I put into practising them is so immense that I might not even decide to maintain a language after I leave the country because of the addition to my already pretty intensive workload. This is what I did with Czech and Catalan and is likely what I’ll do with Hungarian too. Unless you are passionate about the language to be a part of your life, you will never maintain it well.

My first attempt of speaking two foreign languages seriously was in Rome, when I was working at a youth hostel learning Italian but getting lots of Spanish guests. At the time Spanish was the only language I had confident command over.

At first, I was indeed producing a kind of “espaliano” when trying to speak either, but forcing myself to speak Spanish constantly every day, while also doing the same for Italian while I was learning and improving it meant that I learned how to compartmentalise them in my head.

I have other tricks below, but nothing can ever beat just using both languages on the same day (once you speak at least one confidently already) to get yourself used to switching between them and truly appreciating the many differences.

I’ll continue to give you many more ideas for how to practice without travelling, so you have no excuse to not try to find a native or other learner and use your language with them in a real conversation, every day!

Being able to switch between accents

What I’m pretty proud of is that, while my accents are not perfect in any language yet, I do work hard to reduce my foreign accent and try to sound as local as possible. You can see me switch between languages in the Language Hacking Guide intro video.

What I do is incorporated into all stages of learning a language: putting your whole body and mind into learning the words based on a “persona” for each language.

When I learn a new French word, I don’t just say it in my head or visualise it on a flashcard. I say it out loud, with my lips pursed French-like and even try to think in my French mindset.

I go back in my throat to speak Spanish and mentally set myself up for Spanish-like talk by remembering how my friends speak. It’s not just a case of learning “voiture” is the French word and “coche” is the Spanish one. I learn and say these words for their particular language persona, voice, and even arm and leg position that is more likely for natives of that language.

Not mixing them up

Doing the above means that there are some words I simply cannot say in the wrong language.

Spanish and Portuguese may be similar, but I say “hablar” in as Spanish a way as I can whenever I say it and because of this it just isn’t possible for me to say it in Portuguese. I have encoded it into the Spanish persona, body language, accent that I am so used to thanks to lots and lots of practice – rather than learning a simple one-way dictionary concept of “hablar means to speak”.

Saying that word in Portuguese sounds nothing short of an aggressive intrusion to me.

This is yet another reason why context with languages is crucial. If you just study vocabulary but try to think “it means to speak in Spanish”, it’s simply not going to work. You have to have used it in hundreds of real sentences, so that you reach the stage where the portuñol combination “você habla” is way too strange, both in sound (because you learned it in another accent) and even because it just feels wrong.

So much practice means that I don’t “know” it’s wrong (as someone who has studied more than spoken would) as much as I feel it in my gut that it is wrong thanks to correct use in context so many times before, just as a native would do.

You have to put your whole body and mind into speaking a language.

And no, you can’t do this by yourself. Stop being shy and meet up with others to get your words into a real context. I’m sure you can reach the stage of understanding “dozens” of languages while being locked in your room, but if you want to use each of them in spontaneous conversations and even eventually switch between them with ease as I described above, lots and lots of speaking is how you are going to do it!

Do you have your own strategies for not mixing languages up while speaking? Share them with us in the comments below! And share this post with your friends on Facebook who are aspiring to be polyglots too, without confusing their languages!

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  • http://www.jak-stworzyc-strone.pl Paweł Pela

    Awww, I know this from my trips from Poland to Greece :) Hungarian had so powerful impact on me that I continued to use it in Greece :) The Greeks seemed so confused when I mistakenly answered “Aaa, igen!” onstead of the Greek “Aaa, nai!” ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Yes, it’s funny but when starting off to learn a language and when I’m still not used to it, it’s actually the simple words like “yes” that I mix up more than anything :P
      But lots of practice of switching between them means the little and the big pieces of the puzzle both come together ;)

  • Anth1892

    “Only learn ONE language at a time! A mistake I feel a lot of people are making is trying to learn both (or more) of their target languages simultaneously”

    Too true!Ilearned this the hard way with French and Spanish, I’ve ended up dropping French until I’m a Spanish speaking ninja. It makes perfect sense really and I’ve never been a fan of multi-tasking.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I’m all for trying to get as much done in as short a time as possible, but trying to learn the basics of two languages is way too confusing. How do you remember if the word you learned for “car” is one or the other…

      Learn Spanish only nice and intensively, and THEN take on French and just be maintaining your Spanish. As well as being the right way, you will not be spreading yourself thin. It’s actually quicker to do 6 (or whatever) intensive months of one and then the other, rather than trying to spend years on both.

      Best of luck!!

  • http://twitter.com/navets12 stevAHn

    “Only learn ONE language at a time! A mistake I feel a lot of people are making is trying to learn both (or more) of their target languages simultaneously.”

    Although the point you’re making is very true, it’s not as hard as you make it sound! It probably was not efficient, but I learned Spanish and Italian at the same time with ease. If I ever did mix up the two languages, it was a rare occasion. Even though I achieved “fluency” in Spanish before Italian, I’d just like to share the idea it is POSSIBLE to take on two languages at once, even though it’s not the greatest idea.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      I absolutely don’t doubt that it’s possible, and I may even try it myself some day. But it’s confusing for many people and it can be slower since you are spreading yourself thin. Focus is always the best way to achieve any goal, even when the ultimate end goal has multiple objectives.

      For many people, taking on two languages at once from scratch is just not appreciating the differences between them enough. If the goal is to speak both rather than to speak each one individually well (an important distinction) then there is a higher likeliness of failure.

      But I imagine there are some exceptions of people who do have a knack for languages. I don’t (at least not “naturally”) and most of my readers may not, so I think we are better being focused.

      Glad you got through both though! I hope now that you have fluency in Spanish you can continue to get it with your Italian too!

    • Keir Thomas

      I’m learning Korean and Spanish at the moment. I live in Korea, so have constant practice, and I’m also beginning to study Spanish to prepare to go travelling. The two languages are SO different (they use a different written language entirely) that as yet, I haven’t had any problems with getting them mixed up. I wouldn’t want to learn two European languages together though.

      • Ivy

        Yes, I wholly agree, the more varation between the two languages the easier they are to not mix up even if you are learning them side by side.

        This has been my experience thus far in learning Korean and Japanese. Despite the proximity of the countries, the two languages are quite different, so I have no troubles keeping them seperate in my mind simply because of how dissimilar they are.
        (This is true for my progress re-learning/expanding my knowledge of french too, but since I learned a lot of french as a child, that one gets special status since it’s not JUST a new language to me.)

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Yup, basically if you learned your languages the right way, by speaking them, you’re not going to get them mixed up, this is a concern only of people who have never learned to speak a language, not one that actual polyglots have–it’s like someone who’s never driven a car saying something like “how can you operate all those controls–the steering wheel, brake, accelerator, mirrors, shifter, radio, A/C, etc.–at once and not have an accident, why that’s impossible!!”, and you know better, you know that it works but you can’t explain why, it’s something that anyone who has driven a car immediately knows is a bullshit invalid concern that can be immediately dismissed, but if you’ve never driven a car before it seems like a perfectly valid concern to you.

    “So, don’t you get all those languages mixed up?? How can you NOT? You must!”

    Nope.

    “Why? How come? I’d don’t see how that’s possible”

    You just don’t. Think what you want, I don’t care, but that’s not a valid concern.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/medviten Victor Berrjod

    I agree with your point on learning one language at a time. When I was in high school, I was studying French and German by myself (I’m glad I made friends with a grammatically interested native speaker of both), while at the same time taking Spanish lessons. It soon became evident that Spanish was seriously lagging behind, especially speaking it.

    Because of speaking with a native as often as possible (mostly on Skype, and often in English, but with enough German to ace the oral exam), I received the highest possible score on a test tailored for people who have been studying German for two years in school – and I did it in about 6 months. Actually not that impressive, but it really helped opening my eyes. The French exam went well two, although the level was higher, and I came totally unprepared, having spent all my time on German, I got 5 out of 6. I think much of that is thanks to the confidence boost I got from speaking German so well. :)

    I wasn’t lucky enough to take an exam for Spanish – had to suffer through an exam in religion/philosophy/ethics instead – but as you probably guessed, I can’t speak Spanish now, and very little French. Also, as I’ve been studying Japanese, my German has gotten worse at a worrying rate, since I don’t communicate in it anymore.

    All these years spent in school has taught me a lot that had nothing to do with what I was supposed to learn, and you have been a great help in putting some of my own thoughts into words, Benny. :) When I take on Chinese, I will do so outside of the classroom, having fun talking to my Chinese friends!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Glad my site is verbalising what you already know ;)
      School was an essential part of my language learning story. It gave me hundreds of ways NOT to learn a language :P

      • Keir Thomas

        Same here. I hated languages at school. Since teaching English in Korea, and studying both English and Korean, I’ve come to learn that languages are fascinating. More importantly, I’m now SELF motivated…I study because it’s fun and because I want to, not because I’m forced to.

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    I heard we store ‘non-mother’ languages in a different part of our brains (eg. we think in our mother tongue), and I find myself mixing up my ‘non-mother languages’ (when I speak French, I slip into Chinese… hehe… ).

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Not sure about that. I wasn’t brought up bilingual but I can still think in the target language when I reach fluency, pretty much the same way I would with English.
      Although I imagine you could definitely find a study that shows that people who learn a language academically store it in a different part of their brain – i.e. not the natural spoken language part. Maybe the grammar rules get stored somewhere near the Mathematical theorems…

      • http://www.ielanguages.com Jennie Wagner

        To throw in some nerdy linguistics fun: Native language and second language are stored in separate parts of the brain for late bilinguals (people who learned an L2 from teenage years on, but regardless of whether they learned it in school or in a more natural setting).

        For early bilinguals who grew up speaking two or more languages, the languages are represented in overlapping regions probably due to the relative plasticity of children’s minds and the rapid, continuous development of their brains.

        What’s even more interesting is that both early and late bilinguals have similar Wernicke’s areas (ability to understand language), whereas their Broca’s areas are different (ability to speak) in that late bilinguals have separate regions for L1 and L2.

        There is even some new research suggesting that nouns and verbs are stored in different parts of the brain, similar to how our mental lexicon is further divided into phonological, semantic and grammatical areas (for example, function words are only stored in Broca’s area.)

        The research on simultaneous vs. sequential learning of languages, whether as a child or adult, is a little less conclusive. Basically we know that L2 and L3 are learned differently in each case, but whether it’s beneficial or detrimental to overall language learning is still unknown.

        Personally I prefer to learn languages simultaneously simply because it’s easier for me and I have no problems with confusing languages – plus I’m stubborn and can’t stand when I know a word or phrase in one language but not the other. Unfortunately, there is not a lot of research on TLA (third language acquisition) or multilingualism in adults in general.

        The idea that confusion is bad perhaps scares some people off, yet early bilinguals are often confused as they acquire two languages and it’s normal and natural and does eventually disappear. I supposed I tend to lean towards simultaneous because there is less interference (only with L1, instead of with both L1 and L2) and because of humans’ innate ability to acquire multiple languages from birth. I guess it also depends on if you believe L2 acquisition is, or should be, similar to L1 acquisition or not.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Learning two languages is fine, but the quickest way to speak both of them fluently is to deal with them separately. If you already have an intermediate or higher level in one (i.e. English) then working on your German while simply maintaining your English goes with the ideas in this post :)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

    Sorry to hear that Jordan, but I don’t know anything about drug or stroke related effects on language learning and it’s not quite the kind of thing I’d cover on the blog.
    Note that general forgetfulness (that a lot of people have) can be overcome using memory techniques. It takes some getting used to, but I’ve seen people with frustrating memory problems apply them successfully!

  • Anonymous

    I am constantly amazed by my bilingual boyfriend’s ability to switch, mid-sentence, from English to French and then back again, without ever unintentionally confusing the two. I speak French, German, and English, and I find myself speaking sentences that are half French and half German whenever I try to speak something other than English. It’s amusing, but also frustrating.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      More practice will help you not mix them up! I think applying a different persona per language has helped me a lot in forcing them to be segmented and that makes it harder to mix them up.

      • Anonymous

        Personas are great – I’m a computer programmer and like to think in terms of “metadata.” In other words, what other properties are connected to the information in my head? The brain likes having these sorts of “cues” to figure out what’s going on. I’ve heard a lot of people say that languages “just come back” when they go back to a country – obviously this has something to do with immersion, but I’d suggest that giving the brain all the visual/spacial/emotional cues helps just as much.

        • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

          Yes, mental associations are a big help! I try to bring the cues back in my head too when I’m speaking – no need to go to the country for that :P

  • Anonymous

    Great post as always Benny.I’ve gotten this question a lot myself – I’m learning my 3rd foreign language now and I’m around a lot of other students. I completely agree about the 1 language at a time bit. I always live in a country that speaks the language I’m learning (Mandarin and Spanish were first, now I’m learning Arabic in Morocco). The one “trick” I’d add is that I stage conversations with myself. I like to walk everywhere, so in my 1+ hour a day of walking I stage a conversation between 2-3 people aloud who all speak different languages, so I’m switching back and forth and keeping in character. Sure, the people around me think I’m crazy, but who cares?If you’re not so keen on talking in the streets, the shower is another good place ;)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the language hacker

      Haha, talking to yourself aloud is definitely commitment :)

    • keirdre

      That’s an amazing idea, I might start doing that!

  • Tiana

    I speak french and malagasy fluently, I’m partially fluent in english ( I’m able to understand & read it, and I think I’m not that bad in writing it but I’m shy in speaking english especially with english speaker ), I have studied spanish for 5 years ( but I just can write and read it) and I plan to learn Japonese soon. But at home I’m always switching between malagasy and french so I automatically mix them and it cause me a lot of trouble with people I am in front of people who don’t speak one of those languages. I don’t know how to remove this habit… And I have an other issue in speaking english, my cousins live in Australia and I would love to communicate with them in english but I feel like I will be ridiculeous with my accent ” franchouillard “.

    • http://www.facebook.com/travis.vaden Travis Vaden

      As a native English speaker, I want to encourage you. English is widely spoken as a second language, so we native speakers are very used to hearing people speak it with all sorts of accents. At least in the United States, we find different native dialects of English much more amusing that we find foreign accents. If your post is any indication, you have great command of the language already. Call your cousins in Australia and chat with them in English. You may pick up a really cool Australian accent–or at least some fun slang.

  • Tiana

    * I mean “when I am in front of people (…) languages” not ” with people I’m in front (…) languages” Sorry :(

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Don’t be too tempted to use age as an excuse! Try various memory techniques and you may find that glue :)
    Great to see the hard work you’re doing with Catalan – I loved learning that language!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny the Irish polyglot

    Learn one language at a time, as I said here, and you won’t mix them up very easily. Learn Italian when you are confident in your Spanish, all while constantly maintaining Spanish.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kattgubb Katt Gubb

    Hi Benny, thank you very much for posting this, I have been having EXACTLY this problem. In fact for a long time, I didn’t use the French and German I’d learnt for years, learnt Spanish through immersion, and then couldn’t speak the other two languages without it ending in Spanish, which was very confusing, as I’d developed strong accents from copying native teachers, and Spaniards.

    I’m now learning Japanese from scratch, and was struggling whilst in Spain to switch from Japanese learning to Spanish speaking. I got myself so confused that even English sounded strange in my head, as I became so used to hearing Spanish around me all the time, and studying Japanese at home. I now know how to move forward with this, which is very reassuring.

    Currently drafting a post about my own experiences with this problem on my language blog, http://katkittokatsu.wordpress.com,  if you’re interested. It’s mainly a blog about learning Japanese, which was initially inspired by your own language blogging post.

    Thanks again.

    Katt.

  • Elna

    I agree with pretty much everything you said above, except the idea that it’s preferable to learn only 1 language at a time.  I’m currently doing a degree in French, Spanish and Italian (yes, all Romance languages!  So that probably makes me one of the lazy bums looking for a shortcut, doesn’t it?)  but I’m not finding it too tricky.  I think it really depends on what stage you’re at with each language.  When I started my degree 6 months ago, I’d been studying French for 9 years, Spanish for about 3 years (albeit on-and-off… it’s a long story) and Italian I had no knowledge of whatsoever, apart from the standard “Ciao”, “Ti amo”, “Mi amore” and the advantage of already speaking with some degree of fluency two other Romance languages.  And like I said before, I’m not finding it overly taxing and can quite happily juggle all 3 in one day.  In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that having to constantly switch between them at university is good practice for when I may have to switch between them in the real world.

    So although I would discourage BEGINNERS from learning more than 1 new language at a time, those who are already accomplished polyglots or are fairly advanced in another language shouldn’t have too much difficulty :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      You’ll find this hard to read, but you are perfect proof of the problem of learning them all at once. You say it’s so easy and yet in the 3 VERY simple examples you’ve given in Italian, you messed up one of them. It’s IL MIO AMORE. You’ve given some strange espaliano there.

      You are underestimating the challenge of separating them. This will hurt you in the long run – if anything you’ve convinced me more that I’m right to advise people not to juggle too many at once in the way you’ve done.

      If it works out for you, then great! But in this very brief example you haven’t “happily juggled all 3″ to a satisfactory level. The proof will be in the pudding – if you have converse fluently in all 3 languages at the end of your degree, you’ll prove me wrong. But right now it’s nothing more than extrapolation, and a demonstration of the problems involved.

  • Deanna

    I had such an encounter today while in a Tea House in Beijing today where I was talking to a woman from Mexico in Spanish (a language I speak at home but not my native language) and then ended my sentence accidently in Chinese. I have spent 2 months in China and so speaking in more than one language is something I encounter every day. How do I stop from getting confused in more than one language?

  • Shaydon Ramey

    I have experienced the same phenomenon. I am studying Spanish, French, and German, and I have occasionally toyed around in other languages, but I never mix them up. I put this partly to the idea of saying them in the right accent and knowing they aren’t from the right language, but also to knowing them at different levels. Even though I’m learning the basic of Portuguese right now, I will never mix it up with Spanish because I know that “habla” is Spanish and goes with “usted,” not “você.” They’re not both fresh, new words that I haven’t solidly associated with a meaning.

  • Joni

    oh thanks really! I’m a asian, and i’m living in germany now, i speak very fluent german. but now i begin to forgetting my french and english! what can i do? do you have a tips that i can practise it everyday? as there is no way to speak french or english here:(

    thanks

    • Andrea

      chat roulette? Skype? Maybe there are some kind of chat rooms online you can use that hook people up who want to practice a language.

  • Mary Gebbie

    so true. The only ones to find harm in having multilingual children are people who are misinformed. There are so many benefits to speaking multiple languages during the critical learning period besides the obvious ones- many reasons connected to cognitive strengthening, brain preservation, and even understanding of other subjects like math!

  • Tomos Burton

    The thing with me, I got into languages just through being into Japan. So I didn’t think ”Right,to start with I’ll go for an easy one”. I probably should have learnt an easy one first but I’ve always just gone for ones proportional to what role the countries will play in my life. One good thing is that Japanese and Welsh couldn’t be more different from each other, so mixing them up could happen but not too bad. And I sometimes look at ones in the same general area. I’ve been interested in other languages but I think I should generally focus on those 2 until I’m good enough. I still haven’t actually set up a Skype call and actually used a foreign language.

  • Adrian Chee Hansen

    I am a Malaysian who can speak English (first language), Mandarin Chinese, Malay, as well as Hokkien (chinese dialect). I’m now learning Japanese as part of my Hospitality course (which is good). I’m looking forward to learning more languages and be able to speak many languages like you do, starting with French. You’re now my new inspiration.

    As for switching, I don’t think I would have much problems as I’ve been speaking all 4 languages since young. :D

  • Andrea

    I have a lot of trouble with this. I live in LA, lived in Florence, and spent quite a bit of time dating someone in Paris, so sometimes I mix my languages and can’t even consciously figure out which language the word belongs to. It’s as if rather than languages being filed separately in my brain, each item or idea has a file with a number of words which can describe it (in different languages).

    I even replace words and phrases in my mother tongue with ones from another language when communicating with someone who speaks english.

    I’ve learned the basics to a number of other languages, but it’s only the 3 non-native tongues that I have really spent time with that are muddled along with my native language. It’s as if I’m inclined to use my favorite parts of speech or expressions from each language all together. Even if I do outwardly stay in one language, sometimes when it feels better to express something in another, my inner monologue switches to a different language than i’m speaking and so i’m basically translating myself to my listener which can also be frustrating.

    Good post, and help if anyone has had a similar experience.

  • Nicole Gauvreau

    I don’t have any strategies for not mixing up languages as I consider myself fluent in one and proficient in two. However, I have figured out when I’ll mix up languages most (I’ll almost never put English into German, but I might put it into French, and French and german can become an odd slurry): if I’m not entirely sure of a word or how to say something so it’s comprehensible in French or German I’m likely to end up suddenly throwing in a word from the other language, or using the vocabulary from the language I’m speaking, but applying grammar from another, which is how I’ve come out with some very interesting sentences.

  • Carla Ang

    Hello thanks for ur tips. I have never had problems mixing languages so far so i read ur article to find out why! I wonder how do u improve ur languages skills once you already master it at c1 level. I feel that i always arrive to c1 level and i just can’t speak a language as a local. Do you have any special tip to improve the writting? I think writting articles or texts is harder than just being able to speak fluently and understand almost everything u read or hear, I live in France for two years now and i learnt it very young, despite this i dont have c2 level and i just cant write as good as a native would do.

  • Gustavo Caldas

    I have finished my English by the end of the last year. English was the first
    foreign language which I started to learn. Now I’m learning German, but
    sometimes I feel I’m forgetting English. In my opinion, I can understand
    everything there is spoke or written in English, but it seems I’m inclined to make
    grammar mistakes or forget words

  • Mateo

    I am still in school (grade school). I am also a kid. I want to become fluent in Spanish, how do I go about this. Being a kid I can’t go meet or Skype random people, and I when I try to speak with friends its texting or writing because I will not get in trouble in class or we are at our homes. I can only write and read for practice, and the odd time I get to converse I am so unused to it I freeze up and forget and have an atrocious accent, and I stumble out a uncomplete sentence and get completely lost when they answer. And then we just switch to English and they don’t want to go back. I can’t spend time at couchsurfing meetings or talking with people, and am extremely busy with school, activities and homework. And I can’t hop on a plane for three months and submerge myself in Spanish/Latin American culture. Any advice? Please help?
    P.S. Don’t tell me to be a kid and wait. I love being a kid, and I hang out with friends and play sports and spend lots of time outside. Why can’t I learn languages on the side? It’s not my fault that I have to go to school and that I was born when I was.

  • Neil Gratton

    I’ve never had significant difficulty with confusion studying two languages at once.

    I started French at the age of 10 in school and Spanish at 13 (a looong time ago now).

    I study and use Spanish continuously (aiming for the C2 exam next year), and am currently studying Italian and Ido at a low-intermediate level, and have only once or twice caught myself using a word from the ‘wrong’ vocabulary. When it happens, the word ‘tastes’ or feels wrong in my mouth and I immediately know.

    I do have a ‘Spanish persona’ (he’s louder and more outgoing than the British me), which just happened naturally, and am developing an ‘Italian persona’ more deliberately.

    The simultaneous study is working well for me; once my Italian is fluent (B2+) I intend to learn Mandarin and relearn French at the same time, and continue with study in pairs.

  • Omnivore Vegetarian

    When I was living in Paris and speaking French every day, I found it creeping into my English when I would talk to American family on the phone. Today, back in the States, just after watching a French movie or talking to a French friend, I find my English has “slipped” a touch for the next few moments.

  • Fran Burns

    Hi Benny, I just came back from being in Italy for 4 months and I completed a C1 course. Next month I will be going to Argentina to work on my Spanish. Currently my Spanish is kinda a mess. I can understand a good amount, but when trying to speak, it’s very slow, and I just throw in a ton of Italian words by mistake. However, I’ve noticed that when writing in Spanish, it isn’t that bad!
    Anyway I was wondering how you would recommend me continuing my Italian, but while still learning Spanish. My main goal is to reach fluency in Spanish, and I know that my Italian will suffer, but I don’t want to completely loose it. Sorry if you answered most of these questions in the post, just looking for a more personal answer. Also my Spanish level I would say is about B2/C1, might not be able to speak at that level currently, but it’s in my brain somewhere.

  • Roberta

    Hi Benny! I am happy to have finally found a motivating article to help me recover my good level of English. I moved to Spain from Italy one year ago, I accomplished a very good level of Spanish in less than one year (it’s so amazing and funny learning a language out of school!) but I am getting really frustrated with my worsened level of English. When speaking English, I feel like I am translating from Italian to Spanish to English. Therefore i have got slow and I am mixing up so much that I hear myself and I feel ashamed! i will try to practice more on a daily basis, read your other posts and, of course, recommend this post to my friends!

  • sita sidharta

    ah maintaining the acquired language…. I was on my way to getting good with Dutch – already able to read the gossip rags and talk about the weather – when we have to pack-up and go. There goes my 3rd language :)