How I Learned 5 Languages in One Year
Last year was incredibly busy, but productive and fun.
My little daughter had just turned two. She was enrolled in early development programs with a “Kindergarten is Too Late” approach. We had no nannies or grannies to help clean our apartment or feed a hungry husband (a standard set of responsibilities for a Russian housewife on maternity leave).
Even with these seemingly overwhelming responsibilities, I was determined to learn new languages. Five languages, to be exact.
And why would I want to learn five languages?
It all started with the Michael Erard’s book Babel No More. If you love learning languages but hesitate to study more than one or two, you must read this book.
Babel No More draws upon the concept of neuroplasticity. Today, many of us memorize very little information. Why bother if all information is within arm’s length?
Learning a foreign language after graduation is one of the few ways for us millenials to train our memories. A good memory is extremely important for everyone during retirement years. We take pleasure in training our bodies, but we neglect to train our brains, even though learning a second language is such a simple way to stay sharp throughout our lives.
So, I opened my laptop and made a simple list of the languages I wanted to learn:
- Monday – German
- Tuesday – Spanish
- Wednesday – French
- Thursday – Chinese
- Friday was free until August. Then I wrote Czech in the blank.
I thought about learning Japanese, but I decided that this language should be learned in a calmer, quieter setting.
I can now speak all five of these languages with varying degrees of fluency:
- German (B2)
- Spanish (A1)
- French (A2)
- Chinese (B2)
- Czech (A2)
In the process, I improved my memorisation skills, and learned how to make the most of my freetime. Alongside all that, I gave my little Varvara (age 2) English classes.
My solution to improving learning? Time management for a polyglot!
Here’s how to follow such an intense schedule:
Step 1: Uncover Your Wasted Time
When you have at most three hours per day outside of work and family responsibilities, as I did, you start to value your time. You do not, however, have to study for 3 hours straight. It can be 20 minutes in the morning, 90 minutes at lunchtime, and another hour in the evening. I am writing this article from 4 am to 6 am.
Count how much time you spend on social networks. Multiply it by seven. Then multiply it by 52 and be amazed by the amount of time this year you could have spent making your dream come true.
If you want to do something, start today. Finish reading the article and start.
First, uninstall all social network apps from your phone. You will no longer be distracted by any messages (admit it, 99% of them are not urgent). Instead, install an app like Pomodoro that blocks your phone connection and wi-fi for 25 minutes and lets you concentrate undisturbed.
Following just this one tip will bring you closer to your dream.
Step 2: Optimize Your Routines (Or: Don’t Let Your Interests Annoy Your Family)
Frankly speaking, I have always felt held back by cleaning, cooking, and other household tasks. It is frustrating how much time we spend cooking one dinner or doing the daily washing when we could devote it to something interesting. Add a crawling baby to your home, and you have to radically change your approach to doing housework. To give myself more free time, I invested in a dishwasher, a steamer, a multi-cooker, and a vacuum-cleaning robot.
If I did the cleaning when my daughter was awake, she could play on her own or join me (In the latter case, I just needed to be patient and encourage her initiative and involvement).
Thus, I was able to organise my life and manage my household duties without sacrificing my precious personal time.
Whatever routines and chores you have, chances are there’s a way to make them more time-efficient. If you can save just 10 minutes for every hour you’re awake, that’s nearly 3 hours of extra free time.
Step 3: Make Personal Time Your Most Precious Thing
Decide that your private time is really important to you. You will not be able to create anything worthwhile or learn multiple languages if you do not have time to sit and think them over in the comfort of solitude. My private time was my daughter’s sleeping time. Some days I got lucky, and she slept 3 hours in the afternoon and went to bed at 9 pm. Other days I would have just 40 minutes during the day, and she would be up until 11 pm.
But no matter what – as soon as she fell asleep, I would go to study. I would not waste my time on anything else.
Your personal time is precious. Use it wisely.
Step 4: Make a Plan for the Next 12 Weeks
Imagine that your year lasts for 12 weeks instead of 12 months. Doing so will give you four deadlines in a calendar year instead of one Big December deadline (when many people realize that they have failed with their New Year’s resolutions).
We all know that setting a deadline is the best way to ensure that you get things done. Give yourself this gift: organise four deadlines in one year, and you will be surprised and proud of yourself in December!
Imagine that each week is a full month, and keep doing something every day. For me, that turned out to be the most effective time management principle ever.
Step 5: Stay Focused on the Goals You Set
I followed my list of five languages, and focused on one language per day. No, languages do not really mix. However, you will be amused when your French teacher says something in Chinese. It's difficult, but it makes the brain work!
I had several goals: take my Chinese and German level up to upper-intermediate; refresh my French and Spanish; and start with a new language (Czech). I met all three of those goals.
That being said, I would not recommend that you start with five languages, or even three, especially if you do not have a language background. However, it is possible to simultaneously learn two languages quite effectively by doing the following:
- Self-learning with good resources (2 hours per day)
- One session with a native speaker on Skype (30 minutes per day)
With Skype chats, I reinforced the material I had learned independently. That made my lessons with teachers more productive.
What I Discovered Learning 5 Languages in One Year
Honestly speaking, to live a year on such a schedule was quite a challenge. Without self-discipline, it would have never worked out. From time to time, I had to cancel my lessons simply because I needed to sleep.
However, if you have a language learning dream, you have to work for it. There is simply no other way, and the results are definitely worth all the effort.
In summary, here is what I recommend if you dream of speaking several languages but do not know where to begin.
- Make a list of all the languages you want to learn.
- Evaluate them based on the following criteria:
- interest in a language (are you passionate or just curious?)
- practical use (do you want to work with this language or ever travel to a country where it is spoken?)
- availability of resources (is it a popular or rare language?)
Rate the language from 5 to 0 (5 if a language is exciting, promises a better future, or is very popular).
- Total up the scores and pick the language with the highest total rating. Start with this language.
- Create a 12-week plan that covers pronunciation, basic grammar, and basic vocabulary. Start practicing your writing and speaking as soon as possible (Follow Benny's free Speak in a Week course; it works brilliantly!)
- Study at least one hour every day. Then, it’s very likely that you’ll reach A1 in almost any language in just 12 weeks. If you already speak the language, you’ll substantially upgrade your current level.
After 12 weeks, go ahead and take another language from your list if you still want to learn it. Learn the basics and remember to add Skype sessions to maintain your previous language.
If your goal is quantity, you could learn four languages at a basic level in just one year.
Good luck with your language studies!