Episode 128

When Is the Right Time to Start Learning Another Language?


March 18th, 2019

28 mins 5 secs

Your Host

About this Episode

¡Hola Radioyentes!

This week I'm answering a listener question (asked in Spanish AND English!):

 When is it the right time to start learning another language?

The question came from Tomás, 45 years old and a native speaker of Spanish. Tomás has good English and regular exposure through books and TV, but he feels unsure about whether he's ready to add a new language like German or English.

This has happened to me a few times, and I’ve also studied up to 3 languages at the same time.

In this episode, I reflected on what matters most when you are facing this question and shared 3 core rules for you:

1. When you don’t practice a language, you’ll lose a bit of it

Not practicing a language doesn’t mean that you’ll never remember it again. In fact, you are unlikely to ever go all the way back to zero.

But it does mean that your progress will slow down and if you don’t do anything, it means that you will forget some of what you practiced in the language most recently. Remembering that memory is all about repetition and exposure, it seems likely that you’d lose what you were last exposed to.

So maybe as a rule of thumb expect that you’ll step down one level. But if you’re already a few years in, you won’t lose all those years.

If you stop actively studying after 3 months = it can feel like nothing sticks.
If you stop actively studying after 5 years = it will not all disappear.

2. Make sure you adjust your expectations for both languages

You could be learning five, ten languages at once and in fact there are ways in which this will absolutely propel you forward. But don’t expect the results of a sprint when you are in fact practicing a triathlon. Progress is not linear - it’s not always what you expect or predict, and often your destination changes

3. Declare your intentions

Once you have worked out your goals and you got in touch with what you really want, you get to decide and move forward. Your decision is not forever.

And as far as I can see, you are in an absolutely perfect position. Good luck!

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Thank you to Maria for this episode introduction.

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