Is Learning Three Romance Languages At The Same Time A Route To Insanity?

I ask myself that question every day. And whether an overdose of irregular verbs can make one go blind. I think the only reason why my grey matter hasn’t liquified yet and made a gushing exit through my left nostril is that I’m at different stages with my languages, so the learning activities I engage in are quite varied. Every time terms like “partitive carbuncles” or whatever give me the urge to go and drown myself in the toilet, I remember that, in the end, it’s all about wrangling a bunch of words into the right order, and that if a four-year-old can do it, so can I.

Spanish – Airily Advanced

The frustration-fun balance has decidedly shifted in favour of the latter. But it sure took a lot of blood sweat and tears to get there. Those of you you’ve been with me from the beginning will probably remember my whiny rants and tantrums. I’ve been living in Spain for nearly four years now, although I don’t have what you’d call “full immersion”. I work from home in English all day. Hence, my progress was a lot slower than I had initially expected.

It’s been a very different experience from the one I had with English when I moved to the UK 25 years ago. I had a job in a local company and was sharing a house with British people, and so I was forced to communicate in English all day long. It was tough in the beginning, but I made progress at lightning speed. My situation here in Spain is very different, and so I’ve had to learn to moderate my expectations without feeling like a total failure. I’ve come to accept – gnashing my teeth an’ all – that it will take a good while longer until I get to squirt the icing on the cake and achieve the level of competence I strive for.

Nevertheless, I can read proper books and watch films without struggling. I can have in-depth conversations about complex topics. I can hold my own in groups.

I still very much consider myself a learner: I look up words every day, I google expressions, I bug my long-suffering friends with questions, I ask them to correct my grammar. Besides the odd clarification, though, I no longer need “special consideration” from the people around me.

Of course, my Spanish nothing like my German or my English. I’d say I’m about 70% there. I’m even starting to “sound like myself” on occasions. Being able to communicate, even if you’re fairly proficient, is a completely different kettle of fish from sounding like your true self. I have tackled the subject in this post, for those of you who are interested:

Language Matters: Do You Sound Like Yourself?

Blue Flowers

Portuguese – Interminably Intermediate

This has been tricky. It’s virtually impossible to find any good quality intermediate-level teaching materials in European Portuguese. It’s all smooth, melodious Brazilian, when what I want is the bushy, impenetrable Peninsular version replete with shshtshshtshshhh sounds, dog-chewed vowels and pronoun arrangements that make ikebana seem like kindergarten foolery, because, when I travel abroad, it tends to be to nearby Portugal – I love it there.

So, I had to take special measures. I have a Portuguese teacher (from Lisbon) whom I see once a week for 1-2-1 lessons. I watch children’s cartoons, which is something that I’d never even considered before, but if you’re stuck for resources, you have to take what you can get. I’m also chatting to a bunch of nice Portuguese people over Skype two or three times a week (I found them on conversationexchange.com).

And yet, It’s my Portuguese, which I’m struggling with most right now. The intermediate stage can be disheartening, and it drags on forever. It’s also extremely dangerous territory: If you stop, even just for a few months,  you risk losing everything, while, at the same time, you gaze with trepidation at the vast expanse of treacherous linguistic swamp you’ve got to wade through before you get any good.

It’s not like being a beginner, when you’re swept up in the initial thrill of new discovery, or when you’re an advanced learner having fun filling in the gaps. I’ve written about this vexatious stretch of language-learning hell here:

The Messy Morass of the Intermediate Language Learner.

French – Bare Bones Beginner

I’m now in my third month of French (see here how and why that started) and still very much in the honeymoon phase where everything is new and exciting. I’m determined to stretch it out to the max. Please do not tell me about how crazy the sentence structures are going to get later on, I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW! Thanks.

Unlike hapless learners European Portuguese, budding Francophones are spoilt with a wealth of free online resources, which means that I can cover the same topics by watching six or seven different YouTube videos without getting bored.

There is also an unexpected benefit to being a beginner in French: Portuguese is no longer my worst language! I feel stupidly happy about this 🙂

So, to sum up, I don’t think that learning several languages at once is necessarily a recipe for disaster. Having said that, I did bang my head against the wall more than a few times when I first started learning Portuguese two years ago, because my Spanish was still quite wobbly back then, see here:

Project Multilingual: Two timing troubles.

Next up: The Italian challenge!

…OK, I am not that crazy…

 

You may also be interested in my specialist language blog, see here: http://multilingualbychoice.blogspot.com

 

 

Advertisements

49 thoughts on “Is Learning Three Romance Languages At The Same Time A Route To Insanity?

      1. Kim in Fiji

        Sorry for the snark – Fiji Hindi has totally defeated me. What I meant to say is this: my world is a richer place because you “found your voice” in English. I am happy for the Spanish world that you are about there in Spanish. And I truly wish you the best in Portuguese and French. (THEN I’d like to see you tackle Hindi! ha ha ha)

        Like

  1. con jamón spain

    ¨Being able to communicate, even if you’re fairly proficient, is a completely different kettle of fish from sounding like your true self. ¨Hadn´t thought about things that way before. Our Spanish is still woeful as we are surrounded by each other most of the day. M thinks we should get a Spanish person to live with us who can, like you, correct grammar etc.

    Like

    Reply
    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Why not do intercambios with people? You’ll be deluged with willing candidates, everyone wants to improve their English. You’ll just have to be disciplined about it and actually stick with doing them religiously. That’s the hard part.

      Like

      Reply
  2. linnetmoss

    Do you ever have problems with crossover, thinking a Portuguese word is Spanish or French? One might logically expect that to be a problem, but in my own language learning (Greek + Latin + French + German, all mostly written), I’ve never run into it. The brain just seems to slot the vocabulary into the proper, separate languages. I wondered if it’s different in a more oral situation.

    Like

    Reply
    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Living a language is very different from reading dead ones, I tell you… and yes, I do get muddled up. When I emerge from my Portuguese class, I’m unable to speak proper Spanish for at least two hours 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. June

    The French sure know how to complicate things. Have a look at this!

    You may indeed by insane, but as one of my favourite fictional characters once said – we’re all mad here!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  4. adamf2011

    Forget about the Italian, with the addition of Dutch and just a few indiginous languages, you can have all the official languages of North and South America in your toolkit! (Well, you’d have to piggyback off of French for Haitian Creole, and off of Continental Portuguese for Brazilian). 😉

    Like

    Reply
  5. Anna

    I love your names of proficiency levels 🙂
    I started studying French and Spanish simultaneously, one took off really well, the other – not at all. So I don’t know there’s a strict do or don’t rule when it comes to how many similar/dissimilar languages to take on at once. I do think Italian will be really easy for you – I loved how much I understood while in Italy because of my Spanish (which isnt anywhere close to yours!).

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I’m not sure yet about where I want to go with French…if anywhere… I set out with the aim of learning *something* a opposed to continuing with the current situation of knowing zilch, which was getting annoying. Spanish I love, it’s def part of me 🙂 I’d quite like to learn a non-European language sometime…

      Like

      Reply
  6. LadyButterfly

    not insane at all…
    French is my mother tongue (yeah, I know ..^^). I studied Spanish at school and can read/understand/speak (well,have to practise). I’ve learnt Portuguese on my own because it’s not far from Spanish/French (because I had some Portuguese friends and co-workers too).
    i really love to learn languages (my mum did the same with Japanese and Hungarian ).

    Like

    Reply
  7. escrever como?

    As a portuguese, I feel much more comfortable to speak to spaniards from Galicia, which have a language of their own (Galego), similar to Portuguese (the same language indeed but some variations, not so significant in the north of Portugal). Even though the majority speaks Castellano, it’s easier to make a conversation with a galego.
    The most difficult to understand are the pronunciations from Andaluzia, but it seems that spaniards from other regions say the same thing. Catalan needs some more practice but sounds much more familiar than the castilian accent.
    In Portugal we have a second oficial language (even most portuguese are not aware of the fact, although it is in our Constitution), the Mirandês (spoken by a few thousands inhabitants of north-east region of Miranda do Douro), which is the ancient Leonês spoken in the XII century in the Kingdom of Leon, older than Castellano (the actual ‘Spanish’).
    And there is the euskera, of course… but that’s a all different matter!
    Congratulations for your blog, with its exquisite theme, writing and witt.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      Hi there and thanks for your comment! Nobody understands the Andalusians, they are a linguistic law unto themselves 😉 I’d heard about Mirandês, but don’t know much about it… I guess it’s one of those languages that are dying out, sadly.

      I subscribed to your blog because I was looking for reading material in European Portuguese. It’s really hard to find non-Brazilian ones that are entertaining as well. If you could recommend some other blogs I might like (in EP), please let me know, I’d appreciate it. Thanks!

      Like

      Reply
  8. expatlingo

    I’m considering taking on two at once. Basically I plan to flush the Dutch from my brain and then go back to Mandarin (intermediate) and Cantonese (beginner). How do you organize yourself and structure your self-study? Do you commit to a certain number of hours/day in each language or assign them days of the week? Is cake the reward?

    Like

    Reply
    1. ladyofthecakes Post author

      I think that’s an excellent idea, as you really need the both, and will have plenty of opportunity to use them in HK. I don’t have a formal structure… that would scare me. I watch a teaching video for five minutes, read a news item, listen to a podcast, play some Duolingo etc, interspersed throughout the day.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s