It’s the question that most every aspiring polyglot struggles with: should I just stick to the few languages I know, and learn to speak them fluently, or should I move on to another, then another, then another language, just learning the basics of each one?

Believe me, I understand that sudden fascination with a new language and that impulse to learn it. It is hard to stay focused when there are so many languages out there! But is pursuing every language that tickles our fancy really the best strategy for polyglot mastery?

There are a few things to consider when deciding if you want to learn many languages or stick to just a few:

learn many languages or just a few

What are your goals?

Why are you learning the language(s) you are?

The reason is different for everyone. You might want to be able to communicate with more people, or read poetry in more languages. Maybe you have a more specific goal, like finding a new job or moving to another country. Determining what you want to achieve from the languages you are learning will help you to decide whether you should learn to a deeper level, or whether knowing more languages on a superficial level will be more beneficial.

According to philologist Frederick Bodmer, if you are not aiming to speak any of your languages like a native, and the languages are from a similar family, the relative effort you put into learning each language decreases the more you learn. This means that learning four languages does not require a huge amount more effort than learning just one. So if your goal isn’t fluency, learning multiple languages makes sense.

How related are the languages you want to learn?

There have been multiple studies in favour of learning languages of the same family side by side. This is because there are generally similarities in vocabulary, syntax and phonology within languages in the same linguistic group. If you master the grammar structures in Spanish, for example, you won’t have much problem understanding the grammar of Italian. Instead of learning an entire grammatical system from scratch, you just have to remember the few minor differences. If you are learning multiple of these similar languages at once, it should be easier to learn them than if you were to tackle each one individually.

On the other hand, if the languages you want to learn are unrelated, you are less likely to get confused between them. But the benefit of learning them at the same time will probably be minimal.

How much time do you have?

If you have a limited amount of time that you can dedicate to language learning, you might want to stick to just one or two new languages. By focusing on a few, even with only short but regular study sessions you can pick up your skills relatively quickly. If you attempt to learn many languages with only a little free time, chances are you will either end up neglecting some of them. Either that or losing motivation and giving up on language learning completely. However, if you have the time needed to split up your time between multiple languages, you are more likely to be successful with this approach.

Are you getting confused?

Let’s be honest, not everyone is cut out for learning several languages simultaneously.
A good indicator that you are learning too many languages is if you start to mix them up in your head. Some people are more prone to this than others.

If you are the kind of person who accidentally switches languages midway through a sentence, who can find the word they want in every language except the one they are speaking, or who accidentally speaks to someone in the wrong language (i.e one they won’t understand), you might benefit from learning each language individually and therefore creating a separate place for it in your brain.

If you can easily switch between languages and think in multiple languages at a time, good on you!  Learning languages simultaneously might be for you.


I hope this post helped you to decide if you should learn many languages or just a few. In reality, the question is: should you learn a lot of languages poorly or a few languages well? Unless you are a prodigy, learning many languages (usually more than 7) to fluency simply isn’t possible.

Personally, I prefer to focus on just a few languages, because I am a perfectionist and my goal is to reach a high level of fluency in each one. I also don’t like mixing up languages. That’s why at the moment (even though I am fascinated by all languages), I am just focusing on Portuguese and Chinese. I waited until I had a high level in Spanish before I even started learning Portuguese. I knew I would confuse myself if I learned them at the same time due to their similarities. For now, that’s it – I don’t know if I will start learning a new language in the future.

The number, method and speed of learning languages is different for each person. Find what works for you and stick to that! Also, remember to do what you most enjoy. Good luck.

If you have decided to try learning many languages at once, start by reading this article about how to learn multiple languages at the same time.

->Do you prefer learning many languages or just a few? How did you figure out what works best for you? Leave a comment and let us know!

If you liked this post, make sure you pin it.

learn many languages or just a few

Author

5 Comments

  1. I also want to get to a very high level in the languages I’m studying before maybe I will start a new one. It’s been almost 14 years since I’ve started a new language and I’m still learning the old ones. I don’t have much use for just really basic skills.

    • Suzie Reply

      The thing is we never stop learning a language, no matter how many years we have been studying! Good luck with your language learning journey

  2. It is funny you should write this post. I was just thinking the same thing myself. I am learning both Greek and Turkish right now because I am planning on traveling to both countries next Summer. The plan is to start on the Turkish Riviera and then island hop in Greece from Rhodes to Crete. I am struggling to keep myself motivated to learn both. Right now, I keep defaulting to Greek because I learned it eight years ago and now it is coming more easily. However, I know I need to actually dedicate more time to Turkish since I am an absolute beginner. I think I need to come up with some sort of rewards system to keep myself focused on both. What do you think?

    • Suzie Reply

      Hey Elizabeth 🙂 I think you should try to split up your time between the two. Discipline is what it’s all about. Good luck btw – can’t wait to read about how you go practicing them on your trip!

  3. I absolutely love traveling and learning languages! If I had a superpower it would be to speak, read, write and understand any language that exists, however, until I gain that power, I must resort to good old-fashion study to acquire them. I am revisiting French this summer through a summer course and find it is going well, I studied 3 yrs of French in high school over 30 yrs ago. I am also in my 3rd yr of university-level Japanese and find I am at a good level of comprehension and speaking isn’t too bad but definitely can use continued improvement. I live in Sweden and had to learn Swedish in order to qualify for Uni studies and my level is proficient. I find that even though I’m no longer studying Swedish, it gets mixed into both French and Japanese. I can interchange from English to Japanese no problem, but if I must speak Japanese and Swedish they get very mixed up. As for French, I originally learned via English instruction, but now I am learning through Swedish instruction. I am required to translate from Swedish to French and vice-versa for assignments, talk about brain-wracking. I manage but it is a challenge as my Swedish is not perfect. I’ll be adding Chinese to mix in the fall, I think I love torturing my little brain (in a good way).

    I think learning a few languages at a time is a challenge but so gratifying. It is so fun to compare the structures of grammar and idioms. I noticed that sometimes learning in one of the languages provides for ‘aha’ moments in another. They seem to help me find clearer understandings of some grammar points or vocabulary meanings in one of the other languages. Sorry, I’m poly-geeking-out at the moment!

    I enjoyed your article and look forward to reading more.

Write A Comment

WordPress spam blocked by CleanTalk.
%d bloggers like this: