Learning Another Language to Get Better at Learning Japanese

I seem to remember reading studies about how bilingual persons had an easier time with learning a third language. Which makes some degree of sense: you learn how to learn a language; and if you’re learning Italian or Portuguese, having learned Spanish…

Let’s say I took a year or so out to study Spanish however, and I reached a level of conversational fluency. Could this ever be particularly beneficial in my Japanese learning journey, when the languages have no relation to each other? Has anyone here taken a detour into another language - putting Japanese aside - and came back finding the process easier / smoother?

I’m a native English speaker, and so Spanish is clearly a more achievable goal in the ‘short-term’. I also know considerably more Spanish speaking persons than Japanese; and travelling to Spain to stay for a couple of months actually seems feasible in the foreseeable future, whereas the dream of going to Japan looks to remain on-hold in the current climate. At the same time, travelling around Japan, and being able to comfortably communicate in the language is something of a life goal. So would I just be taking time away from my achieving that goal?

Interested to hear if anyone has taken such a detour in their journey, and what their thoughts might be.

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Hi there!

Yours is a pretty good question and the premise is actually sound. I myself am here after reaching an Advanced Intermediate level in Spanish, which I learnt by myself using a variety of tools.

If you already have learnt a language using a similar method, it will just push you on and give you the confidence and motivation that you require to learn a language as different and complicated like Japanese.

In other words, you will learn to trust the system that helped you master the first language, especially when you are frustrated with your initial inability to understand anything in your second language.

Hope that makes enough sense!

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It’s going to come down to a lot of anecdotal evidence, but…

Aside from Japanese I’m learning German and constantly mixing the two, to the detriment of German. The only thing my German benefited from (since I started learning it again as the third language) is me using Anki to practice words and phrases.

I would say if you were to take Chinese or Korean as a detour, that would help. Korean phonetically and Chinese both phonetically and writing-wise. Unless as a second language in-between Japanese you would take one that has similar grammar and sentence structures or at least ones that map very well to/from Japanese. I could see that working to some degree.

If it’s a life goal, I would focus on that :slight_smile: . Perhaps not extensively if that is not possible, but to some degree.

Whut! How dare you :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
shakes head in German

@toffeefox Actually, I (a German native speaker) studied English, Latin, French and Spanish in school, and it was super easy because those languages are so closely related. I also studied some Danish and Dutch (only a few months each, so I cannot really speak, but I can make out a fair bit if I see something written somewhere), also closely related languages.

But Japanese? Holy moly I think I never had such a hard time learning a language ever before…

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What’s the definition of “bilingual” in the papers you read?

I’m digging deep from back when I did a university course on language acquisition, so don’t quote me on this. But as I remember it: Children who are raised bilingual are more aware of grammatical and phonetical structures in the languages they learn from birth. That is the “key” that helps these children learn other languages, faster than others, in the future.

Learners who become bilingual in their adult years do not get this freebee. They might figure out what strategies suits them, but as far as I know they will not get any other benefits.

To answer the question on what you should do: I would stick to one language, and “a couple of months in Spain” doesn’t seem justifiable enough for me to put Japanese on hold. (I imagine your Spanish friends speaks English). Naturally, I am biased, writing on a Japanese language learning forum…

That said, I moved to the Netherlands for half a year. At that point I paused to Japanese studies to try to learn some Dutch. All I ended up with was confusing Dutch and Japanese for a year. So, from personal experience I would not recommend going beginner/intermediate level in two languages at once.

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I don’t think you’ll experience a magical boost to your Japanese ability by dropping it for a year, nope, sorry.

If you want to really learn Spanish, sure, go for it. But if you only want to learn it to boost your Japanese, I think that’s probably bound to fail and you’d be much better off just sticking to Japanese. Learning Spanish half heartedly for a year will probably not get you to “conversational fluency” and you might actually mix up the languages more which just causes more confusion… Personally, similar to what @Iinchou said when I started learning Japanese I forgot most of the French I learned before (and had some really funny mixups for a bit) I never really had that with English (also a second language to me) but I use that every day.

I think (no scientific evidence, just personal observation) one of the main benefits of already knowing another language is, that is far easier to accept that some stuff just works differently and are expressed differently. “What? they have only one word for x and y? Whaat, what is this weird grammar thing? Whaaat, there just is NO word for this?!” I feel like a lot of people learning their first foreign language get hung up a lot on the differences and “what does this mean EXACTLY” (when there is no exact equivalent), but if it’s your second or third foreign language it becomes easier to just be like “oh, I see, that’s cool” and assimilate that.
Another general benefit might be, that you might be more aware of what works and doesn’t work for you in learning. (E.g. working with a teacher or alone, or how to learn vocab or how to approach native material) I think polyglots often have this, but I dunno, this only ever partially applied to me. (I still don’t know what I’m doing I guess)
And then of course the third might be vocabulary or other overlaps. But that seems hardly applicable if we are talking about Spanish or Japanese.

The thing is, depending on where you are in your Japanese learning journey, you kinda are already past the point where the first two make a huge difference because you probably already know quite some of the quirks and already figured some stuff out that works for you?

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Would you mind giving me a link to a sight that teaches Japanese Sign Language?

I believe this can have an indirect benefit to your Japanese learning journey, in that it will give you the experience of learning another language.

What is it like to learn a different set of sounds? What is like to try to pronounce these different sounds? What it is like to learn different words for concepts you already know? How does it feel when you listen to or read a sentence and you don’t understand anything? How about when you understand a few words here and there? How about when you get it entirely? How about when you get not just the whole sentence but also the double meaning behind it, or a fun word pun?

There’s a lot to get used to when learning another language. The mix of excitement and terror when you’re just starting out and everything is new. The enthusiasm of giving your first steps in the language, learning and starting to understand a few things here and here. The frustrating realization that even though you’ve been studying for a while now, there’s so much out there you still don’t understand… The sense of accomplishment when reaching a milestone and looking back on your language learning journey to realize you did make some progress after all.

I believe that having experienced all of this while learning a second language does give you a boost that’s helpful when you set out to learn a third language. A boost in confidence, patience, understanding.

Now, how much does this interest you? Is it enticing to you? Are you curious about the language, the cultures, the different countries, the people? Would you enjoy spending some time in Spain? Do you have a desire or a need to communicate with people in Spanish? Would you be motivated by achieving a short-term goal?

If none of this is of genuine interest to you, and if you would be studying Spanish solely for the sake of helping your Japanese, then I’d suggest letting go of that idea and just focusing on Japanese, and searching/figuring out other tools/ways to go forward in your Japanese learning journey.

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I feel like you expressed what I wanted to say in a way nicer way :heart:

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Completely real thing. I’m an army officer with a NATO 3/3 in German, 1/1 in French and 1/1 in Russian, so Japanese right now is coming very smoothly. Your brain learns how to learn languages, plain and simple.

If you study X bar theory in linguistics, you can see that language in general fits a certain set of rules. Regardless of the language and its grammar, human brains are wired for certain interpretations and those interpretations only.

The dog bit the man. Word order shows what happened.

Den Mann hat Der Hund gebissen. Grammatical case marker shows what happend.

男は犬に噛まれた。verb conjugation and particle markers show what happened.

Regardless of the language and the grammar, your brain intuitively knows that the dog bit the man, that’s a natural thing. If it was said the other way around it would sound funny and you would have to clarify. If, in fact, the man did bite the dog then you would need some explanation as to why.

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男は犬に噛まれた Wouldn’t that mean that the man bit the dog?

Maybe if it was a royal dog towards which the speaker had very respectful feelings :rofl:

But usually one would say 男は犬を噛んだ。

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I think there was a study that was a collaboration between the University of Tokyo and some other institution, and it found that the more languages someone knows, the more quickly that person can learn the basics of another language. However, I have no idea if those people were raised bilingual or not. Either way, I think that the benefits you get from knowing other languages before learning a new one are simply the result of having past experience. There are many tasks that are fundamentally the same between languages even if the details of how they’ll play out are different: you’ll have to learn new words, adapt to new grammar, make sense of slightly different word order, understand new metaphors and combinations of ideas… you get the idea. If you have enough experience doing that, you’ll have an easier time picking it up in a new language, especially because you’ll have an idea of how to organise that knowledge in your head. Just as an example, if you’ve never studied grammar before, you might not have terms that will allow you to identify sentence parts in a new language and associate them with their equivalents in your native language. You might also have a certain intuition as to how to learn things in new languages.

However, if you take a break to learn Spanish, and you reach conversational fluency… honestly, I think that at best, it will only help you with getting Japanese to conversational fluency when you come back to it, and even then, you might not go as far because Spanish and English are much closer to each other and if you’re only at basic conversational fluency, you’re not likely to see much of the grammar that makes Spanish significantly different from English, aside from perhaps the subjunctive. (I don’t speak Spanish fluently, but I’m fluent in French and word similarities + some amount of Spanish knowledge means I can read some news articles with just a little help from a dictionary.)

I personally think it would be much more productive for you to study a bit of Japanese grammar, and in particular (if you didn’t learn much formal grammar for English during your time at school, which I know is possible since not all English-speaking countries place the same emphasis on such things), it might be good if you looked into the equivalents of those grammatical objects in English. For example, what are direct and indirect objects in English, and how do we know if something is the subject of a verb? That aside, what are transitive and intransitive verbs, and what are prepositions and phrasal verbs? Are there any parallels you can drawn between those concepts in English and certain elements of Japanese? (My suggestion for that last question: examine Japanese transitive/intransitive verb pairs, particles and compound verbs that suggest movement in a certain direction or a certain state, just like how the ‘up’ in ‘finish up’ suggests utter completion.) In my opinion (and based on my experience), knowing more languages simply helps you spot the components of a language more easily, which allows you to learn them by focusing on each sort and organising your new knowledge accordingly.

‘The man was bitten by the dog’, actually. に marks the agent of a passive verb. (@toffeefox, we can see this as an analogy with one of the functions of ‘by’ in English.)

Hahaha. If I’m not wrong, in this case, the dog would be marked by the particle が. Or は, if the the man were marked with another particle.

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My grammar is literally in the toilet, it’s so bad it’s not even funny. Thank god that I don’t speak, would be sounding like a total caveman. :upside_down_face:

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Nope! It’s actually a construction called the passive. In English we say “the man was bitten by the dog.”

~まれた changes 噛む “bite” to “was bitten by”

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Yup, you’re right. Just that my grammar is so terrible that I confuse myself.

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You good homie it’s a lifelong process

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I don’t think that’s necessary. I don’t even think it will help you in any way either.

My native language is Spanish and now I am fluent in English. However, I have been living in USA for quite a long time now. I have been exposed to the language in every sense.

I didn’t have to do anki, study from books, grammar drills etc. I learned by full immersion and full immersion only. I have also heard that being bilingual helps you learn a third language faster than those who only speak one language but I haven’t looked into it. I have not researched it therefore I am not sure if the benefits are worth your time.

Based on my experience learning Japanese, I don’t feel any difference Lol. I don’t associate any struggles I had while learning English with the obstacles I come across in Japanese. Japanese is an alien language so all the struggles are brand new :slight_smile:

So to sum up I say just continue studying Japanese. Spanish is not that easy to learn. For you to reach a level of fluency where you speak without making grammatical mistakes will take a very long time. Add to that all the vocab you’ll have to learn. Why go through that? Just devote your time entirely to Japanese!!

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Hey there!
Being native spanish (from Spain), I must say you will get easier times learning spanish before learning japanese. Although grammar is totally different, pronunciation is surpringsily for me very close in both languages. So if you manage to dominate our 5 poor vocal sounds in spanish, you will sound later very nice in japanese.

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IS IT POSSIBLE TO LEARN TWO LANGUAGES AT ONCE?

This is from RocketLanguages.com:

Maybe you’ve been studying German for years, but now need to know Spanish for an upcoming business trip to Mexico. Perhaps you’re a college student studying French, but an interesting Arabic class has caught your eye. Or maybe you’re just impatient and would like to learn both Chinese and Japanese as quickly as possible for an extra challenge.

Either way, you’re faced with an interesting situation: You want to learn two languages… at the same time.

Learning one language is hard enough, so the very idea of learning two languages at once is enough to make most language learners tremble. For the more adventurous, however, learning two languages at the same time sounds like the perfect way to satisfy their language-learning appetite.

In this post, we’ll look at whether it’s possible to learn two languages at the same time and, if so, how you can do it.

Learning Two Languages at Once

Whenever I’m asked about learning two languages at the same time, my answer is always the same: Learning two languages at the same time is definitely possible. Starting two languages at the same time, though, is not a great idea.

When you first start learning a language, it can take a little time for you to get a feel for how it works and how it should sound. So if you’re starting to learn two languages at the same time, the things you’re learning can quickly begin to overlap and become confusing!

This confusion can get even worse if you’re learning two languages from the same “language family” - that is, a group of languages that are linguistically related to one another. The Latin-based (or “Romance”) languages are a great example of a language family. They are made up of Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and Catalan, among others.

If you start to learn two Romance languages at the same time, their similarities can quickly trip you up. You might find yourself confusing similar-sounding Spanish and Italian words, for example, or mixing up the different pronunciations.

But if you already have a basic understanding of one Romance language when you begin to pick up a second one, those similarities can become life-savers! For instance, if you’ve already worked hard to understand the difference between the “knowing” verbs connaître and savoir in French, then understanding the difference between the “knowing” verbs conocer and saber in Spanish becomes a cinch.

When you do it right, learning two languages at the same time can actually be a very rewarding experience. It teaches you to be more alert, flexible, organized, and proactive, and refines your language-learning skills in a way that makes learning future languages even easier. Plus, every language you learn carries the benefits of language learning.

So whether you are looking for a challenge or are required to learn two languages at the same time, we’re here to tell you that it is possible! And we want to give you a few more helpful tips on how you can do it.

How to Learn Two Languages at the Same Time: 10 Helpful Tips

1. Start with a maximum of two languages. It is actually possible to learn two, three, or even more languages at the same time! When you’re first starting out, though, it’s best to stick to just two. This helps to keep things manageable and will increase your chances of success.

2. Try to reach the survival level (A1) in one language before starting on the next. By the time you make it to A1 in a language, your brain has already started to map out a picture of how the language works. This means that you’re less likely to start confusing the grammar and vocabulary of this language with another one.

3. If you MUST start two languages at once, try to choose two very different languages. Learning two languages that come from different linguistic families will help keep you from overlapping the vocabulary and grammar rules of each language.

4. Try to choose an easy language and a difficult language . Choosing two languages with different difficulty levels will make it easier for you to differentiate between them. Plus, your progress in the easier language will give you a confidence boost!

5. Set a priority language. If you make one of your languages a priority over the other, you will make progress in it more quickly. This will not only give you greater motivation, but it will also help you to pick up your lower-priority language more easily.

6. Stay organized. It’s important that you set out a schedule for yourself, make workable plans, and manage your time wisely.

7. Set concrete goals as you go. Give yourself specific, achievable goals in each of the languages you’re learning. This will spur you on and ensure that you keep moving forward.

8. Study both languages as often as possible. If you don’t use it, you lose it! So make sure to practice and use both of your languages as much as you can.

9. Study each language in a different location and/or with different tools. Separating your languages physically and/or visually will help you to keep them separated in your brain. For example, you might try to always study one language in your living room and the other in your bedroom, or you might highlight your Japanese resources in yellow and your Korean ones in green.

10. Study each language separately. To help yourself keep your languages separate, it’s important to make a clean break between them as you’re studying. If you were to learn Russian color words and German color words at the same time and in the same sitting, for instance, then it’s very likely that you will start to mix them up!

Learning multiple languages at once takes serious dedication, time, and motivation. However, it is definitely possible. These tips can help make it a little easier for you, and Rocket Languages is here to help!

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