Trying to learn two languages at once

Hello everyone! :wave: This is my first post to the forum and I need some advice.

After wanting to Japanese for many years, I was recommended WaniKani/Tofugu and it’s really helped make this language feel like something I could really learn and has motivated me a lot!
Right now, this is great because my university is on summer break so I have a lot of free time to study Japanese.

My issue comes in that when I begin my second year, I will have a weekly language class for sign language.
I spent my first year in a sign language club learning the basics and my uni has a program for second years getting proper language lessons for free that you take as part of your main course/major.

I know learning multiple languages is more difficult than a singular one. But unfortunately:
A) I still do feel like learning sign language is something I want to do (even if I feel more motivated towards Japanese)
B) I’ve spent the last year telling all my family (who do not understand passion for learning language beyond “looks good when applying for jobs”) that I am planning to study sign language and since the lessons have to be done online, I feel like they’d notice if I swapped classes from BSL to Japanese.

(also before anyone asks, my school only allows one language class per student so I can’t just do both)

I also have past experience of trying and failing to keep up with Spanish (which I was already a high school level at), Esperanto and Japanese on Duolingo simultaneously (I don’t know why i picked those three either)

Sign language is quite different from Japanese so I was hoping someone would have experience and tips for learning two very different languages at once and not getting overwhelmed or neglecting one.

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Welcome to the community!

I would generally suggest ignoring what other people think. If you are interested in learning sign language right now then do so. If you’d rather focus exclusively on Japanese then do that. Making decisions based on fear of what other people may think will likely just lead to regret.

I can’t help with tips, but at least it’s not likely you’ll get them mixed up. :joy:

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I absolutely agree with this. At age 20 I made a decision based on what certain people would think. I am 56. I have maybe spent a total of 50 hours in the years since with most of those people—but I live with the results of that decision all day, every day.

Last summer I made a decision on the basis of what others would think. It had a health consequence that will impact my life forever (I am now seriously disabled).

These are extreme. Don’t be like me! Your family may “notice,” but what you learn will stay with you forever (if you want it to).

On tips, in case you decide to do both:

I’m currently studying Japanese and Polish. Both of them are languages that I’ve been studying, off and on but mostly off, for 30 years. They are different enough, and I have enough background in both of them, that I don’t get them confused (much). But since I’m doing them both for fun, there’s no problem if I can’t stay motivated.

I would say, commit to one right now. Life is long, and this won’t be your only opportunity to learn. Do the other in your spare time if you want, but don’t beat yourself up if you let it slide for now.

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Honestly, I think that the main issue will be whether or not you’ll be satisfied with how much you can study each one, since you’re going to be dealing with two languages that are very different from each other and quite hard to mix up. I studied German and Spanish at the same time a few years ago, and frankly, I didn’t find it too hard to keep them balanced: I had two textbooks from the same publisher, one for German and one for Spanish, and what I did was just that I would do roughly the same number of lessons for each language each day. That’s about as hard as it gets when you’re a beginner. I think the main thing that becomes an obstacle at later stages is the fact that you’ll probably want to start incorporating practice sessions or immersion sessions, and that means that you might end up spending more time on one language than the other. You can certain try to deal with that by setting a fixed amount of immersion time for each, but there’s no guarantee you’ll be happy with that.

Ultimately, what you do is up to you, and I’m not saying you have to settle for studying only one language, but I think that in order to make the right decision, you need to have some measure of self-knowledge: how do you like to learn things that you’re passionate about? Does doing some of them every once in a while satisfy you? Do you really like to dive deep into your passions? Do you derive more pleasure from depth or from variety? I, for example, know that I love going as deep as I can into subjects I’m passionate about, and I draw the most satisfaction from mastery. Therefore, even though I know from past experience that I’m capable of learning multiple languages at once, I don’t do it because I know I’ll be irritated by how slowly I’m advancing in each language, because I’d much rather race ahead and get to advanced levels of proficiency as quickly as possible. The question then is… how about you? That’s really what’ll determine what you’ll be happiest doing, and what sorts of limits you’ll need to set yourself in the event that you decide to do both languages.

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I’ve been successfully studying both Japanese and Spanish since I started learning Japanese. Japanese is where most of my passion is, but I already had years of experience with Spanish before I started Japanese, and it is by far the more important/“useful” language for me for my job and the community where I live, so I’ve been trying to work on it, too.

As Jonapedia said, the biggest trade-off will be how much time you can put into each. You will progress slower with both languages than you would if you were only studying one. However, if you manage to stick with it, you will learn two languages, which is super cool and rewarding! I think if both of them are important to you, it’s worthwhile to give it a try.

A while ago, someone linked this article about learning two languages at once, and I realized that I was more or less following this advice without realizing it. So I recommend giving that a read.

Honestly, I think with languages as different as Japanese and sign language, you’ll probably end up naturally following a lot of that advice, so mixing things up will be less of a struggle. However, time balance will continue to be an issue, so make sure you keep your expectations realistic there.

I think what helps me with Japanese and Spanish is that my Spanish is far enough along I can pretty much learn from immersion, whereas my Japanese still needs a lot more active studying. So I can focus the majority of my time on Japanese, then read a Spanish book on the side or watch a show in Spanish, so I can keep improving my Spanish without devoting a lot of time or energy to it.

I’ve been doing the read every day challenge on this forum (alternating with the listen every day challenge) in both languages, and I’ve absolutely made loads of progress. It just takes way more work and way more time for me to read in Japanese than it does for me to read in Spanish, so reading in Spanish essentially feels like taking a break in comparison. It’s honestly kind of neat because it gives me an idea of what reading in Japanese will feel like when I’m further along.

You’ll probably make faster progress with sign language and be able to do a lot more with the language a lot quicker than Japanese. The good news is that the further along you get in both languages, the easier it gets to keep practicing them, so as long as you can get through a particularly hard and lengthy beginner period with both, you’ll probably find it very rewarding later on when you can finally enjoy the fruits of that labor.

I think if language learning is an enjoyable hobby for you, you’ll have better luck with this. There’s a strong chance that language learning will end up eating up a lot of your spare time, so if you find it genuinely enjoyable, you’ll be more likely to stick it out.

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I haven’t done signing but I would say if you are interested in learning sign language as well as japanese and there are local signing classes I would stick with signing. There are lots more online japanese resources and online tutors that are often better than the typical classroom experience, whereas there are fewer signing resources and signing is also much more local with many different dialects and probably better to learn in an in person class in your local area.

Normally a good option is chaining (for example spanish → japanese → english) but that isn’t really an option in this case.

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I want to thank everyone here, you all left a lot of good insights.
On learning languages but also life in general.
I meant to reply sooner but kept forgetting
The article @fallynleaf left was very useful, and after chatting with the person who recommended Wani Kani to me I think I have a better idea of my goals now!

I still have a few months before I go back to school/start my sign language class, so for now, I’m going to focus on studying Japanese as much as I can while I have all this free time (specifically focusing on learning to read/write in Japanese) then I’ll slow down as school starts to re-evaluate how much time I have.
But I think I still want to try learning Japanese alongside BSL!
If I end up struggling for time/attention, I’ll probably focus on sign language since that’s tied to my grades and as @jmat9555 said, the opportunity for a signing class (a free one run by a professional, no less) is much harder to come by compared to Japanese tutoring.

I feel slightly more confident in this because I was reminded that even if I have to stop learning Japanese for a bit, I’m not just going to forget everything overnight
This is especially true compared to my first attempt at learning Japanese where I didn’t use any other resourses than Duolingo and spent weeks trying to memorise a few hiragana (compared to now, where I’ve become able to memorise all the hiragana and katakana using the tofugu guide)

Maybe that should’ve been obvious since I still remember a lot of the Spanish I was taught in high school…

Anyway, I’ll give one more ありがとう to everyone here before I stop rambling

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