Tuesday, January 02, 2007

It Gets Easier

A few weeks ago, I wrote about why learning two languages at the same time can cause problems. I thought about it a bit more and in the grand scheme of things, if one wants to be multilingual, it is INEVITABLE that simultaneous language learning will occur because it is a neverending process. Improving and maintaining one's language abilities is a lifetime effort. In other words, if you reach a certain level of language A, you can begin studying language B, but work still needs to be done to maintain language A. And while the problems I mentioned before are sometimes unavoidable, I have to admit there are benefits. For example, with Korean and Japanese, the grammar is so similar that if I am learning a new concept for Japanese, I can usually easily recognize it's Korean counterpart and figure out the function and uses of that particular grammar point. Not to brag, but I believe that my familiarity with Korean is what allowed me to pick up Japanese so quickly. Then there are the Chinese characters, the backbone of Japanese, Korean, and of course, Chinese. While Learning Chinese characters probably takes a good chunk of time, once it is learned, you significantly reduce the time needed to learn any other language which has Chinese roots. It is not always the case, but there are plenty of words that share the same combination of Chinese characters even if they are not always pronounced the same. And if you are not sure what a word is in one language, you can probably easily figure it out by looking at what that word is in other Chinese character based languages. Your odds of being correct will be pretty good.

Another benefit of learning multiple languages is you learn how to learn. While each language has its quirks and difficulties, you learn what works for you in terms of study methods since you learn from your mistakes when learning your new language. Borrowing from the movie, "About a Boy", if learning Korean, Japanese, and Chinese, each take 10 units of time to learn for the first time language learner, then learning them sequentially would mean Korean would be 10 units of time, Japanese would be 6 units, and Chinese would be 4 units. People who study languages consistantly find that it gets easier as we recognize shared concepts, ideal study methods, and similarities like Chinese characters that significantly reduce the confusion and consequently, the time it takes to learn a new language. Just make sure you don't neglect a language after you start learning a new one. Otherwise, all that work will have been for nothing.

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