Language cross-training

The other day I come across the interesting idea of language cross-training (I don’t remember where though, unfortunately). The writer suggested that when learning a language, it can sometimes be beneficial to have a break to learn a bit of another language. The aim isn’t necessarily to become fluent in the second language, but the process of studying that language can help to keep your brain flexible as you grapple with different sounds, grammatical structures and word order. For example, while learning Spanish you could take a break and learn some Turkish. When you go back to the Spanish it will probably seem easier.

Have you tried this technique? Does it work?

This entry was posted in Language, Language learning.

8 Responses to Language cross-training

  1. Bob says:

    It seems to me you’d need languages from different families. Learning Spanish and Italian might cause you to confuse the two when switching back. While perhaps Spanish and Turkish would be ok. I’ve been learning Syriac and Ge’ez (both Semitic, both dead) and they are similar enough that I misread grammatical structures from one into the other. It becomes confusing at times as I have to think more when I come to overlaps in grammar that are interpreted differently (alot of the problem comes from pronouns and predicate structures).

  2. TJ says:

    Ì felt that slightly when I stopped reading my irish book in favor for following my german lessons!

    Bob>> Syriac is not really dead as I would say but alive, mainly for religious purposes anyway and the work of Mel Gibson “passion of the Christ” did indeed give a push. Moreover, Assyrian, the very sister of Syriac or as it is called sometimes, eastern Aramaic, is still alive and christian iraqis still use it (and they have their own TV digital channel). Ge’ez I think is not a semitic language, but more Hamitic as far as I remember.

  3. Bob says:

    Classic Syriac is technically no longer spoken outside liturgy in Syriac Orthodox churches.

    Syriac is a Christian Aramaic dialect written in an early Arabic-looking/related script (rather than with the Hebrew characters which the Jewish people used). However, several modern spoken Aramaic dialects are preserved among Syrian Christian peoples in areas such as Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (languages such as Turoyo). Though these dialects are in danger of becoming extinct.

    Ge’ez is a Semitic language related to South Arabic. It has some Cushitic influence but it is more “Semitic” and less “Hamitic” than, say, Egyptian. From my study and knowledge of other Semitic languages, Ge’ez is quite Semitic (trilateral roots, verb tenses, syntax, etc.). Ge’ez is no longer spoken ouside litergy of the Ethiopic Orthodox church. Its most well known modern descendant is Amharic, which has become quite Africanized (it that a word?). Still considered Semitic, Amharic is the second most spoken Semitic language next to Arabic—but it is considered the “least Semitic” of the Semitic languages. (Tigre and Tigryna are closer to Ge’ez, but not spoken by as many people).


    Soon, I want to focus on the Gaelic languages . . . .so many languages so little time . . .

  4. TJ says:

    well well thanks for the info!!

  5. Sam says:

    Portuguese and Latin seem different enough from each other to work well. I wouldn’t recommend Portuguese and Spanish or two Scandinavian languages.

    When I was in college, I knew a woman who was learning Russian and Chinese at the same time (but in different classes) and it was just about all she could handle. Some of this might come from the fact that each class was quite intensive.

  6. I’m currently studying three languages, Spanish, Greek and Latin. Although Latin is similar to Spanish, it’s not so close that I get them confused. I like the idea of studying another language on the side, “just for fun” I guess you could say. I’d like to learn some Esperanto sometime, and maybe Comanche. Good idea!

  7. gee says:

    At the moment I am taking a pause from learning Spanish but at a time I had cards with vocabularies written both in Spanish and Chinese (though Chinese – or rather Cantonese- is technically my mother tongue I cannot read it). While I tend to remember the Spanish words I am unable to recall a single Chinese character on those cards.

    Before that I have been learning German shorthand while memorizing Arabic and Hebrew letters with none success though, shorthand proved to be really complex and well, even after a while the foreign letters still looked the same to me.

  8. Tommy Beavitt says:

    I certainly agree that studying several languages at a time can be helpful for progress.

    I am currently studying German (advanced) alongside Arabic (beginner). For me, the hardest thing about German has been mastering the declinations. Arabic handles these quite differently but in an analogous way from the perspective of English and French where these grammatical functions are handled in a less rigorous fashion.

    What has been most surprising about taking up Arabic has been how stimulated the part of my language learning brain that concerns itself with maintaining and augmenting my fairly sparse knowledge of Scottish Gaelic has been.

    Learning new words in any language tends to be most effectively achieved by linking them mentally with mnemonics drawn from one’s mother or additional tongues. Usually for me this is English, though in tackling Spanish, Italian and Portuguese my prior knowledge of French obviously comes in handy.

    For some reason, the “natural” mnemonic language that I use in memorising Arabic words and word structures is Gaelic.

    I have read somewhere that the languages are developmentally linked although that must be in a subtle way, because there are no obvious connections like in the Romance languages. But there is no doubting the effect. I have not studied Gaelic seriously for several years, with other languages, e.g. Russian sandwiched in between. So why does my brain reach for long buried Gaelic words and structures in order to provide mnemonics for Arabic ones?

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