How to Avoid Mixing Up while Learning to Speak Multiple Languages
by Sheryl Thompson
While it might seem easier to learn multiple Romance languages at once (French, Italian, Span-ish, Portuguese) since they are similar, you run a higher risk of mixing them up. Unless you have a high tolerance for separating each one into a separate category in your mind, you will be better off learning languages which are very different at the same time. Consider taking courses in Japanese, Korean, German, or Russian and one of the Romance languages. You will be much less likely to confuse them.
If your interest lies in languages that are very similar, develop some strategies for keeping them separate in your mind. Work on your accent as you learn so that you have a different pronuncia-tion for the words in each language.
Practice Speaking Often
There is a difference between learning rules for language and actually using it in conversation. If you want to get really good at speaking a language, you need to practice using it in conversation. This means getting out and talking to real people.
It's also going to mean stumbling a bit in conversation and making some mistakes. Your first at-tempts at using a new language will feel awkward, much like when you first started to speak in your first language. The other person you are speaking with may not fully understand what you are trying to say if you use an incorrect expression or verb tense. Be prepared to be corrected (gently or maybe not so gently) in conversation. It's all part of the process.
Start by speaking slowly and deliberately. Give yourself time to think of the word you are look-ing for in the right language, as opposed to substituting a different one from another language you are familiar with. The other person will wait for you to finish your idea and may even help you find the right word if you ask for assistance.
Think in the New Language
When learning a new language, you'll start learning words from your first language and translat-ing them into the new one. After a time, you should adopt a strategy where you are thinking in the new language and no longer translating the language in this manner. If you are going to avoid mixing up your languages, you need to start thinking in the new language.
Your accent, the way you form the sounds when you form your words, and even your persona should change when you use a foreign language. Be conscious of how you should pronounce words in your new language. If you need to do some warm-up exercises to get your mouth and tongue ready to enunciate when you're taking language lessons, then do it. This is part of getting comfortable with the new language. The more you practice using it, the less likely you will mix it up with the other ones you know.
You don't need to be fully bilingual to sound like a native when speaking a foreign language. Don't worry about whether you have a perfect accent when you are using your "new" language. Even native speakers don't always use the correct verb tense or expression in conversation. Most of the time, we manage to make ourselves understood anyway or the other person asks for more information. As you become more confident in your use of the language, you will pick up the nuances to feel more confident as well, and incidents where you mix you language will become less frequent.
About the writer
Sheryl Thompson is a freelance writer and blogger. She is also a contributor to college success network, an educational resource for young people from New Mexico. Feel free to email her at sher1lthomps(at)yahoo(dot)com.