How I’m Studying Two Languages at the Same Time

Well, for starters, it takes a lot of discipline and time management skills.

I’m currently learning Korean and French. I started learning Korean in 2016, and French about 6 months ago. I’ve been trying to find a way to study both at the same time and it wasn’t until very recently that I managed to make it work.  I actually tried to pick up French earlier last year, but I had to quit because I couldn’t come up with a sustainable way to keep studying it without losing my progress in Korean.

This time, however, I’ve managed to establish a routine that works. I’ve been using it for 3 months, and it works great so far. Here’s how I came up with it:

Things to Keep in Mind

Before we start, here are three rules of thumb to keep in mind:

Follow the 80/20 Principle

Pick one language to prioritise. Spend 80% of your time on it, and the remaining 20% on the other. I don’t recommend doing a 50/50 – I have tried before, which resulted in me not doing enough in either language for any significant improvement to occur. I got really frustrated and had to quit one of them to readjust. It may work if you’re just looking to maintain two languages that you already have a solid grasp of (B1-B2). If you’re learning a new language from scratch, however, I recommend more concentrated efforts.

Gain a Solid Grasp of One before You Start the Other

Focus on improving one language to a relatively advanced level before you start the other. One of the main reasons why my current arrangement works is that my Korean skills have reached a level where I can maintain them comfortably with just 20-30% of my time, allowing me to dedicate the remaining 70-80% to studying French. Learning a new language from scratch takes a lot of time and energy, and as with new languages, you lose them twice as fast as you learn them. Constant reinforcement is the key.

Keep the Two Languages Separate

If you can, try to go for languages that aren’t too similar, so you don’t end up confusing them. This is one of the reasons why I’m not learning Japanese yet. Structurally and grammatically, Korean and Japanese are extremely similar, and they also share a lot of common vocabulary. You can also try to establish different routines for the languages by keeping your tasks and exercises unique to the language they pertain to.

Step One: Finding the Time

Go through your daily schedule and draw up time slots for language learning. I try to set aside at least 2 hours a day as my core studying hours, which I usually dedicate to the more intensive, time-consuming exercises.

There are always small stretches of free time to be found here and there throughout the day, like the time you spend on commuting, so be sure to mark those down as well.

This is what my timetable looks like:

Monday ALL DAY
Tuesday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM CORE: 8.30PM- 10.30PM
Wednesday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM CORE: 8.30PM- 10.30PM
Thursday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM CORE: 8.30PM- 10.30PM
Friday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM CORE: 8.30PM- 10.30PM
Saturday BEFORE CLASS: 9AM – 10AM CORE: 8.30PM- 10.30PM
Sunday IN THE MORNING: 10AM – 11AM

I usually go all out and study as much as I can on Mondays because it’s my day off. As for the rest of the week, I can usually get in 3 hours of studying per day on average. I take a break from language learning on Sundays (except for maybe 1 hour in the morning, because consistency is really important for my budding French skills right now) and recharge so that I can give my 100% the day after. It also helps reduce burnouts.

Step Two: Planning Your Tasks

For me, there are 6 main types of exercises/tasks when it comes to language learning:

  • Vocabulary
  • Grammar
  • Reading
  • Writing
  • Listening
  • Speaking

I generally try to make sure I do all six throughout the week, but things may vary according to changes in needs and circumstances. I divide them first by the nature of the exercise (active or passive) and then by the duration (whether it’s time-consuming or not).

Active tasks refer to exercises that require direct participation and are generally concerned with output, like writing and speaking, while passive tasks refer to exercises where you’re just receiving input. This does not mean that all listening and reading exercises are passive in nature, however. It’s about the level of engagement they demand – if you’re actively engaging with the audio clip you’re listening to, by taking notes and replaying it or slowing it down to study it, then it is definitely considered an active task.

A summary of what I’m currently doing for Korean and French:

Korean

  Time-Consuming Quick & Easy
Active Writing (I do them in rotation):
Writing book reviews, writing blog articles, writing to my pen-pal, doing writing challenges from the study chat room I’m a member of  

Speaking:
Talking to my language exchange partners
Grammar:
Learn at least one grammar structure per week (two, if they’re relatively simple and easy to grasp)  
Passive Listening:
Watching Korean drama and variety shows

Reading:
Reading novels
Listening:
Watching Youtube videos in Korean Listening to Korean songs

Reading:
Reading articles or webtoons

You may have noticed that I didn’t include any vocabulary-related tasks. That’s because I’m not actively memorizing vocabulary anymore, as I’ve accumulated enough for me to understand most materials with relative ease. These days, I pick up new words mostly through encountering them in what I read and watch.

French

  Time-Consuming Quick & Easy
Active Listening & Speaking:
I pick one video to study every week using this method, which allows me to practice both my listening skills and speaking skills

Grammar:
Studying with my textbook + workbook  
Vocabulary:
Revising my Memrise decks, which contain all the words I’ve learned so far

Writing:
Writing short journal entries in French, which I upload to italki for corrections before transferring them to my notebook  
Passive Listening:
Watching videos in French  
Listening:
Listening to songs in French

As you can see, my French routine right now is very input-heavy, especially on the listening side. This is because my listening skills are currently the weakest out of the four – as is always the case when I first start learning a language – so I need all the practice I can get. I’m also not comfortable with committing to weekly practice with a language exchange partner yet, so for now I’m doing what I can by watching a lot of videos and imitating what I hear.

Step Three: Coordinating Your Schedules

First of all, you need to establish which exercises you’re going to prioritise. For me, I tend to prioritise the active tasks over the passive ones, especially in the early stages of language learning. I generally dedicate my core studying hours to the active tasks, and then pepper my free time throughout the day with a myriad of passive tasks.

So, to sum it up, this is how things line up, in terms of priority:

  1. Active + Time Consuming
  2. Active + Quick & Easy
  3. Passive + Quick & Easy / Time Consuming
    *This depends on how much time I have – if I’m just queuing up for lunch, I’ll go for something quick, like reading a news article; if I’m on the subway, then I’ll indulge in something a little more time-consuming, like watching an episode of my favourite Korean variety show

Now, on to the coordination:

Core Studying Hours

As we’ve established earlier, my core studying hours are reserved for the active, time-consuming tasks. I spread them across the week, and repeat them as I need. I generally get 2 hours per day (on weekdays, anyway), so I usually spend one hour on each language. To keep myself from burning out, I make sure to alternate between the more time-consuming tasks and the quicker ones. So if I’m doing something time-consuming for Korean that day, I’ll balance it out with one of the quick active exercises for French – unless it’s Monday, in which case I usually go all out and try to tackle as much as I can, for both languages.

Daily Commute

I spend my daily commute doing first the quick, active tasks, and then the time-consuming, passive tasks. This means I always make sure to complete my daily Memrise streak for French before I start watching videos and k-drama, or reading my novels. I try to alternate between the two languages, as well. So if I watched a Korean video on my way to work yesterday, I’ll watch a French one today.

This is my current timetable:

Monday ALL DAY

FRENCH
Study using my textbook and workbooks
Update my Memrise decks
Daily Memrise

KOREAN
Study a Korean novel and/or
Complete a writing exercise
Tuesday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM

FRENCH
Daily Memrise

KOREAN
Watch something in Korean
CORE: 8.30PM – 10.30PM

FRENCH
Write a journal entry

KOREAN
Talk to my language exchange partner
Wednesday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM

FRENCH
Daily Memrise
Watch something in French  
CORE: 8.30PM – 10.30PM

FRENCH
Study using my textbook and workbooks

KOREAN
Study a new grammar structure
Thursday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM

FRENCH
Daily Memrise

KOREAN
Read something in Korean
CORE: 8.30PM – 10.30PM

FRENCH
Write a journal entry

KOREAN
Talk to my language exchange partner
Friday DAILY COMMUTE: 8AM – 9AM

FRENCH
Daily Memrise
Watch something in French  
CORE: 8.30PM – 10.30PM

FRENCH
Study a video using this method

*I usually analyse the script on Friday night. It takes up a lot of time, which is why I don’t do any studying for Korean.
Saturday BEFORE CLASS: 9AM – 10AM

KOREAN
Talk to my language exchange partner
CORE: 8.30PM – 10.30PM

FRENCH
Practice listening skills and speaking skills with the video I’d studied the night before  
Sunday IN THE MORNING: 10AM – 11AM

FRENCH
Practice listening skills and speaking skills with the same video  

The small chunks of free time I get throughout the day, I spend them on the quick passive tasks. For example, I listen to French or Korean music in the office, and read news or comics when I’m having a slow day at work, or when I’m queuing up to buy lunch. I don’t include them in my timetable because they’re usually random and unpredictable, so I just deal with them as they come.

Conclusion

Learning a language takes a lot of discipline and willpower – this is doubly true when you’re learning not one, but two at the same time. It’s a lot of work, and can result in fatigue and burnouts if you’re not careful. Try to avoid being too ambitious and spreading yourself too thin – remember, language learning is supposed to be fun and enriching! If it’s stressing you out, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate your focus and priorities. While I like having a solid routine in place to help keep myself productive and accountable, I don’t follow it to a T. If you’re feeling tired or demotivated, make sure take a day or two off and allow yourself some time to recharge.

Happy learning!