12

For the sake of this question, assume that you have reached CEFR level B2 (basic fluency) or higher in four languages (one of which is your L1).

What sort of daily/weekly techniques and time commitments are needed to maintain your three foreign languages at a minimum of B2 for the rest of your life? Let's assume that you speak only L1 at home and at work and that your foreign languages are unrelated (e.g., Arabic, Mandarin, German).

11

Apparently, this question comes up often on YouTube channels maintained by polyglots.

For example, in the six-minute video Maintaining multiple languages Vladimir Skultety explained how he maintained the languages that were important to him at that time (Chinese, Italian, Russian and German; the video dates from November 2016):

  • Try to do things that don't require his full attention, such as listening to a German podcast while at the gym, listening to an Italian talk show while cleaning up his room, listening to something in Chinese while jogging.
  • Since this can get boring, it is important to vary your activities: reading books (good for developing vocabulary and language structures); simultaneously translating in his head, e.g. while listening to a Russian talk show; chatting with people through voice chat (which does not even feel like learning).
  • According to Vladimir Skultety, the most important thing is to combine activities in order to use your time more efficiently.
  • He tries not to neglect a language for more than three to four days, because otherwise his level would start to go down.

At the 2014 Polyglot Conference, Alex Rawlings gave a 30-minute talk about How to learn and maintain multiple foreign languages:

  • There is no single way to achieve this, so he presents his own ideas and experiences.
  • The basics are simple: (1) learn the language; (2) speak the language; (3) keep speaking the language.
    Repeat the process for the next language.
  • On a more serious level, to learn the language, (1) you need to set realistic goals; you cannot rush language learning; (2) find learning materials and/or a teacher; (3) decide how much time you can allocate to the language; Alex Rawlings recommends one hour per day split into 15-minute chunks (you need to find out what works for you); (4) review and check what you know; if your learning materials contain tests, use them; (5) make changes to your schedule if things aren't working (this applies to learning materials, teachers, etc.).
  • To speak the language, (1) you need to locate resources (someone you can speak with, not necessarily a native speaker); (2) find a teacher who knows hot to correct your errors (e.g. just speak for 15 minutes and list the errors later); (3) find authentic materials in the target language that contain cultural information and that contain constructions and expressions that don't exist in your native language.

The above is mainly about learning a language, but the question "how to keep speaking a language" is about maintaining a language.

  • You need to integrate the language into your life, e.g. by visiting the country where the language is spoken, spending time in an immersed environment (a course or a job).
  • Try "remote immersion" by reducing your use of L1 and think in your target language instead.
  • Read, watch TV and listen to content exclusively in your target languages. When Alex Rawlings was learning Afrikaans, he started reading books in Afrikaans, watched videos in Afrikaans and listened to the news in Afrikaans, all as if he were in South Africa. This took him to an intermediate fluency level.
  • However, it is difficult to guarantee that your "remote immersion" as authentic, that it represents the language as it is really spoken. This is easier to achieve with English, because it is everywhere, than with smaller languages such as Hungarian.

At the end of his talk, he discusses how much we have to sacrifice to become a polyglot.

  • He integrates foreign languages into his life. At the time of the conference, he was treating his Hungarian grammar book as a sudoku book (he dipped into it when he had 20 minutes of spare time), he was reading exclusively in German because he enjoys reading in German and it provides a lot of language input. This way, he does not have the feeling that he needs to sacrifice a lot of his spare time.
  • One of the audience members integrated Russian into her life by listening to music, watching films and by changing the language of her devices to Russian. She also labelled things around her for which she did not know the words.

In the 10-minute video Maintaining multiple languages at the same time | Which to learn, schedules, pronunciation etc, Lindie Botes shares her views:

  • It is a matter of time and motivation. You need to be prepared to deal with frustration.
  • It works better with language that are not so easily confused.
  • Become conversational in a language before you pick up the next language. This includes getting the pronunciation right.
  • Make a schedule if that works for you. Lindie doesn't use a schedule but learns more haphazardly. If you make a schedule, prioristie your languages and make your schedule accordingly.
  • Set realistic, bite-size goals.
  • In order to make sure that you use your target languages, you need to integrate them into your life, e.g. by maintaining a diary in a foreign language, listening to music, watching TV, etcetera.

In the nine-minute video How does hyperpolyglot Luca Lampariello maintain so many languages? (November 2013), Luca Lampariello explains his approach to Conor Clyne:

  • He decided to embrace a certain lifestyle that allows him to learn and maintain multiple foreign languages. When he was still living in Rome, he lived his life "through and with foreign people".
  • If you live in a country with fewer foreigners, you can still talk to foreigners over the internet. In order to find people online, he uses his YouTube channel, but there are many other websites where you can find people who are willing to do a language exchange. For example, italki, Sharedtalk (which closed down in 2015, but now there is SharedTalk on Biligua.io), "language exchange" (that name is ambiguous, see e.g. language.exchange and LanguageExchange.net) and Conversation Exchange. However, you should be a bit selective in your exchange partners; you will learn most when you talk to people you like talking to.
  • Conor Clyne makes sure he has some exposure to each of his targets languages every day. Luca Lampariello also says that you need to tackle every language almost every day. (Luca teaches languages online, so he needs to use several foreign languages every day.)

In the hour-long talk Maintaining Multiple Languages At Once at the Polyglot Gathering in Berlin in 2014, hyperpolyglot Richard Simcott talks about how to maintain five or more languages. He says that ten foreign languages is a critical number. One of the important things he mentions, like other polyglots, is integrating those languages into your life. Maintaining five or more languages is a life choice, since time will impinge on what you can do.

Although none of the above videos are specifically about maintaining three foreign languages at level B2 or higher, integrating those languages into your life is a common theme, regardless of the level you aim for.

1

I have only three languages to B2 level - English (native), Auslan (C1) and Dutch (B2). In the last twenty five years (since I left the country, after 10 months living there), I would not have had more than.. I was going to say 25 hours, but lets double it and say 50 hours of Dutch conversation. I retain the language at B2. I do not do anything to maintain it, although I do occasionally listen to things in Dutch. Like once a year. Auslan I have a little more around me... I had about ten years in the Deaf community, and I still interpret on occasions. But I likewise had a stint of 7 years where I did not use the language much at all (yell at the kids...quietly!... a conversation with a friend in sign supported English a couple of times a year), and was able to come back into an interpreting situation without any prep time at all. I will never forget it, it is hard wired into my brain.

I guess that is where I start to say one is multilingual... not simply a language learner, but it has fully integrated into my life. I still dream in Dutch sometimes. I would have had no more than 5 hours Dutch conversation in the past 13 years.

So, yeah... it can happen. (Now I'm working on French being like that!)

0

I'm learning five languages at the moment: Portuguese (my native language), Italian, English, Spanish and German. I have two pieces of advice:

  1. make sure you really learn the languages and
  2. use the languages once in a while, your brain needs to remind itself of them otherwise it will forget them.

I think the second advice is very clear but I'll explain the first a little more. Basically, it's not because you said you're in a certain level, that you actually are. For instance, I have this colleague at university and he says he's fluent in English but doesn't know grammar, now, can he really be that fluent? Grammar, despite of what many people think, it's not just a bunch of rules invented by a couple scholars, it actually explains the language pretty well. Now, how can knowing a language better help you remember of it? Simply, you remember more what you know well. Do you still remember the content of one of your school exams? Probably not and if so the reason is not only lack of revision but lack of understanding. Hope it helps :)

  • When you write, "he says he's fluent in English but doesn't know grammar, now, can he really be that fluent?" you are confusing fluency with accuracy, which are very different things. You can be fluent without being accurate, or accurate without being fluent (or neither, or both). – IkWeetHetOokNiet May 24 at 18:17

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.