7 In Japanese learning journey (:/ Korean learning journey (:

A second foreign language – helps you learn the first one

Why pick up a second foreign language?

I used to think that instead of being 半桶水 (literally half a bucket) or mediocre in two (or more) foreign languages, I would rather be top notch in one. Spending more time on one language obviously means less time for the other. But that is if you are thinking about it logically. If there is one thing I learn through language learning, it is that some things cannot (or should not) be thought about in an analytical and logical way. It’s not a zero-sum game, especially if you are smart about the way you learn both.

Note: My first foreign language is Korean and the second one is Japanese, so I’ll be using that instead of saying “first foreign language” etc

I use Korean to learn Japanese and it has brought about so many benefits.

  1. I get to practice writing more in Hangeul when I’m making notes for Japanese
  2. My confidence in using Korean has increased
  3. I learn new Korean words as I learn new Japanese words
  4. Increase in use of both languages

When I search up stuff for Japanese (eg grammar explanations / slangs explanation), I come across materials in English, Mandarin Chinese, Korean and of course Japanese. I have been using a lot of C, K and J materials and that has made learning a lot more effective, given that there is a wider pool of knowledge I can tap into.

It’s not just about writing your notes in Korean or using textbooks published in that language. There is learning in everything. Make up your methods to learn and find more “links” to increase your interest in the languages. For me, I like to watch Japanese talkshows or news about my favorite K-stars and vice versa. I guess I’m lucky in the sense that there is a wealth of such ‘cross-materials’ in the two languages I learn but I’m sure there is always something you can come up with!


But the one area that I really could feel the benefits is reading and learning new words. The stuff I read in Korean and Japanese are vastly different in terms of genre and I learn A LOT of new words in both languages every time I read in one. For example, I’m reading Psycho Pass Asylum 1 in Japanese now and I guess I could classify it as crime / sci-fi kinda/ futuristic fiction, a genre that I haven’t read in Korean. As I read the book, I am getting better at reading speed, comprehension and learning new words. I search up words via a JP-KR dictionary (http://jpdic.naver.com/)and hence I get to learn the Korean equivalent. There are many times I come across an unknown Korean word and then I have to search it up via an EN-KR dictionary (http://endic.naver.com/) to be sure of the meaning. It’s a great form of revision for Korean and I get to learn a lot of things along the way.

This is perhaps one of the reasons why I feel that my Korean is improving when I haven’t been focusing that much on the language 😛

Instead of waiting to attain that ‘expert’ proficiency before thinking of picking up another foreign language, start when you feel comfortable in the first one. Like I always say, never wait until you are good enough because you can only get better if you start and really DO IT. It’s a pit hole that many of us (me included) unwittingly fall into at times: not daring to read a novel until you have completed XX level of a language test, not daring to try translation cos you are still ‘bad’, not daring to take up opportunities cos you feel you suck. Often, it’s only when you start doing it then you would get better with time and experience.

It’s easy to fall into the not-here-not-there situation when you attempt to be a polyglot, but with the right way (right in the sense that it fits your learning style), you can really see exponential progress in both.

I don’t know if there would be a chance in the future where I pick up a third foreign language (hahahaha the idea feels so crazy right now). But never say never.

This might be the start of a series of related posts, given that I have so much to say about the topic. For those contemplating taking up another foreign language, any questions or thoughts you have?

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  • Reply
    23 October, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    that’s a really nice blog post 🙂 It makes me feel motivated to study hard myself!
    You are amazing, studying two really great (yet hard to learn) languages.


  • Reply
    24 October, 2015 at 1:51 AM

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight. I feel inspired to do more rather than tell myself it can’t be done. Heartfelt thanks.

  • Reply
    24 October, 2015 at 8:08 AM

    I agree with not waiting until you feel you’re ready. You’ll never feel ready at all. I started doing translations for short posts from the Monsta X Daum cafe and over the past couple of months I’ve learned so much and feel more comfortable reading and translating Korean. (Even more than Japanese and I’m usually more comfortable with Japanese.) Of course we should all get through some of the basics before diving into news articles and novels, but other than that you just gotta do it when you think, “Hey, I wanna do this.”

    The first second language I picked up was Spanish and although it’s been years since I’ve spoken it (and thus I’ve forgotten too much of it) it made learning Japanese and Korean easier. I didn’t get to use Spanish to learn either of them, but it helped prepare me a bit with what to do when self-studying. I saw what I liked and didn’t like and also what helped and didn’t help.

    I do admit learning Japanese and Korean around the same time really helped. I started Japanese first and if it wasn’t for that, I’d never get the hang of some things in Korean. Sometimes I have to look at the Japanese equivalent to understand the Korean word or grammar point I’m learning, haha. It’s actually really helpful.

  • Reply
    24 October, 2015 at 2:26 PM

    Thank you for this great post.

    I am always trying to pick up Korean and every time I keep connecting these to Japanese. You just listed more reasons to do study multiple languages. It is a nice way to study a language without feeling “guilty” for not studying the other one.

    I will have look into more Korean resources in Japanese 🙂

  • Reply
    24 October, 2015 at 6:42 PM

    Hi Shanna,
    I always enjoyed reading your insights with regards to language learning. Needless to say, this was another wonderful piece as well.
    I found myself nodding as I read the various points you brought up. I keep telling myself that I would only start learning Korean after passing N1 for fear that I would lose touch with my Japanese proficiency (I’m retaking N2 this December because I failed the July one.) I tell myself I would try reading Japanese novels after a certain stage, which I have yet to get around to. Sometimes. I really wonder what is holding me back.
    Lately, I’ve been meeting people who study Korean as a third language and that has greatly motivated me towards picking up my 2nd foreign language because I desire to be able to converse with them in a foreign language.
    Sorry, I sidetracked, but I’m really looking forward to reading your next piece. (:

  • Reply
    19 October, 2016 at 2:15 AM

    Hi, I recently came across your blog and really enjoyed reading through your language journey.

    I have a question: When you first started writing blogs in Korean, how do you keep yourself from being afraid of making mistakes? How did you take the first step? Were you overly concerned with grammar? Which platform will you recommend?

    I would like to try blogging in a foreign language too but I am always worried about writing wrongly. What advice can you share with me? Thank you! 🙂

    • Reply
      23 October, 2016 at 11:39 AM

      Hello! Knowing that nobody is reading my blogs help 😛 (okay I’m kidding). It’s normal to make mistakes and you just have to tell yourself that you learn through your mistakes. I wrote very short sentences at the start, usually about mundane daily stuff. Nope I wasn’t overly concerned with grammar, I just wanted to express my point and get the meaning across. I would recommend Naver (:

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