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.
- I get to practice writing more in Hangeul when I’m making notes for Japanese
- My confidence in using Korean has increased
- I learn new Korean words as I learn new Japanese words
- 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?