Learning French and Spanish at the same time
I’ve spent the last 4 years learning French and Spanish at the same time.
So yes, it’s possible, and yes: you can do it.
In this article, I’m excited to answer a lot of questions, show off some of my favorite tips, and help you learn French and Spanish together. So let’s dive in!
Why I started learning French and Spanish at the same time
I want to quickly tell you why I know about learning French and Spanish at the same time before I give you an idea of how to.
It’ll be more fun this way since you’ll get to see my motivations, and you can see how possible success is.
When I was younger I, like many of you, thought learning languages was hard–maybe harder than I was capable of.
That’s because I went into my first language class in 5th grade wanting to learn French and Spanish both (already being bilingual at home). And I was super optimistic!
But I couldn’t handle it, so I had to stick to only one language–which I decided should be Spanish.
I could probably do fine in just one language, even though I couldn’t handle too, right?
By the time I graduated high school, I had essentially failed out of Spanish. I never even got the chance to start French. I thought it was impossible to learn any language.
Eventually, at age 27, I decided to try some language immersion school in Mexico thinking I’d give learning Spanish one last shot…
And almost like magic, learning languages turned out much much easier than I thought.
(Why is that? I’ll give away the secrets soon, but it wasn’t the immersion. Just keep reading.)
A year after that initial Spanish immersion, and after getting to quite a high level with Spanish, I decided to give French a try since I had always been curious about it.
So I did the same thing: I went to Quebec for immersion for two months to start my long (long) path to fluency.
And French Canada was amazing.
I made Latino friends who I spoke Spanish with as we studied French together. Then I made friends with one of my French professors since he was curious about learning a bit of Spanish himself.
And both of my languages continued to develop together!
The reason why I started learning French at the same time as Spanish was simple: boredom and curiosity.
And in fact, that’s why I now always study multiple languages at the same time!
Why I always study two languages at the same time (or more)
You know how it’s like to crave your favorite food, right?
Maybe your favorite food is Mexican tacos or New York pizza… and why wouldn’t you crave it! It’s your favorite food! Of course you want it!
But other times you’re hit with a craving for something totally else. Your favorite food just isn’t what you want right now.
Plus, not having your favorite food for long stretches of time can make it taste even better the next time you have it!
So what does this have to do with learning French and Spanish at the same time?
Because languages can be like that too.
I love Spanish–out of all of my languages, it’s by far my favorite and most dear to me.
The language I pick up on any particular day is just the language that sounds the most appealing to me at that moment.
Let me be clear: some people find learning two languages at the same time overwhelming.
If you don’t feel like it’s for you, then there’s no reason to pressure yourself into learning French and Spanish at the same time.
But at the time of this writing, I’m still learning Spanish and French together after years of study–as well as maintaining my upper-level Catalan and even dabbling in a bit of low-level German.
Because my moods are constantly shifting! Learning only one language at a time would bore me to tears.
I’m never bored, I’m never frustrated, and there’s always some fun new resource to explore or enjoy.
Now that I’ve made my case for why I like to learn Spanish and French together, let’s go through my tips after a few years of experimenting with learning multiple languages at the same time.
My tips for learning French and Spanish at the same time
Tip 1 – Don’t let anyone scare you out of your language learning goals.
I cannot tell you the number of people online who cited some random YouTuber or their own bad language experiences in order to try to keep me away from learning multiple languages together.
Just because someone else finds something hard (or claims it’s impossible) doesn’t mean that it is.
And it certainly doesn’t mean that you will find it impossible.
To fight other people’s anxiety and keep it from messing with my head, I had a few tools I relied on:
- Other friends who had learned multiple languages before. I’m part of the large #polyglotcommunity on Instagram, and by surfing that hashtag I found plenty of people to encourage me. We’d love to have you as part of the community!
- My own gut instincts. I knew I was happy and my curiosity was satisfied. So whenever I felt doubt because someone would say something like “you’ll mix them up!” I asked myself: “But is that a problem I’m currently having?” No, I wasn’t getting confused (like many people said I would). And no, I wasn’t bored (as many people feared). I checked my facts for myself.
In the following tips I’m going to go over some pitfalls you may find when you learn Spanish and French at the same time, but before anything else:
Don’t let anyone’s fears control your feelings.
Tip 2 – Learn your first “second language” by itself. Then, trust your gut.
Some polyglots think you can only learn multiple languages at the same time only if they’re at different levels.
They think you should start one language, become extremely good at it, and then move on to another.
I don’t fully agree.
I did mix them up a bit, but with time that faded and eventually, I stopped mixing them up at all.
(We’ll get to how I stopped mixing them up soon.)
So if you want to start Spanish and French together on the same day, go ahead.
But I’ll add one little stipulation to that.
When I started those three languages at the same time, I already spoke two languages at intermediate or advanced levels. That meant that I already knew myself as a language learner, so I could trust my own gut instincts.
One of the most powerful tools an adult language learner has is their gut instinct.
That’s the ability to ask yourself:
- Is this resource working?
- Is this study technique helpful?
- Do I need to break up with this teacher?
- Do I need to switch textbooks?
But you can’t know what’s working or not until you’ve cultivated a gut instinct. And you need time to work on that “I just have a feeling” feeling.
If you’ve never sat down to study a language as an adult before, and gotten to at least the intermediate level, my advice is to do that first with one language alone. (This includes people who were born bilingual and speak two languages but have never studied a new language.)
It’s a good investment of your time and will give you metacognition superpowers so that when you want to learn two (or three) languages at the same time you’ll be able to.
Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t learn Spanish and French at the same time if you’ve never learned another language before. (Don’t let anyone, including me, scare you.)
Just that it will be a bit harder for you, and the frustration might cause you to quit.
Tip 3 – Find a good language learning schedule
Another problem you should expect to encounter when learning multiple languages at the same time is that simply putting them all into your schedule will be a challenge–even if you’re taking them as school subjects.
Think about it–a lot of people can’t find time to study one language.
And the time for two?
Here’s my golden rule for learning multiple languages at once:
Habit is everything!
Find a good time of day when you’ll never be interrupted and when nothing else will come up. Find a way to chart and track how much time you’re putting into each language.
It doesn’t have to be equal–I certainly put more effort into my Spanish than my French, which is aligned with my priorities.
But deciding what you do with your time and how you divide your time between the two languages does have to be intentional.
Tip 4 – Switch between Spanish and French often
The problem most people talk about (and, truthfully, the hardest thing about studying two languages at the same time) is mixing them up.
In an episode of Lingthusiam (an amazing linguistics podcast, but of course now I can’t find the exact episode), one of the hosts talks about how your brain tends to think there are two languages: your native language, and all the other ones.
Your poor overworked brain is trying its best… but it can’t seem to figure out what these new words belong to.
Are they from another language? Is it two different languages? Part of an existing language you already have?
For a while, you’ll mash them together, and start a sentence in French which you end in Spanish.
Then there’s also the struggle to remember if words like problemente or le weekend are Spanish or French (or maybe just English) because the languages all look so similar.
When I’ve learned multiple languages at the same time, I’ve found switching back and forth constantly is the best way to queue my brain into the fact that French and Spanish are two new, but separate, languages.
Now let’s look at how we can separate them:
Tip 5 – Talk someone’s ear off
Your risk of mixing up French and Spanish runs highest while speaking.
And honestly, that’s because speaking is hard.
Why switching between multiple languages is hard
Let’s take the sentence: “I went to the movies.”
Easy, classic English. A small child could understand that. How hard could it be.
In French I would say: Je suis allée au cinema
And in Spanish, I would say: Fui al cine
In order to navigate that sentence correctly you need:
- The right past tense. Without getting too technical, I would have to decide if you want “I used to go to the movies” or “I went one time to the movies” in a Latin language.
- Then you would have to describe how to express that. In French, je suis allé(e) which literally means “I am gone”. In Spanish, fui which translates to “(I) went”.
- Now we get to to. In both French and Spanish it’s a, but when “the movies” comes around? That a becomes au in French and al in Spanish.
- Now we need movies. Cinema in French, but in my Mexican Spanish we would simply say cine.
- Don’t forget your accent and pronunciation rules!
Keeping all of those little rules separate can be hard in one language, but in two?
How can you keep from accidentally saying the wrong thing in the wrong language?
Let’s take a look.
How to separate your French and Spanish
My solution has been to switch between languages in the same conversation as often as possible.
This is extremely hard at first and will cause a lot of initial confusion, but we’re not going for perfection–we’re going for progress.
Here are some ways I’ve been able to train my brain into recognizing all of my semi-identical romance languages are actually different ones.
- Finding multilingual or polyglot tutors who can help me with 30min in one language and 30min in another.
- Leaving comments on French YouTube of Insta accounts, then immediately switching to Spanish ones to try to switch immediately into typing into Spanish.
- Finding friends on the #langaugeexchange hashtags on Instagram and Twitter who want to have multilingual conversations with me.
- Putting my study sessions back to back with some music in between as a palette cleanser. (So if I start the morning studying French, once that’s done I’ll exercise and listen to some Spanish language music before starting my new Spanish study session for the day.)
And, my favorite: by switching languages in immersion.
Tip 6 – Immersion, immersion, immersion
“But I can’t just go to Paris or Cuba!” you say. “I can’t afford immersion!”
It’s okay–neither can most language learners.
In fact, many of us haven’t ever even been to a place where they speak the languages we love.
It’s expensive, and we have other priorities.
So here is how you can both better your languages and stop yourself from confusing them by creating an at-home-immersion situation.
- Find YouTubers you like. Just to start off I adore the Easy French and Easy Spanish channels. But once you get better, you’ll want to switch to French YouTube content that’s made for native speakers. Listen to some French, then try writing or speaking a bit of French to yourself. Listen to some Spanish, then try it again in Spanish.
- Make separate playlists. Throw a bunch of French rock on in the background one day while cleaning, and then later in the day Spanish rap. Listen to both every day in chunks–maybe separate your mornings for French and your evenings for Spanish.
- Make yourself a French immersion day, and let the next day be Spanish immersion. Again, the idea is to group activities in the two languages but then put them side-by-side so your brain can get the hint. It might feel strange at first, but soon you’ll get the hang of it.
So how do I suggest studying French and Spanish at the same time?
Here’s the quick check-list to recap the most important parts of what we just went over.
- Only do it if it feels right for you. Because it’s hard, but it can be rewarding.
- Don’t let anyone scare you off with their own bad language learning experiences.
- Build yourself a good language learning habit, using tools like bullet journals and your phone calendar.
- Switch between the languages often when speaking, either by doing language exchanges or study sessions back-to-back to force your brain to organize them.
- Immersion, immersion, immersion! Check out all of my preferred language learning resources here.
Do you have any tips for learning French and Spanish at the same time?
Leave them in the comments below. I’d love to see them, and so would future readers!