As an MA Comparative Literature student, I have known since my undergraduate studies that I wanted to learn East Asian languages. However, this can be both expensive and exhausting. How can you find the time to learn one language, let alone two or three, when you’re trying to balance your studies with work and general life?
My language journey
It wasn’t until I took part in an exchange year in South Korea in 2019 that I decided to embrace language learning. During this time, I worked towards an A1 proficiency and joined SNU’s evening classes. Then COVID hit and my language learning got placed on hold for a year and a half. This year I decided that enough was enough, and finally began to seriously work towards my language learning goals, focusing on Korean and Mandarin.
As I have a basic comprehension of Korean, I decided to learn Mandarin alongside my Korean studies as I am aiming for conversational proficiency in the next two years. Once I have a firm basis in both languages, I would then like to start my PhD.
Learning two languages simultaneously
Learning two languages at the same time can be really helpful if, like me, you would like to gain proficiency in multiple languages over the course of a few years. Learning two languages simultaneously can also help you draw parallels between the languages and cultures you are studying. For instance, in Chinese “exercise” translates to yùndòng, whilst in South Korean it is oon dong. The linguistic similarities here make it easy to remember both translations.
Of course, there are also drawbacks to learning two languages at once. It’s easy to muddle up your words, especially if you’re tired. You have less time to focus on the individual languages, slowing down your total progress. Despite this, multi-language learning can be an exciting challenge.
Practicing the languages
Currently, I am studying Mandarin at Queen Mary’s Confucius Institute and Korean with SOAS as part of my MA degree. Unlike most other universities in the UK, SOAS encourages students to learn additional languages and offers 30 credits to all students for language study. They also make it incredibly easy to work into your timetable. SOAS’s language centre is also available to those wanting private tuition or short courses.
SOAS also has a variety of cultural societies which help arrange language exchanges between students. Joining a cultural society is great for meeting other people who share similar interests and goals as you.
Unfortunately, if you want to seriously progress with your studies turning up to class isn’t enough. Multi-language learning takes dedication and focus. As such, I like to blend classes with workbooks, flashcards, films, music, and other various online resources.
I try to stick to one medium for language studying. For example, when using flash cards I’ll use the Quizlet app for Korean and physical Chineasy flashcards for Mandarin. For spoken practice I use Peking University’s free Coursera page for Mandarin on my laptop and the Duolingo app on my phone for Korean. By separating the two languages with different forms of study I can easily differentiate between what I’ll be studying, and it stops me from associating one app with too many languages.
Ruby Punt is a SOAS Digital Ambassador, pursuing her MA in Comparative Literature. When she isn’t studying Korean or Mandarin, she’s likely working on her next project for the SPA or on her blog Toward the Horizon. Find her on Instagram at @Ruby.Punt.