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Can I learn another language at the same time as Gaelic?

A lot of people become enthusiastic about the whole process of language-learning when they start to see some progress with their Gaelic. And, since Progressive Gaelic is specifically an academic course, we tend to have students in the programme who are already ambitious about acquiring a number of languages or variants of languages. The question inevitably comes up at some point: so, can I learn another language at the same time as Gaelic?

The simple answer is yes: it is possible to learn another language while you are learning Gaelic. But, is it a good idea? That depends on several things, but most importantly it depends on you. If you are someone who already has a history of language-learning, if you have had success at getting to a good level of fluency in at least one other non-native language, then you should already have a sense of what it takes to get to advanced levels in a language. In this case, learning another language alongside your Gaelic might not be a terrible idea, if it's what you want to do. On the other hand, if Gaelic is the first language you have tried to learn, I would generally advise against taking on another language until you are well-established in your learning. Let's take a minute to think about what I might mean by 'well-established', then.

When you start learning Gaelic, you need to work out how you are going to do that. The how should be based on your goals: you should prioritise the things that matter to you. If you need to have a solid knowledge of all aspects of the language, and you are taking the academic approach, you will need to work methodically and systematically through a programme like Progressive Gaelic, and you will certainly prioritise different elements of the language at different times. You will probably start by learning how the pronunciation and spelling relate to each other, and then quickly move to building a working vocabulary in the context of acquiring a mastery of the grammatical structures. For some people, this process comes easily, and they soon find that they are into their stride within a matter of weeks. But, for others, the process is alien and confusing, and it can take months to become accustomed to even the methods. If you are in this second group, it would be a bad idea to try tackling another language at the same time: get used to the method (and maybe even try out a number of different methods, to see what you like best), apply it, master Gaelic, then think about whether you want to do another language.

But, don't people study two languages for university degrees?

Yes, they do: it's very common. In fact, there are some degree programmes where students take three languages at the same time. You need to bear in mind that these people are highly motivated, accustomed to learning languages, working on those languages full-time, and almost invariably at different stages of learning with each one. We have already discussed the first three factors here in different posts in this blog (motivation, familiarity with the process, and time invested), so we will leave those for now. Let's think about that last point, because it is at least as important as the other three.

I have already suggested that it might be ok to start working on another language once your Gaelic was already well-established. This is a key point. If you are at the point where you are speaking (or reading or writing, depending on your goal) fairly fluently in Gaelic, you would not do yourself any harm by taking on a new language. When we start to get to a high level with a language, progress feels glacially slow, and we can often get frustrated that we no longer have a sense of improving. But, by starting a new language at that time, we can remind ourselves of just how far we have come, and that revelation is a lot of fun!

Becoming well-established refers also to the extent to which you have made progress with the language itself, as well as the methods you are using. Become very comfortable with the structures (sound structures, grammatical structures, word structures), acquire a big vocabulary, and get a lot of practice with all of these things. All of this will take you to an upper-intermediate level. At this point, you could consider yourself well-established in Gaelic. Using our CEFR measurements, we could say that you should try to get to (as a minimum) B2 before you start another new language.

Those university students we were thinking about earlier are generally people who have studied a language to a decent level already. They continue with that intermediate language when they take up their degree, and they start a new language alongside it. This gives them variety in their studies, reminds them of how far they have progressed in their stronger language, gives them motivation to progress in their weaker language, and draws on the confidence and competences they have gained from studying a language before.

If you have reached the stage in your Gaelic where you feel quite confident about speaking to a native-speaker, or where you think you could write something fairly meaningful without throwing your whole text into Google Translate,* then you could certainly consider adding another language to your portfolio, as long as you feel you have the time.

But you need to remember that the time you invest in this new language is time that you now no longer have for working on your Gaelic. And, if you are indeed continuing to work on your Gaelic, you probably have less time available to you that you can invest in conquering the beginner and early-intermediate stages in your new language than the time you had when you did this with Gaelic. Therefore, expect it to be a harder slog and, potentially, to take longer than it did with Gaelic. If you have an hour each day in which you can work on your languages, and you used to spend that hour on Gaelic, you are now dividing it between two languages. You can still do it, but it will take more months/years to master the new language if you only give it 40 minutes a day instead of 60.

So, yes, it's possible. But be realistic. And also remember that you will have to find the time to maintain and even improve your Gaelic, too.

That's all very well, but can I learn two other languages as well as Gaelic?

* don't throw your Gaelic text into Google Translate, by the way: Google Translate makes up horrible Gaelic nonsense that is best suited to the bin

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