White Boy Learning Burmese

The journey of an average white guy trying to learn a non-Indo-European language

Multiple Languages at Once…


It seems that when I can’t think of anything to write, divine providence steps in and gives me something to write about.  In this case, the divine providence came in the form of a comment/question by “Gu Gu”

I’ve read that you can speak several languages. Have you ever learned two languages at once ? If so how do you cope and if not how much time do you give for one language to become proficient before you start to learn another? Your burmese is awesome and i assume you don’t even reside in burma? Thank you for this blog as well, I enjoy reading it a lot. Cheers!

I answered her question with the following comment:

Thanks for the kind words, Gugu! I’ll start with the end of your paragraph and work backwards :D
Thank you for reading and enjoying the blog, as it is a lot better for me to write in it when I know people actually like it! You’re correct, I do not live in Burma, however, sometimes, it’s almost as if I AM in Burma because there are certain things I can do here that make life a little bit more “Burmese”. Like, go to a Burmese grocery store, listen to Burmese music, visit Burmese people’s homes to chat, go to my church (where we worship IN BURMESE :D ), or even attend the festivals at the monastery like the ရွင္ျပဳပြဲ (Novice Ordination Ceremony). I actually suppose to suffice the rest of your question, it may be time for me to make an English blog post! Stay tuned and keep asking questions when you have them!

As promised, I will now answer the former part of her question:

One thing that must be clarified, first of all, is that when you are learning something, it is a constant process.  You are  always improving, always making mistakes, always practicing, and always utilizing whatever knowledge/information you’ve gained in some way or another.  Now, as for me, this is how I view my “linguistic journey”:

When I learn a language, I never stop learning.  Whenever I had an English class in high school, I always ran into those annoying “big words” that I had to get a dictionary out for because I simply had never seen them before.  The same goes with Spanish, German, and especially Burmese.  Every time I try to watch a news program in any of my second-languages, I struggle a bit to understand because I am getting a meta-cognitive workout!  So, the short-answer to your question of learning multiple languages at once, is that you never really stop learning one and switch off, as if you were on the monkey bars at the playground.  Rather, you take one language, concentrate on it for a while to get a solid foundation (while still working on your other languages on the side, to make sure you don’t forget anything!), and then you try to find different ways to exercise each language.

What do you mean “exercise each language?”

This is the fun part! 😀

Imagine you’re in a weight room.  On one end, you have your treadmills, ellipticals, and stationary bikes; somewhere else, you have the dumbbells, the chest-press, and a whole bunch of other things that I don’t know because my “work-out” vocabulary isn’t too good.  (See?  That’s more English to learn, right there!)  Anyway, I digress…  Each machine works to strengthen each different muscle or muscle-group of the body.  They’re designed that way.  The fun part about working out with your languages is, you get to design the machines 😀

Here are a few things I do when practicing different languages:

  • For Spanish, I would listen to Coffee Break Spanish every day on the bus ride to school.  I would also listen to awesome hispanic artists such as Juanes or Luis Fonsi.  Listening to them sure helped my accent, poetic ability, not to mention romantic vocabulary in Spanish 😉
  • For German, being my major in college makes German a bit easier, as we are assigned books to read.  My professor also has this great exercise where we write a paragraph a week, and choose seven words (no matter the type of word) and find at least two synonyms for each word!  How’s that for increasing your vocab?  Germany is also very linguistically aware, in that there are plenty of resources put out by Germans (not by English-speakers wanting to learn German) to help DaF (Deutsch als Fremdsprache) learners everywhere!  You can view German TV from ARD Mediathek or check out the popular news outlet Deutsche Welle, as well as many other things.  A very great thing for me with German right now is that I have a Burmese friend living in Germany, and when my Burmese may fail, instead of having to revert to boring old English, I can try to get my meaning across in German and learn from my mistakes!
  • Filipino (Tagalog), I regret is the abused step-child of my languages, because I simply don’t give it enough Input-Output time.  My stepmother is Filipina, I’ve been to the Philippines, I do have quite a large number of Filipino friends on Facebook, not to mention probably better resources available online for learning Tagalog than there are for learning Burmese.  However, I just don’t give it enough time, as much as I should.  Anyway, when I do study, I like to rock out on my awesome FILIPINO KARAOKE MACHINE that I bought in the provinces for around $50.  I also came upon a few classic Filipino books written by Rizál, which I don’t understand, yet, but hopefully will someday.  As I’ve explained with Burmese Karaoke, Filipino karaoke is great because you can look up words from songs that you don’t know.  I will even say that it’s easier with Filipino karaoke, because words are broken up just as English words are.
  • And for the finale, Burmese ought to have it’s own post [NOTE TO SELF, ELABORATE THIS IN SEPERATE POST] because I do a lot, so I’ll just number some stuff off:
  1. Karaoke
  2. Read articles from news sources
  3. Listen/watch Burmese news clips (like from VOA or RFA)
  4. Burmese Karaoke
  5. (Sometimes) try to watch Burmese movies (I’m not a movie person)
  6. Attempt to read Burmese poems (flowery vocab)
  7. Chat with friends on Facebook, Gmail, ooVoo, Skype, etc.
  8. Go to Burmese stores
  9. Read the bible in Burmese/ attend church in Burmese
  10. More.

So, to restate what I said earlier, the way I practice language is to every day find at least a few minutes to work in one of the languages in one way or another.  Don’t make it a chore or boring!  Just make it seem like a normal activity like it is to the native people who actually speak the language!

Thanks for writing Gugu,



9 thoughts on “Multiple Languages at Once…

  1. Thank you very much for your reply. ေက်းဇူးအမ်ားၾကီးတင္ပါတယ္. Kudos on your devotedness on learning a language .I did smile when I read that you even go to the church , worship in burmese and yes it sounded like you are already in Burma. Thanks for your tips on learning languages as well. Currently , I’m learning Mandarin and I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish so after giving some time on Mandarin, may be I could start Spanish soon 🙂 . And like you said, there are always new English vocabs. Again , ေက်းဇူးအမ်ား ၾကီးတင္ ပါတယ္. မဂၤလာပါ =)

  2. ဟုတ္က့ဲ ကြၽန္မဗမာပါ

    • ေကာင္းပါတယ္။ ဂူဂူလည္း အဂၤလိပ္လုိေျပာတာ အရမ္းေကာင္းပါတယ္။ ၾကဳိးစားလုိက္ပါဦး။

  3. Hello….It is really good to know those tips useful in learning new languages. Thanks for sharing. Just out of my curiosity, what made you choose to learn Burmese among other languages. Are there lots of Burmese People in your community?

  4. Sure I will read it. And Merry Christmas !!!

  5. ေက်းဇူးတင္ပါတယ္. Happy Holidays! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s