How to Avoid Confusing Languages?

Is it hard for you to recall words when you are talking or writing in the language(s) you learn? Or do you often get confused in words of different languages?

Once, I had the same feel and I found a way to avoid confusing languages and to separate them in my head.

This article will teach you how you can do the same.

Why do we get confused?

There are several reasons for why we get confused in speaking different languages. In my opinion, two of them are very important and easy to change.

The first reason is we learn a language from our native language or any other language we are able to speak well. For example, when we learn the Spanish word Sonrisa, we learn “sonrisa = smile” and “smile = sonrisa”.

The second reason is sometimes we switch from the one language to another in a short period. 

Every time we do this, we think in both our native language and the language we study. It will be harder to separate these languages in our head.

What is important to avoid confusing languages?

We have to push ourselves to focus on languages separately and to create structure in learning. This is possible with little changes in the way we learn new words and sentences.

Look up the examples

If you don’t know a word in your non-native language, look up the examples or create sentences including that word.

For example, when you learn that ‘sonrisa’ is the Spanish word for ‘smile’, make a Spanish sentence containing this word: ‘No llores, quiero ver tu sonrisa.” (Don’t cry, I want to see your smile.)’. 

Don’t use the translator, but use the dictionary

If you’re advanced, you can use the dictionary in your non-native language to avoid confusing words of other languages.  

How to avoid confusing languages

It’s possible to apply the same in a verbal conversation. If you don’t understand a word, just ask for the definition and for examples (and not for the translation of the word). For example, ‘Podras explicarme la definición de ‘obra’ en español?’ (Could you explain the definition of ‘obra’ in Spanish to me?).

Describe the word you forgot

When we forget a word, we tend to use the word we already know in our native language. We should describe that word instead.

For example, if you forgot how you can say wheels of bicycles in Spanish, describe it: Las cosas redondas de las bicicletas!'(The round things/parts of bicycles)’.

Focus on one language a day

You should focus on one language a day. For example, if you learn both Spanish and German, then you could focus 3 days a week on Spanish and 4 days a week on German.

When you apply this, you allow yourself to think clearly in both languages you’re learning.

…or create an imaginary schedule (if you already speak more languages)

You can also create an imaginary schedule to avoid switching from one language to another in a short period. This is very helpful if you already speak multiple languages a day.

Try to focus on one language per activity and separate these tasks over the day. For example:

  • In the morning, focus on German when practicing German words on Duolingo
  • In daytime, focus on Dutch when going school/work/outside
  • In the evening, focus on Spanish when practicing Spanish with practice partners 

Talk to every person in one language

When your friends and practice partners are multilingual, you may talk in different languages with them…

Ese momento when you start pensar en dos idiomas at the same tiempo

If you want to avoid confusing words in different languages, you should talk in one language person. Or completely in one language a day. For example, talking with a person in German on Mondays and in Spanish on Tuesdays.

Inform your friends and multilingual practice partners

Inform your friends and practice partners about the language you are focussing on. If they know about your focus, they can adapt to it. This will help you to avoid confusing words in different languages too!

What’s your technique to avoid confusing languages?

I just described my technique to avoid confusing languages. What is yours?


Featured image by Jack Moreh via Stockvault

Kamila is a polyglot who taught herself over 5 languages using social media and apps. She created Polyglot’s Diary where she enjoys sharing her tips and experiences. Head over to her Instagram profile and YouTube Channel to follow her progress.

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