Here’s a truth of my life: I get a lot, lot, lot of emails from aspiring translators with questions.
That’s cool, in that aspiring translators should ask questions! That’s a lot of why I wrote So You Wanna Be a Translator etc., which many read before asking. But the thing is, I just can’t personally answer all of them in a timely manner. I can at least answer some of the frequently asked questions here on the blog, so I’ll start doing that instead.
So, here goes ultra-popular question to email me #1…
“Do you only have to stick to one language, or is it okay if I learn several at once? Will that be too much?”
I’m sorry to say that the short answer is, I don’t know. Even if I read all the research in the world about multi-language acquisition, I probably still wouldn’t know your answer. It’s true that some people successfully speak a half-dozen languages. Conversely, some people study a half-dozen languages and come away speaking none of them. I honestly can’t tell you what will happen to you.
Here’s what happened to me: I found it easy to study multiple languages in the same family (French & Spanish), and had no interference. On the other hand, I felt I had to choose between Japanese and the Romance languages. I chose Japanese.
Did I really have to choose? Heck, I was a teenager; who knows whether I understood any of my decisions. Maybe I was exactly right, and maybe I could have gone on in both and become equally fluent. I don’t think so, but I don’t have a time machine.
Again, some people work that way and some don’t. I imagine the easiest way to find out if you’re cut out for multilingual study is to go for it and see what happens. Take two different foreign language classes for a semester. Do you feel like you’re rocking both? If not, you can drop one.
My instinct is that choosing languages in the same family will help immensely if you really want to go the many languages route, but maybe your brain works in completely the opposite way from mine. I can certainly say, though, that when I’ve met professional-grade translators who work in three or more languages, they’ve never been three completely unrelated ones.
I’m sure that’s not satisfying since it’s not a “yes” or “no,” but I hope it helps a little!