Finding a Balance Between Two Primary Foreign Languages

July 31, 2016

During the 10 weeks when I was keeping my language learning logs, I mentioned repeatedly the conundrum of trying to balance my two main foreign languages — Russian and Georgian. I'm living in Georgia and "need" to improve my Georgian, but my language of mastery is Russian, and it's very important to me personally and professionally to continue perfecting my Russian.

I think I've managed to partially resolve this problem, and a few others at the same time. The solution has been to develop a kind of morning routine that includes practice in both languages at different times.

(I won't go into detail about the non-linguistic parts of the routine, though they doubtless no less interesting.)

So, the third thing I do in the mornings is deep pronunciation training in Russian. Lying down with my eyes closed, I shadow in Russian using a science podcast played at half speed (when I'm in the mood I speed it up to full speed or even to 1.5x).

Shadowing means repeating what you're listening to aloud without pausing the recording. I've found this to be an awesome tool for maintaining vocal Fitness and working on intonation, fluidity of speech, pronunciation, and general speaking style.

After about 20 minutes, I get up and stick my iPhone in my pocket and continue to shadow while doing any cleanup necessary in my apartment. I generally switch the speed to full speed while I do this. Depending on the amount of household chores to do, I may do 20-90 minutes of shadowing on a typical day. My stamina for this is far greater than it used to be. When I started a year or so ago, it was hard for me to do just 5 minutes at full speed.

I also often record terminology I want to remember in my "simultaneous interpreter's glossary" which I have open on my computer.

This may sound extreme to some people, but I've done a lot of extreme things to perfect my Russian, which is already near-native. Talking aloud to myself for 20-90 minutes fits right in with the other weird things I've done :)

After I do my writing for the day and start preparing to go out for the afternoon and evening, I turn on my Georgian podcast. I'm not doing shadowing with it right now, but just listen to it in the background. I find just doing this helps keep the Georgian part of my brain in a more active mode.

This way, I feel like I'm not compromising on either language for the sake of the other. It's a continual balancing game, of course.

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