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How To Learn Multiple Languages Without


Getting Confused: The Laddering Method
June 19, 2007

By khatzumoto

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It can safely be said that almost everything Ive written on this site is backed up by personal experience and personal
success. Certainly, when it comes to methods that Ive shared, I share them because I have used them myself and gotten
great results.
One of the reasons I stopped visiting online forums for Japanese learners early in my path to Japanese is that there is, in a
lot of cases, too much talking and whining and not enough doing. Heat and no light. Theorizing without experimentation. It
became abundantly clear that if I ever wanted to get anywhere, I would have to shut up and start walking the road, rather
than discussing the map, the trip, the territory and whether the journey was even worth taking.
So I hesitate to share something that is still in development as it were, but here it is anyway.
As you may know, Japanese was, in a sense, a detour I took on my way to studying Chinese. Of course, because of the
intermittency and lack of consistency with which I have studied Chinese, I suck at it (for now). There was a time when I
sucked at both Japanese and Chinese simultaneously, until one of my friends, Marcelle, gave me the impetus to stop
sucking at two languages and get good at one. So I picked Japanese for economic reasons. Japanese speakers were getting
sweet-looking jobs; I wanted a sweet-looking job; I should become a Japanese speaker. Very straightforward.
But I still want to be good at Chinese. Every time I see, hear or meet a Chinese person Im like Come on, man!!! Look at all
the fun theyre having!! They live in a world of all kanji all the time, and here you are still wading in the kanji-kana kiddie
pool (no offense to modern Japanese writing intended)! Get on it, dewd!
Which leads to the idea of laddering languages. Its kind of a compromise between learn many languages, perhaps
simultaneously and stop sucking at two languages and get good at one. Now, I dont know about you, but I know people
(including myself) who have gotten themselves confused when trying to learn multiple languages. Two of my sisters
attempted to learn Spanish and French simultaneously and got so mixed up they nixed the whole project. And after taking
almost 10 straight years of French in school and then starting to learn Chinese, I started unintentionally mixing Chinese into
my French and vice versa. Je voudrais Hmmnot good.
I wondered why this was and quickly realized the reason. I had used the same analogies in my brain that I made for
French in order to learn Chinese, so they were overlapping. Kind of liketrying to write on a piece of paper that has been
under the previous piece of paper you were writing on, and so has all these pen impressions on it. The problem was that I
had used English as a base language for both Chinese and French. Bad.

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The idea with laddering languages is to (as far as possible) never use the same base language twice. For example, I used
English as a springboard (base language) for learning Japanese. But I will not use it as a springboard for future languages.
Japanese is now my base language for learning Mandarin Chinese, and Mandarin will be my base language for learning
CantoneseI get the impression that Cantonese may be kind of a dead end in terms of lacking materials for learning other
languages. Hopefully I am wrong on that, but if not, I may have to re-use a different language as a base (I would
recommend one use the most recent base language available, i.e. not going back all the way to English but just stepping
back onto (in my case) Mandarin or Japanese); this is admittedly dangerous, but perhaps unavoidable unless I bust out a
purely monolingual Norsk Experiment. Of course, in each case, as with Japanese, I will eventually switch to only learning in
the language in question using the language in question (Autolearning? Monolingual Acquisiton? No idea how to phrase this
one). So, I will go Chinese-Chinese only at some point.
The beauty of laddering is that it requires you to be pretty darn good at the base language before you use it to learn another
language. But even if you arent perfect, the worst that can happen is that youll increase your proficiency in the base
language by necessity . Laddering also prevents deterioration of proficiency in the base language, which is always a danger
when taking on a new language you wouldnt want to start sucking at something you had worked so hard to get good at.
So, I am currently using Japanese translations when learning Chinese sentences (my electronic dictionary has ChineseJapanese-Chinese on itand a buttload of example sentences however, my environment is not yet Sinified, so the pace
remains slow for now). This way, Japanese remains firmly on my radar, and I even learn some obscure Japanese words, but
I also get to spread my wings into Chinese. Very much a win-win situation. I never make reference to English for a Chinese
word. And I never find myself getting confused between Japanese and Chinese.
Anyway, thats about the gist of it. Sorry for discussing something thats still incomplete, but I thought I might share it with
you.
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43 Responses to How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting


Confused: The Laddering Method
Paul D on June 19, 2007 at 22:00
Id add that there are very good resources in Japanese for learning other languages especially Chinese,
Korean, and the major European ones. In some cases, better than what youd find in English.
Like or Dislike:

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(72)_
- (
).wmv - YouTube http://t.co/OrUKfCRO 5
hrs ago
2011-07-12 10.

YouTube http://t.co/FR3wAzq8 5
hrs ago
More updates...

REPLY

khatzumoto on June 19, 2007 at 22:06

Youre absolutely right, Paul. I am blown away by the amouit of stuff in Japanese for language-learning.
The popularity/presence/preponderance of electronic dictionaries (and their high quality) is also really cool.
Once you go electronic you can never return to paper. Never, I say!
I actually own a J-J kanji dictionary in paper form, but I only use it to browse for fun new kanji to learn, not for
actually looking up information.
Like or Dislike:

PHASE 0: BELIEF

REPLY

Mental Tools
Anna on June 19, 2007 at 23:43

PHASE 1: EQUIPMENT
AJATT Amazon Japan
AJATT Amazon USA
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FNN News
iKnow
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Japanese AudioBooks
JustinTV
KeyHole TV Setup Guide

Interesting! I was actually thinking about your method and Chinese (Im still ony whimpy European
languages, maybe one day).
I mean, you always hear these people moan and whine about Chinese, how hard it is, and how theyve been learning
it for one-frillion years and theyre still only intermediate. Japanese and Chinese (tones aside) cant be that different to
learn, but Ive never seen a single Chinese success story even though there are lots of people (like yourself) who have
had major success with Japanese.
Why is it? Do the tones really screw people up? A lack of desire/materials? Or the same reason most people dont
learn Japanese correctly (textbooks, classes, etc)?
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REPLY

LiveStation
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khatzumoto on June 19, 2007 at 23:59

NHK High
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>Why is it? Do the tones really screw people up? A lack of desire/materials? Or the same reason most
people dont learn Japanese correctly (textbooks, classes, etc)?

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PHASE 2: KANJI
A Brief Note on the Kanji
[PDF] | Heisig
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Hey Anna!

Yeah, good question. I really honestly believe that human languages are, fundamentally, nothing but dialects of one
another. So I dont think its anything inherent in Chinese. About a sixth of humanity speaks, reads and yes, writes it
just fine [any illiteracy is a function of economics, not linguistics; plenty of people find themselves unable to read
alphabetic languages; meanwhile Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan have some of the highest literacy rates in the world,
but I digress].
Id have to go with bad methods being the cause. Us blaming the Chinese language for our suckage is very much akin
to a physicist blaming the universe for her inability to understand it. Its all those stoopid sub-atomic particles fault!
Other universes are so easy to understand!mmm hmm, pull the other one. And the reason methods for learning
Chinese are so poor still, and success stories so few, is that China and the Chinese world simply have not been on
enough non-East-Asian peoples radar screens for long enough. Mainland China was either too far away or too
Communist until at least the 1970s, and still an economic backwater for years after that. Back then, Taiwan was still
being called Formosatoo small, too irrelevant, too apt to learn Japanese or English. Hong Kong was a British colony,
and the only British colonists who ever bother to learn a language are those who are born and raised locally and make
friends with fellow children of the land. That leaves Japanwide open since at least the 1950s. Economically significant
since the 1970s and 80s. So a head-start of 20-30 years in international interaction compared to China. Fifty years
from now I imagine everybody and their dog will know some amount of Chinese.
Like or Dislike:

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Colin on June 20, 2007 at 11:30

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Hello,
Ive heard this idea somewhere else and thought it sounded good. I am have just started studying Chinese,
and although most of my study is using English materials, I often like to see translations in Japanese. Id like
to try learning Chinese using Japanese as a base language more seriously, but I lack the money to buy textbooks or
the sort. Do you know any good websites for learning Chinese in Japanese? Do you have any methods you could
suggest? (that are free haha)
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REPLY

khatzumoto on June 20, 2007 at 12:19

Hey Colin
Remembering the Kanji
Remembering the Kanji
Author Website
Remembering the Kanji
Free Sample (PDF)

Remembering the Kanji


III
Remembering the Kanji
Yahoo Group
Reviewing the Kanji

PHASE 3: KANA

Im afraid I dont know of any good websites yet. Since most Chinese study in Japan is done with a view to
doing business in Mainland China, the sites tend to use the jiantizi. Im a big fantizi bigot, so dont do much on them.
Also, the general language learning trend in Japan, as with the rest of the world, is still biased towards over-analysis
and under-pragmatics. Too much grammar explanation, not enough examples. But my biggest problem of all with
many J-websites for Chinese is that there is a tendency to use images, not text, to display the Chinese. Very freaking
inelegant.
Having said that, there are lots of good materials out there for Japanese learners of Chinese. I happen to think myself
the cheapest git to ever walk this Earth, butnone of these materials are very high on the free department. Like I
said, I tend to view learning a language at least in part as a financial investment, so I have picked economically viable
languages to learn, knowing that there will be some return down the line. Thats the only way I can justify spending
hundreds of bucks on an electronic dictionary to my frugal side. But I commend you for looking for cheaper ways to
do things; its a worthy effort.
My main study materials (in order of importance) are:
x Electronic dictionary (Canon V90 Wordtank) [example sentences up the wazoo, Chinese+Japanese+full pinyin to
save time looking up a reading]
x Chinese translations of some of my favorite Japanese manga (Crayon Shin-chan, Keroro Gunsou)
x Taiwan dramas (they come with Chinese subtitles. Woohoo!)
x Books of Japanese-Chinese example sentences
x (similar to Nihongo JournalI dont subscribe to it or anything, I just bought a couple of volumes;
the content is a bit hit-and-miss for me)
No textbooks in sight; textbooks are, generally speaking, the devil. The dictionary set me back US$250 or so, the
books are US$5 to US$10 apiece. If you had to start somewhere I would say go for the electronic dictionary (it has
J/J, E/E, C/C, J/E/J, C/J/C, E/C/Esomething on the order of 20 books combined into one package, so it actually is a
good price when looked at in terms of content). I didnt buy these materials all at once. Just little by little, on the
order of $10 to $40 a month. Chinese books and videos are a category in my monthly budget.

Remembering the Kana

PHASE 4: SENTENCES
10,000 Sentences Part
1: Why
10,000 Sentences Part
2: How
10,000 Sentences Part
3.0: Where
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3.5: More On What
Sentences to Learn
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4: My First Sentence
Pack
10,000 Sentences: Input
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All About Particles


AntiMoon on Input
AntiMoon on Sentences
Drama Note
/Aozora
Bunko/BlueSky Library

.
Finally, as far as getting TV showstheres always the, shall we say, more Robin Hoodian sectors of the Internet
Let me be frank: before coming to Japan, I downloaded Japanese content in large amounts (I did buy somejust
under US$1000 worth over 18 monthsbut I d/led a heckuva lot, which gives you some idea of just how much
Japanese media was in my life)I felt justified in being a poor college student using it for educational purposes and in
the fact that there are effectively no distribution networks for Japanese content outside of Japan; Japanese media
production houses still havent gotten the memo that Japan is cool; they still have no idea that people outside Japan
are thirsty for Japanese materials other than anime; they still dont know that they are making some world-class
stories that anyone anywhere could enjoy and relate to (see? nihonjinron hurts everyone!) so theres really no attempt
at or expectation of sales outside of Japan. Anyway, since coming to Japan, Ive tried to atone by buying and renting
a lot of stuff. But if you are in the same situation as I was (college student whose best idea for making money was a
US$10/hour job), I cannot fault you for making the download choice. Perhaps think of it as borrowing (?)theres an
ethical slippery slope! Anyway, if the feds come, I dont you and I didnt say anything (haha!).
One final thingyou could just keep studying Japanese for now, but start gradually assembling Chinese materials in
preparation for your Chinese projectthat was my approach.
Like or Dislike:

REPLY

Glenn on June 20, 2007 at 21:11

Interesting topic, and I want to thank you for a fascinating website. Id already acquired an advanced or so
level of Japanese when I found this site (incidentally I happened to come across it while taking a detour
from a Chinese forum), but I still find myself lacking in areas that I shouldnt be. Its mostly lack of effort on
my part, but anyway
You use the Canon V90 for Chinese, right? That uses jiantizi if Im not mistaken, doesnt it? Unfortunately most
dictionaries are biased that way, it seems. But youve already gone through all the hanzi in Rick Harbaughs book, so
you should be fine with them, right?
I have the Casio EX-word XD-SW6400, and just ordered the Chinese and Korean dictionaries that can be appended to
it. It has a writing pad, so its really great for when I come across that kanji with some funny okurigana (you know
what I mean; its like youve already gone through the trouble of learning a kun-yomi, then out of nowhere you get
hit with something youve never seen before). Loads of stuff on it, but Id rather it had than . It has a
good , though: Progressive it has more example sentences than it does entries, and I often use it instead
of the Japanese dictionary for just that reason.
Some questions about Chinese learning materials, though. Taiwan usage and mainland usage differ at times if Im not

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Japanese In Mangaland

Japanese In Mangaland
2

mistaken, so do you make a note that you found a certain sentence in a Taiwan drama or mainland drama when you
enter your example sentences? Im not sure about the dialect situation with Chinese, either. With Japanese shows it
seems that you either get the standard language, or some variant of it (some dialect around Tokyo), or you get
Kansai-ben, so its not too bad. But do Chinese shows stick to the standard in their respective areas? For instance, are
mainland shows based mostly on the Beijing dialect, or do they sometimes have some southern dialects in there with
there crazy sound changes like tone reversals (2nd becoming 4th) or using different readings for hanzi (like shi
turning into si or even xi)? It seems like it should all be pretty standard, but Im never sure about these things.
Another question: Im assuming you have a different account for Chinese than Japanese. Ive been wondering about
this for a few weeks now (at least), but do you have a separate account for characters than for the language
(sentences)? I was wondering if that would be a better way to go, but it would really eat up a lot of time. Also, when
you do your Chinese sentences, do you put the sentences in hantizi and jiantizi, and then put the readings and
meanings in the answer box? I was thinking that would be the way to go, to get used to seeing both sets and
acquiring reading proficiency in both of them, even if I only intend on writing hantizi, but do you have any different
ideas?
I guess thats all for questions for now. Sorry for the long, and aimlessly rambling post. Ive had some of these
questions for a while, and figured since you were tackling Chinese with this post this would be the time to ask them.
Also, its possible Ill be back later to ask more. ^^;; At any rate, heres a little about why Chinese is so
difficult; its tongue-in-cheek, and quite hilarious: www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Like or Dislike:

REPLY

Japanese In Mangaland
3
james on June 20, 2007 at 22:53

Japanese
Sentence Patterns for
Effective
Communication: A SelfStudy Course and
Reference

This is a dumb question but its been frustrating me no end. Example,

how do you pronounce the on the end of . I see this everywhere but its one of those things I cant look up
that easily.
enlighten me katzumoto
james
Like or Dislike:

REPLY

Mangajin's Basic
Japanese Through
Comics (Part 2)

Glenn on June 21, 2007 at 20:29

Not sure what happened to my last comment, but since it was all over the place, I guess its for the best. Ill
make this one shorter.
First of all, interesting post, as they pretty much all are. I have some questions for you.
1. I was thinking that maybe it would be a good idea to have separate accounts for hanzi/hanja/kanji and for
sentences (separate accounts for different languages seems like a no-brainer), but I was wondering how you handled
that. Did you lump all of the characters with the sentences, or split them up and review them separately? It seems like
it might be a good idea, but it would take up twice the time. I guess its all about how much free time you have.

Mangajin's Basic
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2. Do you know what the dialect situation is with Chinese TV shows/movies/etc.? I assume that anything from the
mainland would be close to the standard dialect, which is something like the language spoken around Beijing, but I
wonder if there isnt the same sort of situation with Mandarin as with Japanese. That is, sometimes in Japanese shows
therell be a character that speaks a non-standard dialect (usually Kansai-ben, but sometimes more rural ones), which
can be really confusing if you dont know any better, and pretty tough even if you do if you arent used to it yet. Ive
heard that in southern China therell be differences like shi being pronounced like si or xi, and 2nd tone becoming
4th tone and other stuff like that, so I wonder how far thats made it into mass media.
3. Did you decide on either mainland Mandarin or Taiwanese Mandarin, or are you tackling both at the same time?
From what I understand the differences are fairly minor (like different words for week and variant pronunciations
like the ones listed above), but I think its still a pretty important distinction to make. When you put in example
sentences, do you mark them as mainland versus Taiwanese usage?
4. Just out of curiosity, do you put both hantizi and jiantizi for your example sentences, or do you just put hantizi?
Seems like putting both would be the best way to go, as that way you would become familiar with both, even if you

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Jim Breen's WWWJDIC


Sanseido Web Dictionary
Tak Dictionary
Yahoo Dictionary

[BOOKS]

only plan on writing one.


Finally, I want to personally thank you for starting and keeping up this site, as its been a strong motivation and an
inspiration for me. Er, I hope that doesnt sound too corny, but I mean it. Anyway, for a little : this page is
about why its so hard to learn Chinese. Its pretty funny, and has some interesting information in it too. (And in case
you were wondering, yes, I do think this one is shorter)
Like or Dislike:

REPLY

Glenn on June 21, 2007 at 20:30

Im an idiot. I forgot the link to the page I was talking about. Here it is:
www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
13
Secrets for Speaking
Fluent Japanese

Like or Dislike:

REPLY

khatzumoto on June 21, 2007 at 20:47

Hey Glenn, thanks for commenting!

1. Ive done both the separate account thing and the lump-em-in-one thing. Both have advantages and
disadvantages. Right now, Im choosing lumping.
2. Unfortunately, I dont know enough about Chinese TV shows to answer that. I mostly watch shows from Taiwan.
From personal experience in Chinese and Japanese, a variant accent is hard to begin with, but you do get used to it
after a while. Remember, you only have to *understand* it, not to be able to reproduce it. My Chinese calligraphy
teacher at college had a weird northern accent (not Beijing), he slurs his Chinese like crazy; I hated it at first, because
I couldnt understand it, but it grew on meI learned to parse itand now I miss it!!
3. Im kind of mixing it upa mix of Mainland and Taiwan Mandarin (Nanjing Mandarin?). I work on speaking clearly
and keeping my tones. My teacher at college (a lady from Taiwan) advised not having too strong of a regional accent,
so I imagine I may well end up with Chinese that is very good but also very neutral. As an aside, I dont like saying
shi as si, because it seems like it would just confuse matters; its not like there are that many sounds in Chinese to
begin with.so I guess the bias is toward Mainland pronunciation standards(?).
4. My dictionary shows jianti in the examples and body text (jianti/fanti in the headings), so I get to read some jianti
(ugh), but my sentences only contain fanti. Since jianti come from fanti, I find it easy enough, if aesthetically
displeasing, to make the jump down. So I do get to see both quite against my willLike I said, Im a bigot.
5. Thanks for the encouragement! It means a lot to know that its had any impact. Sometimes its hard to tell! And no
it isnt corny. P.S. that link didnt come up
Like or Dislike:

REPLY

Making Sense of
Japanese: What the
Textbooks Don't Tell You

Glenn on June 21, 2007 at 21:34

Ah, I see. Indeed, whatever you have the most exposure to will be the easiest to understand.
About the TV shows, where are you getting them from? An aside about subtitles: Ive been renting Japanese
DVDs from Tsutaya expecting them to have Japanese subtitles, but no luck so far. The dubs that Ive watched only
had subs from the English versions, so they didnt match the dubbed dialogue. Have you not had that problem?

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Yes, unfortunately, it does seem that most dictionaries exclusively use jiantizi, including the ones I just ordered as addons to my electronic dictionary (Casio EX-word XD-SW6400, in case you were wondering. By the way, the Progressive
in this dictionary is great it has more example sentences than entries!) Im somewhat of a hantizi bigot
myself; I even want to write things like
(ripped shamelessly off of this
site: nayami.shiawasehp.net/ningen/kaizen/kaiwanigate.html).
And the reason the link didnt come up is because Im an idiot and forgot to put it up. By the way, can we use HTML
tags on this board? Anyway, here it is, for real this time: www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html
Like or Dislike:

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khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 01:42

James!
Sorry, dude! Your post got marked as spam! Right down there with tight ebony models and stuffOK, so
to answer your question:

in this case is read . On the authority of my both my personal experience and my Super

I LOVE these kind of questions, btw, because they ARE hard to look up. I used to randomly asked Japanese friends
these kinds of things a lot. Feel free to ask me any time.
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khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 01:52

Glenn
I even want to write things like

I know EXACTLY what you mean, manI know that kanji have undergone changes in the past, but theyve been
stable for a long time. The post-WW2 changes were an emotional knee-jerk reaction by war-ravaged East Asian
governments with a massive cultural inferiority complexIt was a huge baby-with-the-bath-water move, the
culmination of all that late-19th century Lets write in the vernacular, like the Europeans. Lets dress like the
Europeans. Lets colonize and exploit militarily weaker people, like the Europeans. Heck, lets BECOME the Europeans.
But if you look at ( / (wen2yan2wen2), it makes perfect sense. You do not necessarily need to
write as you speakin a sense, writing is already an abstraction from speech. That took that abstraction to the
point that people with completely different spoken languages could all communicate with each other in text, I think is
so, so cool. With the Internet, we can share text worldwide, simultaneously now. As I see it, the times are even MORE
appropriate for a system like .
Anyway, I could whine about this all day. You can use HTML here!
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khatzumoto on June 22, 2007 at 03:03

Glenn,
As for where to get Chinese TV shows:
x Tsutaya Discas has quite a few Taiwan dramas (search by country of origin), but they mostly have J-subs.
x Ebay was a place I used to shop for shows.
x Books.com.tw, is like Taiwans Amazon.com. Lots of good shows. Cost of living is slightly lower in TW, so your yen
goes far. Shipping is fast (my books came in two daysto Japanfrom Taiwan) and very reasonably priced.
x Friends
x Chinese shops
x Online (PPLiveTV, etc.)
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Anna on June 22, 2007 at 20:31

Wow, thanks Khatzumoto! Maybe there is hope for Chinese students after all, heh.
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reineke on June 23, 2007 at 04:18

http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-multiple-languages-without-getting-confused-the-laddering-method[7/10/2012 8:35:34 PM]

How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

Hi
Thanks for the link to the Norsk experiment. It is similar to your springboard idea, only the man is studying
a language from scratch only using original materials. He says hes having fun but it looks rather painful for most
Im not sure how effective this method would be with
language learners. I suppose hes more hard core than you
Japanese. It would be intriguing to try something like this for a closely related language. Spanish Portuguese for
example. I like the springboard idea. The only problem is that I have invested too much into my learning materials and
that a lot of languages dont have sufficient materials for some other languages. Japanese > Chinese is an excellent
idea, though.
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Kick Ass 2007 | PodLearner on June 26, 2007 at 07:18


[...] My Chinese is several orders of magnitudes better than my Japanese, and thus Ive decided to use Khatzumotos
laddering method to learn Japanese that is, learning Japanese through Chinese. Living in Shanghai makes Chinese
material for Japanese learning inexpensive, and Japanese is the second most commonly learned foreign language in
China behind English, meaning that resources are plentiful. Hopefully approaching Japanese through Chinese will both
help to separate them in my mind and improve my Chinese. [...]
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Katherine on November 3, 2007 at 07:30

For Chinese materials, try Kinokuniya Books (www.kinokuniya.com/). At least their Seattle store has lots of
both Chinese and Japanese materials. I havent looked for Chinese-Japanese bilingual stuff, but since their
core audience is Japanese I would guess its as good as their (excellent) Japanese-English selection.
Physical stores are located at
www.kinokuniya.co.jp/english/contents/network04.html (outside Japan)
www.kinokuniya.co.jp/english/contents/network02.html (in Japan)
Id recommend visiting a store if you can: their web page is terrible. (Maybe the Japanese version is better?)
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Ashman on March 25, 2008 at 13:03

Greetings!
First of all, Khatzumoto, I honestly do believe you are a living legend. I have been studying Japanese since
elementary school, through middle/high school and two years at university, and after all that time I think sadly I can
still only call myself upper intermediate in speaking, and lower intermediate/totally **** at reading/writing.
HOWEVER, all that changed when I discovered your site a few months ago. I am now powering through Remembering
The Kanji, and Im just itching to get onto the 10,000 sentences. And (no offence), its not actually those two tools
which have made the real difference..its that I had completely forgotten to ENJOY studying Japanese (my university
teachers contributed to that a lot). Suddenly, im having fun again and learning much more.
In fact, I was so worn out by my futile efforts in Japanese, that about 4 months ago I decided to take a break, and try
something new. I went to Taiwan for 3 months to learn Chinese. It was fantastic. And to all the sceptics: LEARNING
CHINESE IS NOT DIFFICULT. Seriously. In many ways I believe its easier than Japanese. The grammar is far simpler
(no excessive verb conjugating); and the Chinese Characters tend to only have one yomikata, making them a
thousand times easier to remember. As for pronunciation and tones, certainly Chinese phonetics are much harder than
Japanese for a native-English speaker to get their tongue around. BUT, after about two weeks intensively studying the
tones and phonemes of Chinese, I know them like the back of my hand. And in the scheme of things, two weeks is a
VERY short time. After that, if you can pronounce Chinese, the rest is easy! Jia you!
Now Im in Japan for 3 months, and am attempting an almost full-time AJATT approach to Japanese study, while
keeping up a bit of Chinese as well. Your laddering method sounds great, but I still dont think my Japanese is quite
ready for use in learning Chinese (given ive still not finished RTK, nor started the 10,000 sentences). Do you think if I
continue both my Chinese and Japanese study for now using English as the base language for both, that I will get
confused? I want to try laddering, but until my Japanese is good enough, should I ditch Chinese and wait? Or just
continue with English for both?
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How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time
REPLY

khatzumoto on March 28, 2008 at 10:13

Some say (hit two birds with one stone), and that can work sometimes.
But, the idea that (the hunter who chases two catches neither) applies even
more often.
Do one. Then the other. I know its a tough choice, but youll be grateful later.
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All Japanese All The Time Dot Com Chinese Project Notes 10: Big Developments (Anki, Text-ToSpeech, Cantonese, Victory Calendar) on May 6, 2008 at 10:02
[...] you may be aware, Cantonese has been on my radar for quite some time. When I made the decision to learn it,
I was already focusing on learning Mandarin. The reasonable [...]
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Peter on June 21, 2008 at 15:02

khatzumoto,
I understand that Chinese and Japanese differ, but they share kanji. What about languages that are entirely
unrelated (at least, apparently)? For instance, can one use Japanese as a base language from which to learn french?
Thanks again for the great website and congratulations on the book launch.
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Alec

on June 21, 2008 at 18:52

Peter:
Im not Khatzumoto but heres what I think: Learning French from English at first will probably be more
efficient as the words and their uses are more similar. Therell be less explanation (Eg; The usage of Comment a va ?
is more similar to How are you than Genki desuka.) and youll end up more accurate than if you learnt from
Japanese. However, this wont be benefit your Japanese obviously. If you learnt French at first from Japanese, your
French might suffer but your Japanese will benefit. Its just a balancing act I imagine. If youre learning a language
unrelated to both, I would think it would make sense to go the second language (Japanese) which youre trying to
learn and dont want to forget.
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All Mandarin, All The Time on July 13, 2008 at 17:02


[...] writes about mixing up languages when learning more than one at the same time on his blog. I read this, but at
the time I thought it was total hogwash. Ive tried to learn many [...]
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Victoria

on July 27, 2008 at 16:26

> Why is it? Do the tones really screw people up? A lack of desire/materials? Or the
> same reason most people dont learn Japanese correctly (textbooks, classes, etc)?
From my personal experience with Mandarin, Id say its tones that screw people up, but thats not to suggest theyre
actually that difficult. The problem is that people dont expect them, think their weird so lack confidence that they

http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-multiple-languages-without-getting-confused-the-laddering-method[7/10/2012 8:35:34 PM]

How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

will learn them, dont know how to approach them and dont have realistic expectations about how long it will take to
learn them.
To learn tones you need to do a lot of listening; as with all language study, theres a lot of people who dont
appreciate the need to actually *do* the homework. With Mandarin, listening is very important you need to give
your brain a chance to realise it needs to start paying attention to aspects of speech its usually ignored (unless youre
coming from another tonal language). Its possible your brain has actually put effort into ignoring it, to cancel out the
effects of regional dialect so it can figure out what the word is.
It took about a year for me to start tuning into tones, and that was with 2 hours lessons a week and probably about
2-3 hours listening a week in my own time. If I was starting now, Id get some Mandarin podcast burned to cd and
put it in my radio alarm, watch a lot more Mandarin TV/film, and just try to increase my exposure to it as much as
possible. People give up before they get to that stage, because nobody tells them how long it will take, or gives them
confidence that it can be achieved.
Secondly, theres speaking it. You have to accept that to speak Mandarin, its probably more akin to singing. I heard so
many people try to speak Mandarin, I found it hard to take seriously in the end. They just didnt get it which is a
shame because I know some of them really wanted to. Youve got to sing it. Let go, do it in private you *will* feel
self conscious. Start SLOWLY you have to slow things down massively to get to grips with articulating sounds in a
different way. Only when the tones are coming out right should you speed it up. Everyone wants to have learned their
basics yesterday, so they speak, or try to tone too quick, and Hi its great to meet you comes out as You! Very fat
please postbox or something random like that. Saves embarassment, FAILS as communication.
To sum it up, if youre going to learn Mandarin, just give yourself a goddamned break. Dont expect to tune in for a
year or so, but know that if you put the time in you will.
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Alec

on July 28, 2008 at 07:25

Thanks for the advice, Victoria! Im about to start studying Mandarin in September and the thing that scares
me the most is the tones. I realise I have to do a lot of listening but Id not heard of singing the language.
I can see how useful this will be and Ill try singing Mandarin when I start. Thank! =) (*Runs to check out Victorias
blog.*)
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All Japanese All The Time Dot Com: How to learn Japanese. On your own, having fun and to fluency.
Taking A Break: The Third Way on October 29, 2008 at 13:23
[...] mental and financial energies divided between two languages, better to acquire one first and then use it a mental
and financial hook for the second: emotionally this decision can be painful, but methinks youre better off making it
than [...]
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Sonja on November 29, 2008 at 05:09

Hey! That was some pretty good advice Im pretty (overly) ambitious when it comes to learning languages,
and find myself mixing up various languages all the time no matter how grammatically different they are
(like you mixing French and Chinese) ridiculous. Laddering sounds like a great way, and I know it works
because I tried learning Russian in French, and voila, aucun probleme.
Is this the only solution though? I guess the problem is that learning another language becomes a slightly more
tedious task, having to think in two foreign languages simultaneously. Right now Im learning Japanese in English
(English being my mother tongue), but find French popping up occasionally when I speak. Really annoying
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Melanie on December 16, 2008 at 07:05

Hey,
something is really bothering me at the moment. Its a nice idea, but I just found some problems for me: Im
German and Ive started Heisig in English. But the difference to the German variant seems not so little.

http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-multiple-languages-without-getting-confused-the-laddering-method[7/10/2012 8:35:34 PM]

How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

Some of his stories are just not fit for anyone who isnt English, example: nighttide. In Eng, of course you associate
water with that. In German, the word is kind of like evening times O_o , no water So should I jump back and forth
from English to German? Im a bit clueless and confused about how to study at the moment. Hope you got a solution
for this ( just please dont say: study more English)
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Anathema196 on February 2, 2009 at 15:53

Hey,
I have a question about learning 2 languages at one. I went to Korea for a month and now Im trying to
learn it at the moment using your methods, I can already read Hanguel , and I am also trying to learn Japanese
at the same time. The RTK book doesnt come until later this week.
So my question would be, would it be advisable to start doing my sentences for Korean all while learning the Kanji
from RTK, and then when I finish learning all of the Kanji and Kana, start using Korean as the base language or
Japanese? or could I use English for both?
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Kira on April 17, 2009 at 20:44

Hey! I like this idea, Im learning Japanese now. In high school I have to take Spanish >.< By then, I think
Ill finish both RTK 1 and 3. Im afraid that I wont have a solid enough base for Spanish from Japanese.
Also, I really wanted Japanese to be the springboard for learning Korean. Wouldnt it be odd if I went
English-Japanese-Spanish-Korean? I have no interest in learning Spanish, or continuing it after the required 3 years. I
know you said to use another language for the springboard, but what if the class is taught in English (I have to take
them not my idea choice). Should I just use English for both Spanish and Japanese?
Thanks!
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Stephen on May 30, 2009 at 15:46


First off I just wanted to thank you for this AWESOME site. I really appreciate all the work and humour that
goes into it!
I have been learning Japanese for a little bit, but I cant help but be almost equally interested in Chinese (mandarin).
My studies have kind of suffered because I tend to dwell between the two, but as you mentioned I think I need to,
SOMEHOW, go with one for now and THEN move onto the other onesigh, thats NOT going to be easy xD
Anyway, I wanted to ask you how youre Chinese is coming along? Having heard all your experiences and success in
Japanese, I am curious as to how your Chinese studies/learning exp. compared to Japanese.
Thank You and again keep up the great work!
Cheers
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Chris on September 14, 2009 at 21:31

Heres an interesting perspective on learning multiple languages:

http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-multiple-languages-without-getting-confused-the-laddering-method[7/10/2012 8:35:34 PM]

How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

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All Japanese All The Time Dot Com: How to learn Japanese. On your own, having fun and to fluency.
How Do I Learn 500 Languages At Once?! on October 14, 2009 at 12:01
[...] language-laddering thing seems like an exception, but the laddering is really about how to keep your L2, while
also [...]
Like or Dislike:

Candice on December 11, 2009 at 07:43

Great site! The most helpful thing Ive found on language learning so far!
The article about laddering is very true. I am a Peace Corps volunteer living in an African francophone
(French speaking) country. I am learning the African language in French, and I notice both languages go much faster
when its done this way verses learning the African language in English (my native tongue). I think its very important
that the two languages you are learning are at different levels; one needs to be at least a comfortable intermediate
level. A bonus of laddering is that if your base language isnt very strong, youll not only NOT forget any of it (which is
a problem when learning multiple languages), but laddering provides a great support for the base lang.
My best advice for language learning is exactly the main point of this website: immersion. When you have no choice or
outlet, the language will come. Language learning can be very intimidating (especially for Americans) but it really is all
in our heads. To learn multiple languages fluently is not a miracle or just something you read about online. The proof
is in the hundreds of thousands of Peace Corps volunteers who can converse in a foreign language in two months and
are fluent within two years.
My question:
Anyone whos learned multiple languages at once, do you feel that your progress was slower because of it? Im
wondering if spending equal time on two languages means both will move at a slower pace than if i put all my efforts
into one language (which seems like common sense, but seeing everyones comments about laddering, it seems like
learning two using the laddering system wouldnt slow things down all that much?). Sure, laddering works much better
than learning two languages NOT laddering, but does it slow down progress compared to learning just one?
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Francis on January 4, 2010 at 16:03

Wow, Ive taken Japanese for a while now, and started Chinese a year after Japanese and never took the
risk of studying Chinese in Japanese! I cant wait to try it out this quarter!
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http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/how-to-learn-multiple-languages-without-getting-confused-the-laddering-method[7/10/2012 8:35:34 PM]

How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

Patrick on August 28, 2010 at 16:09

Hello !
Really GREAT website.
I discover it this morning and will be back very often.
I totally agree with this article. I am french and I started learning japanese
last month.
Material in french to study Japanese is pretty poor, so I decided to use english
material to do it. It works fine for me.
English and Japanese do not mix in my head.
I was using the laddering method without kwowing it
Bonne journe tous ! Jaa mata !
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Chinoisfrancais

on June 23, 2011 at 09:21

Merci beaucoup pour cette mthode.


Ive been speaking French for about half a year now, and have kicked up my approaching fluency by immersing
myself after reading of your ideas for doing that. Im also very glad that I bought a monolingual dictionary relatively
soon. It keeps me from having to context switch back into English every time I need to look up a word (I cant give
you credit for that idea though, unfortunately).
Now, I was thinking for some time about which language to learn next. I thought that I would want to learn Spanish
next, but the more that I thought about it the less it held my immediate interest. I had wanted to learn Chinese for a
long time, but all of the information about how hard it was turned me off to it. The characters scared me, and the
tones didnt help that.
I read a wealth of information on your site, and I realized how possible it was for me to learn Chinese. I finally
decided to go for it and get some studying materials for Chinese in French. Im pretty excited about it, although I
know to succeed I will need to have a similar approach as my French that got me where I am, able to handle
conversations as long as they arent too fast. Im in the process of looking for podcasts and other material to start
listening right away, while the books travel to me from France.
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Polish, German, and laddering | Learning Russian on October 31, 2011 at 07:18
[...] my mouth and my brain are in two different places. Khatzumoto has written a lot about laddering on AJATT, and I
know that there are other people who highly recommend [...]
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Darly on April 29, 2012 at 08:22

Honestly, I never looked at this issue from this point of view, though I guess Ive been doing it kind of
unconciously I am Brazilian, so Im a native Portuguese speaker. English came very smoothly to me, cause
even though Ive never studied it in an English school, Ive learned it quite effortlessly. So, a couple of years
ago I discovered Japan and I completly and blindly fell in love with it. Learning the language became an obligation
to me. I decided to dedicate some time to study it daily, but I couldnt (and still cant) reach the level of fluency I long
for this year Ive started a French course, and as a base language Im using what I know from the Japanese and
its amazing how fast Im improving both, my Japanese and French. Thanks for sharing this awesome tip with us!
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Toby on May 28, 2012 at 05:11

The bestrecommendationI can give is if you are going to learn multiple languages, make them spread far
apart. Im learning both Spanish and Japanese and those are different in many many ways so it is hard to
have confusion. However, whenever I want to practice french, it gets very confusing due to the similarities
toSpanish.

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How To Learn Multiple Languages Without Getting Confused: The Laddering Method | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

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Paul on June 20, 2012 at 19:01


I think this is a really interesting idea and I agree that are many benefits to it. And for my case, Im also
learning Chinese using English.
And using this method would also mean that one would proceed with a new language only when one has mastered
the current language. And learning another new language using the newly-mastered language as a base language
provides an excellent opportunity to review and improve that base language as well.
Thanks.
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