Preventing language "leaking" when adding another language

Hi, I’m a bit torn as to when and how to attempt to “bring back” my dormant Russian or add on another language, as I seem to have a problem mixing up words in two or more languages I might study at the same time… kind of like words from one language “leaking” into the other.

I had this happen to me terribly when I first started learning Russian 40 years ago and my previous Spanish would insert itself into my Russian sentences. It was so frustrating at the time that I dropped Spanish. Ironically I never had this trouble with Russian and German cohabitating in my brain.

The reason I ask is that most of my other languages are dormant, other than English and Irish, which I’m actively learning. I’m between an A2 and B1 level (I think) in Irish, but am afraid I’ll lose some of it or it will take over my Russian if I try to reactivate my Russian.

Any thoughts or tips about introducing new or old languages when you’re already studying another would be appreciated. Thanks!


No advice here unfortunately, but I’ve had exactly the same problem with Japanese and French - my brain seems to crunch gears when switching between one and the other, even though they’re not related or grammatically similar! I end up speaking some kind of Frapanese, which has led me to think French needs to go on the back burner for a while! Hopefully someone has an answer for us!


@greenteagirl Rhiannon, how long have you been studying both languages? Which came first? And what level would you say you are at with them? I do remember reading somewhere that it was best to be at a certain level with one before starting another, but I can’t remember.
I think my biggest fear is that if I attempt to bring back Russian then my Irish will suffer, and I have a goal of being able to comfortable speak Irish at the online conversation circles and the Immersion weekends (once Covid is over!)


Same here :frowning: Japanese and Norwegian… So sad!.. and so disturbing… ha

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Excellent question. I’m between B1-B2 in Japanese, A1 in French. French technically came first since I studied it at school, forgot about it for a while and then tried to pick it up again, but I’ve been studying Japanese more seriously in the last 3 or so years. So I guess it’s, again, a similar situation to your “dormant” Russian! So I’m not sure if we need to reinforce our weaker language to close the gap, or further improve our stronger language to widen it…

@Jas, what are your levels? Would be interesting to see if there’s a correlation between levels and leaking!


Hi Greenteairl, I like your framing of the question: whether we should reinforce the weaker language to close the gap, or further improve the stronger language!

At the moment, I am choosing to improve my weaker language (Norwegian) aiming to lift it higher than my stronger language (Japanese)! But not weird for me since I live closer with Norwegian and I can use it almost every day. So I guess it’s circumstantial.

To answer your question, my Japanese is between JLPT N3-N2. I can broadly read a Japanese novel since Kanji is easy for me (my native language is Chinese). But I don’t practise enough about speaking. I can only make one on one convo with pauses - not group. In terms of Norwegian, since I use all the time now, my level just changes every day. To sum up, I guess I would say I am firmly intermediate level. I can read newspaper, talk, read a book about parenting (like a specific day to day topic) etc.

Due to my circumstance I believe my only choice now is to up my Norwegian level to upper intermediate - advance, then return to Japanese. I can do passive things with Japanese e.g. watch dramas, listen to podcast, youtube perhaps once - twice per week.

@greenteagirl , we can definitely do some Japanese exchange together if you will. In your circumstance, if you don’t live in neither Japanese or French environment, it seems to make more sense that you continue to up your Japanese level while maintaining your French at A1? Like continue to accumulate vocabs and do listening (but don’t try too hard to aim for speaking fluency) Anyway, hope your Japanese will get even more fluent soon! I am praying for that too!


That’s funny, I’m facing the same difficulties. Ever since I focus on Japanese, when I do try to bring out French in conversation, Japanese words make their way to the front of my mind :smile: Oddly, this never happens with English, maybe because it’s too far ahead (Japanese around B1, French used to be B2 after school, now I don’t know).
It seems in my case the closer the level in two languages, the more they interfere, but maybe not for you? Weird…! I agree, French needs to go back in the corner! :wink:


Hello All,

I have experienced what you are describing but in BOTH directions. I never spoke French but was good enough to matriculate in it from high school (writing, reading). Years later I started to learn German. When I tried to say something in German but didn’t know the German word, I would fill the blank with a French word. Then later, trying to write to French relatives, I tried to fill the blanks with German words, if I knew one. It’s as if my mind sees one bucket called ‘Foreign Languages Here.’ Weird experience.


Yes, exactly. Even recently in one of my Irish conversation classes last year, I opened my mouth to say “Is féidir liom” (I can), and “vielleicht” (perhaps) came out… and that’s after not using German in over 35 yrs. Crazy.


Hi Sadelle.

I have the exact same experience as you. Many years ago, I knew French at a B2 level. I needed to learn German for work, and started learning it. However, I would constantly mix the two up. I would literally start my sentence in German in finish it in French without even realizing it. So I stopped with any and all French, and only spoke German for several months. When I tried going back to French a couple years later, the reverse happened, and I lost all confidence in both.

More recently, I learned Spanish to a B1+ level, but due to lack of practice, I regressed a little. When I learned Italian, I constantly mixed Spanish with it. Once I got to a B1 in Italian, I did not mix them up as much if I spoke one or the other. However, when I would go to polyglot meetings and switch between the two, I could barely speak anything.

When I learned Russian earlier this year, the few words I knew in Swedish kept popping into my head at random spots.

So I set myself on a plan a couple months ago. I would focus on speaking only Spanish for 4 months to return to a confident B1+ (10-15 hours a week watching videos or movies, plus 1-2 classes, tutoring sessions or meetups). I will allow myself to listen to a few videos in French, Italian and Russian once or twice a week for 15-30 minutes, not because I am actively learning it, but just making it a regular part of my routine. I won’t try speaking them, but if it happens, it happens. By December, if my Spanish is as solid as I hope it will be, I will incorporate French back into my language mix using the same 4 month focus (20+ hours a week). I’ll try switching between French and Spanish a few times to see how if it goes well. Then I hope to reintroduce Italian, Russian and German in the same manner.


Yeah, I have this too. For me it seems to happen when a language is not particularly strong (under B1)… I will pull out other stronger languages. So for me, I think the first goal is to get my next language up to B1 at least.

Secondly, I find it begins to wear off when I have practised code switching between languages. So, if I intentionally work in French for a bit, then after 5 mins intentionally work in Dutch for 5 mins, then back to French. This structured code switching practise really helps me to “stay in a lane” after a while.


@Jas アドバイスをくれてありがとう!実は、もうすぐフランス語のクラスを参加そうと思っています。頭の中に、フランス語より日本語の方が強いですから、兄が弟にいじめられそうな事情ですね?だから、フランス語を強くしたいつもりです。

Thanks for the advice! I’m thinking that maybe I need to study French more, instead of less. It’s almost like an older brother picking on his younger brother - each language fights in my head to be the one who is heard, but because French is weaker, it doesn’t stand a chance! Poor French. So maybe I need to exercise it to stand up for itself :joy:

And it would be lovely to do an exchange, I’m always looking for people to talk to in Japanese! Anyone else is welcome to join - you too, @SarahSakura! And anyone else!


さっき @greenteagirl にメッセージ(PM)を書き送りしました。このForumはよくわからなちゃうので、もらわないなら連絡してください。

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@Bando / Francis thank you so much for sharing this! So do you think a confident B1+ is the the magic threshold for having less language leakage? I find myself itching to dive back into my Russian, but I have some set goals with my Irish that I have yet to meet. I would be very interested to hear how it goes for you. I do wonder how 15-30 min a week of just listening to Russian podcasts would affect my Irish. Although my curiosity has gotten the best of me and I’ve listened to a couple of the “Russian with Max” videos ( ) without harm. I’m amazed how much I still CAN understand after 35 yrs.

So maybe I’ll try that… just a tiny bit each week. And continue hammering away at my Irish.

@CateDeans So interesting! B1 seems to be the magic threshold. Very interesting about code switching. I’d not heard that term before (this is my first polyglot conference). When you do this, are you speaking or just listening/reading?

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I experienced the same thing with French and Japanese. The French pronunciation of “restaurant” is so similar to レストラン that I often forgot the final “t” when writing French.



Seeing others’ stories reminded me of the time I was in a Mexican restaurant and when I went to say, “perdón” or “disculpe” what came out was “sumimasen(すみません)”. I didn’t even realize my languages would leak, especially given that they are two languages that don’t share much.


No problem. Yes, despite my lack of confidence in my speaking ability in French, I understand way more than I think I do.

I love Max as well.

When we first learn a language, we translate everything word by word. As we improve, we translate phrase by phrase, then sentence by sentence. Eventually, we reach a point where we don’t even translate, we just speak.

My Spanish ability right now is such that I translate about half of what I want to say. But because I have a limited vocabulary, and I struggle with understanding accents from different countries, it limits my confidence (meaning that voice inside my head that says, ‘but what if you forget a word and you look silly?’).

I don’t know if anyone has the exact answer for you. However, just try it and see what works for you. There is a struggle. You will probably try one thing for a month, and think it doesn’t work. But then at some point later, maybe in 31 days, or in 301 days, everything clicks and you wonder why it was such a struggle in the first place.


Thanks, yes I think experimenting with it all is the way forward for me. I even dared to respond to someone today on Instagram in Spanish. :grinning: Now off to listen to some news in Irish.