We are all aware of the difficulties and challenges associated with language learning. The constant mental focus needed to learn a language can be taxing. Despite the array of techniques, methods, and tools at our disposal, the process still requires sustained effort over prolonged periods.
Like any skill, a language must be practiced on a semi-regular basis in order for it to stick. As opposed to riding a bike, language is a living and dynamic activity that must be constantly honed and rehearsed. This becomes even more important to those learning a foreign language later in life. As people age, their ability to retain information decreases and the need for repetition and practice increases.
How do you maintain your current level of proficiency? What do you do when you don’t have an opportunity to practice speaking a foreign language? You’ve worked hard to attain a level of proficiency in a foreign language and now you want to maintain it over the long term. So how can you avoid losing it?
1. Read books — This might be one of the easiest and most affordable ways to preserve your foreign language abilities. Thanks to the Internet, you can download books in any language within minutes and without leaving the comfort of your own home. Reading will help improve your vocabulary and teach you new phrases and ideas. Make sure you have a dictionary or translation app nearby for those difficult words and phrases.
If you prefer physical books to digital ones, visit a local bookstore to check out their selection of books in foreign languages or even order books online from places like eBay, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
2. Write — Once you become comfortable with reading in the foreign language of your choice, writing will push you to formulate your own sentences. This is one of the key aspects to maintaining your language skills. Absorbing information will only get you so far. Applying said information will challenge you to put those acquired skills into practice.
You could, for example, keep a daily journal in your target language. This would motivate you to write on a daily basis. Or why not start a long-distance relationship with a pen pal? Both of you will benefit from having to write in another language.
3. Talk to People — Join people in your area who speak your foreign language. Many large cities have cultural organizations that focus on a particular culture. If you’re learning German, seek out a German cultural organization and attend some of their events. You’ll make new friends, have an opportunity to practice your German and learn more about German culture.
Language Practice Hangouts on Google+ can be a great way to connect with others who speak your target language and you can do it from home. Best of all, it’s free and most everyone nowadays has a Google account. The Internet is an amazing language-learning tool, so use it to your advantage.
4. Watch movies — Watching foreign films is perhaps the most passive way to keep your skills up to date. Much like reading, you’re simply absorbing information. However, movies are enjoyable and if you have subtitles, you don’t need to have a pocket translator by your side.
Netflix has a large selection of foreign movies to choose from, as do Amazon and iTunes. Exploring the world of foreign films will broaden your cultural horizons and introduce you to colloquialisms you might not be familiar with.
5. Take a class — Depending on your level of proficiency, taking a foreign language class at your local community college can be a great way not only to help you maintain, but also to develop new language skills. Don’t discount this method just because it feels like school. Test-taking and the pressure to succeed might be a good way to challenge yourself.
6. Travel — This is probably the most costly and least accessible method but is worth mentioning. In fact, this may probably be the best way to avoid losing your language skills. If you’re learning French, travel to France and immerse yourself in the culture. There’s nothing quite like being thrown into a situation where you are forced to speak another language. Being surrounded by native speakers even for a short period will work wonders for your language skills.
Keep in mind that the key to maintaining your foreign language abilities is to formulate sentences. Because of this, human interaction is essential. Reading books and watching movies will only get you so far. So get out there, meet people, and practice!
What methods have you tried to avoid losing your proficiency in a foreign language?