How to Maintain Your Foreign Language Skills

There’s no doubt about it: learning a foreign language is hard work. It takes hours of studying vocabulary terms, doing grammar exercises, translating paragraphs, and conversing with other students. And once you’ve achieved a higher level of proficiency, it feels great. You can actually comprehend and utilize a different language--how cool is that?!

In class, it’s not too hard to maintain that level of proficiency because you’re regularly exposed to the language in a variety of forms. The real challenge begins when you leave the classroom and no longer have a designated time and place to practice your skills. If you’ve stopped taking language classes, but don’t want to lose the level of fluency that you’ve worked so hard to attain, here are some simple ways to keep your skills from getting too rusty!

 

Practicing Your Second Language Outside of Class

There are 4 components to full fluency in any language: you must be able to listen, read, write, and speak. Here are some ways to maintain proficiency in your foreign language of choice, broken down into the 4 categories.

Listening:

  • Find a podcast in your second language.

  • Listen to music.

  • Watch movies, TV shows, or Youtube videos.

Reading:

  • Change your phone or computer settings to your foreign language.

  • Go to the Public Library and pick out a book that’s written in the language. The library has books in a wide range of foreign languages, from Polish to Arabic!

  • Get your news from foreign-language news sites or newspapers.

Writing:

  • Become pen pals with a native speaker.

  • Keep a diary or journal and only write entries in your second language.

  • Practice translating sentences or paragraphs with online exercises.

Speaking:

  • Keep an eye out for a language exchange program in the area, where you can converse with native speakers of your second language who are trying to improve their English skills.

  • Find a friend who is also trying to maintain fluency in the same language as you, and make a deal to meet and speak in that language.

Multi-Disciplinary:

  • Download an app that helps you practice! There are several different options out there--Babbel, Memrise, busuu, and more. Duolingo is a popular choice, but also check out Tandem, where you can connect with real native speakers from around the world.

 

Why Should You Bother to Maintain Your Language Skills?

Bilingualism isn’t just a cool skill, it can actually keep your brain healthy! Because your brain is constantly deciding which language to use, its executive function improves, which is also the system used for planning, problem-solving, and staying focused. Long-term, bilingualism is beneficial because it can keep your brain strong longer, into later adulthood. According to a study of 44 elderly people with a range of proficiency in Spanish and English, the participants with higher degrees of fluency also had a later onset of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia symptoms.  So keep practicing those verb conjugations--it’s totally worth it!