How Not to Forget a Language You’ve Learned: 11 Top Tips
Any language learner can tell you that they forget some things over time.
You might remember common vocabulary words but forget some of your more advanced expressions, or you could eventually even forget your language altogether.
So why not keep it in the front of your mind with a few simple strategies?
Here’s how to learn a language, and keep it in your memory for good. By following these 11 easy but effective tips, you’ll make sure you never forget the language you’ve learned.
- 1. Think of it as a lifelong process
- 2. Use websites and apps
- 3. Make a schedule of when you’ll use your target language
- 4. Set specific goals
- 5. Get addicted to a Netflix series in your target language
- 6. Read books in your language
- 7. Make friends with native speakers
- 8. Hire a tutor for one-on-one check-ins
- 9. Travel abroad
- 10. Make and use flashcards
- 11. Teach your language to others
1. Think of it as a lifelong process
Most people forget their target language because they’re no longer using or studying it. One of the simplest ways to prevent this is by considering learning a language a lifelong process rather than a limited term course of study.
With this in mind, don’t give up on your learning routine. Whether you’re building new vocabulary or working on tricky grammar rules, keep studying. Even fluent speakers don’t know all the vocabulary of their native language, so there’s always something new to learn.
You don’t have to commit as much time to studying as you did when you were just starting out, but remembering to put in some time will help keep you in practice. I aim for about an hour a week.
2. Use websites and apps
Language learning websites and mobile apps are a fun, flexible way to prevent yourself from forgetting your target language. In fact, you might actually find your skills continue to grow in just a few minutes a day.
For example, the immersive program FluentU uses authentic content to help you to learn a language in a natural way, just like a native speaker would. It uses videos created from content native speakers are viewing every day, like news clips, films and movie trailers.
The engaging nature of these clips makes it easy to commit to watching a video per day to maintain your language skills. After the quiz, take the followup quiz to reinforce what you watched. Or schedule review days where you practice saved vocabulary with FluentU’s personalized quizzes.
You can save this vocabulary from any video as you’re watching using the interactive subtitles. You can also easily check the definition of any word in the subtitles and view other videos where the target word appears.
This makes it easy to keep track of your current level and to look up the meaning of words without getting pulled out of your viewing experience.
Using an app or program like FluentU is an effective way to stay on top of your language studies without it feeling like a chore.
3. Make a schedule of when you’ll use your target language
If you’re no longer actively studying a language, one of the main reasons it may fade from your memory is simple lack of exposure. Maintaining a set schedule of when to use your language will help keep it fresh in your mind.
For example, on Saturdays, you could go to a grocery store or restaurant where native speakers of your language congregate. Think using only French at that great local taco stand or only French at that chic café by the mall.
Another option is something like this example: every night before bed, watch clips from variety shows in your target language rather than your favorite native language late night shows.
Working language opportunities like this into your schedule will prevent you from forgetting by ensuring that you never go too long without using your skills.
4. Set specific goals
Setting specific goals will help motivate you to continue improving your skills by giving you clear objectives.
For instance, you might try learning 20 new vocabulary words per week, reading a book a month in your target language or spending 10 minutes a day studying the language.
Regardless, making your goals specific is key because it makes them easier to meet. For instance, deciding you’re going to learn five new vocabulary words today is a lot easier to achieve than a vague goal, like “I want to study sometime today.”
5. Get addicted to a Netflix series in your target language
There’s nothing as satisfying as a Netflix binge—except for a Netflix binge that keeps you from forgetting a language.
And luckily, it’s easy to get addicted to a foreign language TV series that will give you regular practice with your target language. Netflix is constantly expanding its international offerings, so there’s plenty of great foreign language content to help reinforce your skills.
For instance, Spanish students might enjoy a great series like “La casa de papel” (literally “The House of Paper,” but its English title is “Money Heist”).
To find TV shows in your target language, just search the name of your language and “TV shows.”
6. Read books in your language
If you’re one of those people who loves to read a good book before bed, you can easily convert your bedtime reading habit into an excellent language refresher by reading books in your target language.
For free books, you might try Project Gutenberg, which offers an array of classic books in foreign languages.
To stay up to date on the latest books in your target language, you might try perusing Goodreads lists to see what other readers are enjoying. For instance, there are plenty of lists of Spanish-language books. From there, there are links to help you find where to purchase a book. All you have to do is double-check to make sure it’s in your target language.
To get the most out of your evening reading, try reading aloud. This way, you’ll not only reinforce your reading skills, you’ll also keep up your speaking practice.
7. Make friends with native speakers
It’s nice to have friends, but having friends is even nicer when those friends help you keep your language skills up.
If you already have a friend who speaks your target language, all you have to do is talk with them in that language as often as possible.
If you don’t already have a friend who speaks your target language, there are plenty of ways to make new conversation partner friends.
For instance, you might connect with native speakers on italki, an online service that makes it easy for you to browse and connect with tutors and exchange partners who are right for you.
To find a great conversation partner, look for people with shared interests and be sure to share your main interests in your profile. The more you have in common, the easier it will be to make a deeper connection that can last a lifetime.
If you find a friend who speaks your target language, practicing it will just feel like socializing rather than studying, making it easier and more enjoyable to continue in the long run.
Read our full review of italki here.
8. Hire a tutor for one-on-one check-ins
What do you do when you’re not sure of whether your skills have regressed? And what if you know your skills aren’t what they used to be, but you just can’t figure out what to do to correct them?
Hiring a tutor can be helpful for both these concerns. You can hire tutors online through services like TakeLessons and Preply, and most tutors will help you with whatever you like. This means you can talk to a tutor for occasional checkups to make sure your language skills are still intact. I call it a “language tune-up.”
Best of all, if your tutor notices you’re struggling with something, they can give you personalized instruction on how to correct your errors and improve your skills.
9. Travel abroad
If you need to travel abroad to keep your language skills fresh, so be it!
Traveling to a place where the language you’re trying to maintain is spoken can help you practice using your skills in context. Over the length of your trip, you’ll probably notice more and more of your language skills coming back to you.
But beyond that, traveling abroad can also increase your motivation to keep studying your target language. After all, if you have a great trip in Italy, you’ll want to make your next trip even better by better understanding Italian.
But the learning doesn’t need to be reserved just for your time abroad. You can research your trip in your target language for an extra learning boost. Look for the official pages of tourist sites, peruse hotel websites and assess restaurant menus to see where you might like to eat. All of these activities can help reinforce your language skills while getting you excited for your upcoming trip.
10. Make and use flashcards
Flashcards are popular because they work. Because of this, create flashcards with vocabulary words, phrases, important sentences or verb conjugations—anything really. Just the process of creating the flashcards will alert you to words or verb conjugations that you’ve forgotten and help you remember them in the future.
I would suggest using the tried-and-true method of spaced repetition, where you repeat a review of certain flashcards over time, with space between sessions. The space can be a couple days, a week or even a month.
To make great flashcards that you always have with you, try an app like Anki. The app gives you a fun and easy way to make all kinds of flashcards, and hey, you’ll have them on your phone, so you can review then when waiting in line at the grocery store or taking the bus home from work.
Read our full review of Anki here.
11. Teach your language to others
Teaching someone else what you’ve learned is an effective way to reinforce your own knowledge. It forces you to recall and explain concepts in the language, helping solidify your understanding. It also reminds you of vocabulary, verb conjugations and things you may have forgotten over time.
You can teach someone in person of course. Think friends, colleagues, family or even your partner or child.
But if you don’t have someone in your close circle that wants to learn Japanese or Spanish or French or whatever language you’ve mastered, consider finding a friend through Facebook or other social media and teaching them via Zoom or other video messaging apps.
Most likely, the person you teach will be grateful for the free language lessons.
So there you have it. Use these 11 effective tips and strategies to ensure you never forget your target language.