There are plenty of ways to learn a language.
There are just as many ways to let it fall into disuse and become like an abandoned building in your mind.
Stop using it.
Stop studying it.
Fill up so much of your brain space with Starbucks secret menu items that there’s no room left.
Any language learner can tell you that they forget some information over time.
You might remember how to conjugate verbs but not what each verb tense is called.
You might remember common vocabulary words but forget some of your more advanced expressions.
But worst of all, you could eventually forget your target language altogether.
So why not keep it in the front of your mind with a few simple strategies?
Abandoned buildings can actually be pretty cool. But there’s nothing cool about letting that language you worked so hard to learn fade from your memory. Read on to see how to learn a language… and keep it in your memory!
Why You Should Actively Maintain the Languages You’ve Learned
You’ve put a lot of time into learning a language, so you don’t want your study time to be wasted. Not only did you choose which language to learn and figure out the best way to learn for you, but you put in countless hours of studying that you could have set aside for other interests. If you don’t work to maintain your language skills, all this time and effort could be wasted.
Like with any skill, if you don’t practice your target language regularly, you’ll forget a lot. Case in point: How well do you remember how to do long division? You can spend almost as long trying remember a language you forgot as you spent learning the language in the first place. Simply staying in practice can save you valuable time.
You might not even notice how much language you’ve lost until you need your trusty language skills and they aren’t there. No one wants to travel abroad thinking they’re fluent only to find out they don’t actually remember their target language at all.
How to Avoid Forgetting a Language in 9 Brilliant Tips
1. Change your mindset to consider learning a language 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, 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.
2. Use FluentU.
FluentU is 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.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
3. Maintain a set schedule of when to use your target language, whether or not you actually need to use it.
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 instance, on Saturdays, you could go to a grocery store or restaurant where native speakers of your language congregate. Or 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 to continue improving your skills.
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 to refresh your skills effortlessly.
There’s nothing as satisfying as a Netflix binge… except for a Netflix binge that keeps you from forgetting your target 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 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”).
French students could get deep into “Au service de la France” (literally “in the service of France,” but its English title is “A Very Secret Service”). To find TV shows in your target language, just search the name of your language and “TV shows.”
6. Change your bedtime reading habit into a language refresher by reading works in your target 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 for easy, continual practice that will make you happy you learned your target language in the first place.
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 converse with them in that language to keep from forgetting it.
If you don’t already have a friend who speaks your target language, there are plenty of ways to make 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.
However, there’s a difference between simple language exchange and long-term friendship. In fact, language exchange usually isn’t intended to be life-long. So if you’re hoping to turn your language exchange partnership into a long-term one, it’s important to select the right 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 long-term.
8. Hire a tutor for occasional one-on-one check-ins to make sure your skills haven’t regressed (and discuss personalized solutions).
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.
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 to refresh your skills and improve your motivation to keep learning.
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 might even 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, you’ll want to make your next trip even better by better understanding the language.
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 (both big and boutique) 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.
Don’t let all your hard work be for naught!
Use these simple steps and strategies to ensure you never forget your target language.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn languages with real-world videos.