Where to start?
You go on holiday and you’re ordering sangria like a native (or so the nice waiter said…) but when you get home, it starts fading from your mind. If you’re not actively taking classes, don’t let all that hard language work go to waste. You can keep it fresh with a little work every week. Here are six ways to keep the language ball rolling and your skills fresh.
Make a playlist
Dig around on Youtube or Spotify for some artists in your target language that you enjoy. Make yourself a playlist, but don’t stop there. You’re going to go all karaoke star on this – so look up the lyrics and sing along. Yes, it will feel ridiculous reading along on your phone, but soon you will learn most of the words and then you can sing in the car! Or even in the kitchen while making dinner!
The possibilities for driving your roommates and family crazy are endless. But you can insist it is part of your language learning. Singing uses a different part of the brain than speech, and it can help with more accurate pronunciation. There’s no time to wonder whether that ‘k’ is silent, because you’re just belting it out like Britney Spears.
Read books and watch films – actively
Reading books and watching films is a great way to keep up your target language, but don’t just sit there passively letting it wash over you. Everyone in my family has a ‘Word Book’ where we write down German words we come across that we don’t know. After we look them up, we write the translation in as well. As you’re watching or reading, have your Word Book in easy reach and note down unfamiliar words and phrases, and look them up later. Even the act of writing them down and looking them up will make a difference in your ability to remember them later.
Find a restaurant or cafe
If you don’t happen to live where your target language is spoken everywhere, do some research and find a restaurant or cafe where that community hangs out. Commit to going there once a week and make the effort to chat to people. There are probably newspapers in your target language lying around, so pick one up and have a look through it.
If you’re lucky, after a couple of weeks you might strike up a friendship with a native speaker you can meet regularly. Bring your Word Book for keeping track of new words too.
Change your social media
To truly learn how the kids talk these days, start following some bloggers and influencers in your target language. Instagram is a good one because you have a clue to what they’re talking about with their photo (sometimes!). I like following food and fashion bloggers for the practical aspects as well as language practice.
Now, this is the only time I advocate for reading the comments. This is where you get a window into what people actually say, instead of those awful dialogue role-playing scenes we got in school textbooks or random phrases about holy potatoes you find in language apps. The second part of this is actually commenting in your target language – say you like her coat, or I love potato dumplings, or your cat is soooo cute. It doesn’t need to be profound, I mean, have you read Instagram comments?
This one is optional, as I’m sure if you could jet off to the land of your target language you probably would hop on your private plane tomorrow. But keep it in mind when making your holiday plans. Is there somewhere else in the world where they speak your target language regularly? Even a big city with a large population of native speakers could be fun.
Learning French is the perfect excuse to book that trip to Paris!
In countries like Canada and the United States, there are many recreation centres, fraternal organisations, and retirement homes for people who all come from particular countries or cultures. Find one of these, and volunteer. Retirement homes are the best, because I guarantee if you ask to chat with residents for language help, you will have a line up beside your chair. Not only are you brightening the residents’ day, but you will hear some incredible stories.
The same goes for working with children. Whether this is in nurseries, schools, or youth clubs… all you to to remember is to be patient and bring cookies.
Sign up for some refresher courses
Finally, if you want to get a lot of good quality language practice in a short amount of time, sign up for a few refresher courses where you will be speaking! Passively listening or going through grammar tables is not going to get those rusty gears moving again. Coming up with phrases yourself and conversing will make those connections fire again in your brain.
So don’t let your investment in another language disappear – make a little time each week and you’ll be surprised how much easier it is to pick up again where you left off.