Some say that learning a new language after you have reached adulthood is impossible, or too hard, or you just don’t have enough time for it.
Granted, learning a language is difficult. In addition to suddenly having to relearn the grammar of your native language, you are now confronted with memorizing vocabulary lists . You sign up for a class, go through the standard levels of basic, intermediate, advanced intermediate. Maybe you even travel to the country of the language you are learning, or find some friends to practice with.
Finally, you reach your goal level. Now what?
My background as a global exchange educator exposed me to several languages, sometimes simultaneously, and all at different personal comfort levels. Thus, I spend a great deal of time trying to maintain my language levels.
How? I use it, no shame.
Here are 11 ways to take your language learning to the next level:
1. Put “language practice” in your calendar 📅
Setting aside time each week to have a chat in a foreign language can help!
Maintaining a language level requires as much commitment (if not more) as learning a new one. It is easy to be distracted and to get bored quickly because you “know” it all. But really, while any exposure is good, there is no better way than to mindfully sit down without distractions and study.
If you have a longer commute (like I do!), think of the few minutes you have set aside as time to study, read, or use any of the methods outlined below. It also helps to have an accountability partner!
2. Eat and drink, no English allowed.
Drink coffee? Go on a coffee date with a friend and challenge yourself to only speak in that language! You can learn words you didn’t see in the classroom but realize that you actually need on a daily basis. The same applies to all meals and get-togethers. You can throw a themed dinner party, with food and music from the country where the language is spoken. Make sure to invite friends who have travelled there so that you can share experiences!
3. Listen to a podcast
Podcasts are a great way to immerse yourself in a language. With their rising popularity, you can find every level of exposure from language basics to listening to a full news show. The Radio Lingua Network, for example, provides “coffee break” style podcast episodes in four difference languages including French, Spanish, German, and Italian. With most episodes clocking in at 20 minutes, you can easily make time for language practice!
I personally subscribe to news podcasts so that I can listen to international updates. Not only do I hear a new perspective, I also get to learn new terms! As a German speaker and learner, I make an effort to listen to the daily recap of news on Tagesschau. Depending on your level of German, Deutsche Welle has plenty of media-centric methods to practice.
4. Watch foreign language films
With more and more TV, movies, and documentaries streaming online, more language learners now have the opportunity to listen to native speakers. There are a few different ways to ease yourself into this:
- Easy – Foreign audio, English subtitles: For beginners that want to pick up words here and there.
- Intermediate – Foreign audio, foreign subtitles: I find this to be the most helpful, particularly in learning pronunciation. For those that feel they are better at reading than listening, this is a good way to practice.
- Hard – Foreign audio, no subtitles: Sure, you may not be able to understand every word, but the more you listen, the more you will absorb. This type of exposure method is commonly used in tools like Rosetta stone or immersion classes. So if you dont have the resources, immerse yourself!
5. Get gaming
Lingualift, an online language school has a great chart outlinging which apps to use for your language learning endeavors. You can find it on their blog here.
6. Listen to foreign language music
Do you listen to music? Chances are that you do. Check out the foreign music charts, pick a couple songs, and see if you can understand the lyrics. Did you find a song you really liked but are not sure what its about? Look up the lyrics and translate it for yourself! Too difficult? Look up the lyrics online and you’ve got a great translation challenge!
One great way to practice is to look for online radio stations, or use Spotify. My personal favorite Spotify playlist for uplifting and work-along music is made up of Argentinian rock that a friend of mine who studied abroad shared with me:
Don’t forget to create your own playlist of favorite foreign tunes!
Finding a good radio station is like finding a hidden gem. You want the music to surprise you, but you want to feel comforted and like you are a part of the community. Finding one in the language you are trying to practice can be tough. I always bookmark “local” radio stations when I travel to a specific country so that when I am back home, I can listen to their daily news, and just feel more connected to the location and the language.
My recent find is Radiooooo. You choose a country and a decade and listen to music discovered by international independent contributors. I’ve been getting lost in some unique songs ranging from Italian-inspired Swedish pop from the 1960’s to swaying 1950’s Brazilian tunes.
7. Attend a foreign language meetup or set one up in your office
You can always join a foreign language Meetup in your area. Think outside the box when you’re searching: schools, college campuses, and religious organizations (maybe even your office!) can be a great place to look for clubs. With Meetup you can choose to join a group with a specific language focus or even join a multilingual group. Most clubs have a secondary focus like film appreciation as well!
Or you can take your language practice to work with you! Here at Cultural Vistas, we have a few members get together every few weeks for a language exchange lunch. Colleagues can practice their foreign language skills in an informal setting. We’ve been going strong for over four years now! Some weeks we play games and others we have a cultural component where a co-worker will present a specific holiday or aspect of their heritage.
8. Change your phone language to that foreign language
Or your computer! Both options will expose you to new vocabulary and will allow you to slow down, and think about what you’re doing. If all else fails, just remember not to delete anything from your recycle bin.
Reading in a foreign language is a great way to expand your vocabulary, especially if you use an e-reader because you can easily look up words you don’t know. If you don’t have one, you can always go old-school and read a good ol’ paperback. Remember to carry a separate notebook to write down words you don’t know!
If you want to keep up with current events, how about picking up a foreign language newspaper? Similarly to searching for news sources on outlets such as Twitter, many newspapers or magazines provide newsletters straight to your inbox. You’re probably checking your e-mail at some point, why not do some reading in a difference language?
10. Organize a reunion with your study/intern abroad friends
It’s probably been some time that you’ve seen each other, meet up and reminisce about the experiences you had while abroad! Hopefully that included language-learning. If no one lives close, you could try reaching out to the alumni network of the organization you studied abroad through (e.g. Cultural Vistas Alumni Network). See if there are any opportunities to meet up with alumni and talk in that language.
11. Go abroad!
At the end of the day, if you are able to travel, study, or intern in a country that you want to learn the language of, you should! Lucky for you, Cultural Vistas offers programs in and outside the United States with a variety of specialties and program lengths. Check them out for yourself here and contact us for help!
Ultimately, if you aren’t exposed to the language you want to retain, you will lose it.
Do you have other tips for how to maintain foreign language skills? Let us know in the comments.
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