Most efficient way to uphold language skills

. 2 min read

Say you had a mandatory foreign language course in school. Or wanted to learn French to impress the opposite (or same) sex. Or maybe you were one of those manga emo kids that learned Korean or Japanese or Chinese - and pretended actually liked it.

Do you still speak the foreign language or languages you studied at school? Or were you perhaps smart enough to spend a year of your studies as an exchange student and learned to speak like a native - a process that has an irreversible effect on your language skill?

Before I go on, I have to admit I'm not the best example of people who've upheld their language skills. I studied five foreign languages at school, never had an exchange year, and since then I've managed to completely forget how to speak one, lost 70 % of my once accumulated vocabulary on two, one I can still get along in everyday situations, and one I speak fluently. I speak none of these like a native. I'd like to think my pronunciation is good enough for the ones I've got left but the accent might be obvious. I should ask the natives of the respected countries what they think. (Although when I visited New York no one I talked to ever asked me where I was from. But then again I guess that's more of a New York thing. There are so many different nationalities there that practically everyone speaks with an accent.)

Anyway, sometime between finishing high school and starting university (there were a few years in between) I was working in different jobs and knew I would lose the fragments of the skills I had left so I came up with a nice routine. I used to take long walks as a hobby back then, so it offered an easy and efficient time to put on headphones and listen to foreign radio. I used to listen to this one channel that was broadcasting news and other pieces about current events in different languages on different hours. I soon learned that German hour was from 10 to 11 am, and English was sometime in the afternoon. So I scheduled my walks so that I could listen to the German radio while walking.

I admit, it was difficult to understand it at first, since the presenters were speaking with a native accent, not with the clearly pronounced "school German" I'd been used to. But the program had such a structure that certain voiceovers with certain words would be repeated every day at the same time, and I could soon learn to conclude the meaning of new words from the context.

I learned a lot of new words, including a whole new set about the weather forecast, during that time. And somewhat interestingly, hearing the language regularly every day for an hour made dream in German at night. And soon enough I would even think in German.

If you've been wondering how to revive your lost skills, try this. You may be surprised how much you remember about the language.