You’ve studied abroad, you’ve perfected a new language, but now it’s time to go home – or move on to somewhere new! How are you going to make sure you don’t lose your language skills? Read on to find out!
1. Find a language buddy
Wherever you are in the world, it’s likely you’ll never be too far from a native speaker of the language you’ve just learned. Find one, and try to team up with them by asking them to be your language buddy or exchange partner. Even if you just meet up for an hour a week over a coffee, you’ll be able to actively practice the language you’ve learned, which will make it more difficult for your brain to forget critical vocabulary or how to construct sentences.
You can use websites like Meetup to search for a language group, or even start your own if you don’t find that one already exists. There are often societies for this at universities – check with your students’ union to find out if it’s something they offer. Alternatively, log onto Facebook and other social media to search for natives in your city – a quick Facebook search of ‘Españoles en..’ (Spanish people in..) pulls up a long list of results, for example. So be brave and get back into the habit of frequently speaking and listening in another language. Who knows, you might even become good friends with the people you hang out with!
2. Read the news
“But I already read the news!” we hear you cry. And we believe you, but it’s unlikely that you read it in your new language. By picking up a newspaper (international newspapers can be found in most major cities), or by setting up alerts from your favourite news site to receive the top stories direct to your inbox, your brain will become trained to read this type of information in your second (or third, fourth, even fifth) language. You’ll still be keeping up-to-date on the daily goings on in the world, but you’ll be exercising your brain in the meantime.
Top tip: Keep a notebook and jot down any vocabulary you come across that you didn’t know before. By writing words down (with their translations, of course) the action will trigger the type of memory associated with movement, and you’ll be more likely to remember it!
3. Live with natives
It’s an age-old piece of advice for anyone going to study abroad: live with people from the country you’re staying in to make the most of your experience and totally immerse yourself in the culture. But why should it stop once you leave? There’s a simple solution – find accommodation with speakers of the language you know! Whether you’re moving back to your hometown, or starting fresh somewhere completely new, you could easily maintain your language skills by actually living with native speakers. It would be like having a language meetup every single day!
From the moment you wake up and pass by your housemate in the kitchen, to the second you go to sleep, when you’re living with native speakers you’ll be constantly thinking and switching between the languages you speak. This will ensure you don’t forget the one you are learning! It’s a win-win situation.
4. Write a blog
Many international students choose to write a blog about their journey while they’re away from home. Not only is it a good way to send out frequent updates to all your loved ones, but it also provides a diary-like log you can look back on in years to come. Use it to remember all the experiences you had, the friends you made and the feelings you felt (both good and bad). But the difficult part is keeping it going when you’re back on home turf.
A good way to keep your brain engaged is by writing in your new language. While speaking and listening are hugely important for having quick-fire conversations with natives, it’s also key you don’t let the written side of things slip.
Even if you don’t feel confident enough to share your blog with natives yet, by simply putting pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, in this case), you’ll be working your brain as though it were a muscle, and it will only get stronger with this type of practice. Even if it’s just a short post every few days about what you’ve been up to, writing keeps you mindful of word order and makes you think about the language you are using much more carefully.
5. Watch TV (really!)
Feed your movie addiction and be able to call it practice! By watching TV shows and films in your new language, you’ll be exercising all the key skills you picked up studying abroad. It’s not even cheating if you turn the subtitles on, as long as they’re in the same language as the speech.
Chat to the friends you made abroad for recommendations on what they like to watch if you’re not sure, or check out lists like IMDb’s Best Foreign Movies for inspiration. With so many films and television programmes available on the internet these days, you really have no excuse to only be watching in your native language.
6. Skype friends
Turn weekly catch ups into secret study sessions when you ask your international friends to video call you. Of course, you’re still interested in what’s new in their lives. But just like face-to-face interaction, a Skype call uses all the core competencies needed for maintaining language fluency.
As well as Skyping friends, you could use websites like italki to find a professional teacher to have video calls with. With a pay-per-lesson system and customised classes for each user, italki is a really good option for returning students who want to keep on top of their language abilities.
7. Listen to the radio
The more interaction you have with your new language, the less likely you are to forget it and the more likely you are to succeed in maintaining fluency. Let your ears do the work – instead of tuning into your local radio station in the morning, find one with native speakers of the language you know, and make an effort to make this part of your daily routine.
Whether you’re out walking the dog, on the bus to work or doing some housework, listening to foreign radio stations is a sure-fire way to keep your new language fresh, especially because you are relying on just one sense. Try websites like Tunein or Live-Radio to find stations from around the world. Even if it’s for just five minutes a day, this exposure can keep your ears tuned into the language.
8. Change the language on your social networks
Everyone’s guilty of spending way too much time online, but you can turn this into a positive thing! By switching Facebook into French (for example), every notification you get will trigger the language part of your brain. It will also act as a reminder that even though you’re bilingual now, these skills won’t last forever if you don’t continue to use them.