If your only experience of learning a foreign language was your compulsory middle or high school classes, then chances are that you quickly forgot everything you learned in quick time after leaving school. School courses lack almost all of the most essential elements of mastering a new language: immersion, native-speaker teachers, continued use of the language outside of the classroom, and cooperation with friends and other speakers to practice and learn from one another.
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Even if you’ve been lucky to learn languages through immersion, higher-level courses and intensive language instruction after school, you might also have forgotten all or most of the content if you haven’t used it in a long time. Whatever your situation, we have good news for you --- you can get those language skills back!
Why Have I Forgotten My Foreign Language Skills?
The simple and most likely answer to this question is that you haven’t used them for a long time. When you’re learning the language, any experienced or skilled teacher/tutor that you worked with probably encouraged you at least once to go out and use everything you’ve learned so that you’ll secure it in your mind and retain the knowledge better. They were right about that.
However, in your case, it could be that you moved back to your home country after spending time abroad, or perhaps there was someone you often used to speak to in your new language that is no longer around and so you have no one to practice with.
How Can I Get Those Skills Back?
If you want to get your language skills back, then we have some suggestions below. In a lot of cases, getting the information the second time around is actually easier if you do it right because as you start to remember, more and more tends to come flooding back to you:
Immerse Yourself Once Again
The most effective and powerful solution to wanting to regain lost language skills is to recreate the conditions in which you mastered them in the first place. In other words, put yourself back in the immersive environment on which you previously depended. Once you’re back in that environment, it’ll feel like getting right back on a bike and things will come flooding back. You’ll be using the language again daily, and within just a few months you’ll probably be back at your old level.
For some, however, this can be hard or even impossible because that immersion was originally done at a time before life moved on and you got married, had kids, and built a business or started a career in a specific field. Those commitments and responsibilities mean you can’t just up sticks and move away. So, what else can you do in that case?
Take Online Classes with Native Speakers
If you can’t go to where the native speakers of your target language are, then you should bring them to you! All you really need to bring a native tutor into your home or workplace is a laptop, tablet or smartphone, a solid Internet connection, and a platform on which to find and connect with a qualified teacher.
Even just one hour a week with a native speaker could be enough for you to really start regaining your skills. If you can spare more time, then you should and you can progress even faster.
Download Language Apps to Your Smartphone
Another advantage of the digital age is the power of your humble smartphone. Apps like Duolingo and Memrise offer you an ideal platform through which you can start practicing your vocabulary again and getting back into your linguistic groove. These apps are fun and so easy to use, you can just whip out your phone whenever you’ve got a spare few moments, for example while commuting, or even while waiting in line for coffee.
Stream Some Shows or Movies
Streaming is another of the many gifts that we have in the Information age. Using services like Netflix, you can gain access to many great shows in other languages. If you want to use TV shows and movies to help refresh your memory on language skills, the best strategy is to first watch them with the subtitles turned on, but not for your own language.
Use the subtitles of whatever language it’s in. This allows you to watch and follow along, picking up words, phrases and grammar as you go. The more you watch, the more that’ll start to come back to you. This works especially well as a supplementary activity to other things we’ve suggested above.
🎉 Get started!
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