Fun Ways to Keep Up with a Foreign Language

I'm sure many of you took at least some foreign language in high school or college.  I minored in French then spent a year living abroad after I graduated, which improved my language skills more than any class I ever took.  Language immersion is the absolute best way to learn and maintain a foreign language.  Sadly though, the saying "use it or lose it" couldn't be more true when it comes to languages.  So how do you keep from losing everything you worked so hard to learn when you live in an almost entirely English speaking country?  Unless you have limitless funds to travel or are fortunate enough to live near a concentrated community that speaks your language you'll have to put in a little effort to maintain your knowledge, but that doesn't mean it has to be all work and no play.  Here are some fun ways to stay connected to your language:

  • Join a local social group.  For French speakers in the Denver area there's the Alliance Française or the Table Française.  Look around for groups in your language and geographical area.  There a loads of language groups available on or through your local University or community college.  Often times these groups meet to celebrate both the language and also the cultural aspects such as cuisine and holidays related to specific languages.
  • Take a continuing ed conversational language class.  This is a fun way to meet, engage and converse with other language lovers in your area.
  • Sign up to receive a recurring foreign language email.  I subscribe to the French-Word-a-Day email listing which is a weekly blog sent out by an American woman who married a French man.  Each week she sends out new words to her subscribers accompanied by photos and stories.  Search the web for options in your preferred language.
  • Set all your electronic equipment to the language of your choice.  We live in such a high tech world these days - everything is electronic - and nearly all these electronic gadgets give you the option of changing your language settings.  Set your cell phone, computer or what ever device you use most frequently to French, Spanish or any language you choose.  You'll have a constant daily reminder of your language and you'll become so accustomed to it you'll forget you're even reviewing!
  • Rent movies and watch them in your foreign language.  The beauty of DVDs it that lovely language feature.  Set movies to another langue and leave the subtitles OFF (if you can).  Or, if you must, change the language and turn on English subtitles.  Getting used to listening to the language is an important step in maintaining your skills of comprehension.
  • Listen to language tapes or discs in your car on the way to work, school, while traveling, etc.  If you have satellite radio search for foreign stations.  Listen to music and talk radio in another language and see how much you understand.
  • Read books.  If your skills are limited or if you're just starting out look for children's books.  They'll have simpler language and great illustrations.  Foreign children's books can be great entertainment and you can even share them with your own children and turn the language lesson into a fun family event.  If you skills are more advanced look for foreign versions of classics - if you have a basic familiarity with the story you'll be able to enjoy the subtle nuances of language more instead of struggling to understand every aspect of the story line.
  • Create labels for your house.  Past words up on your refrigerator, cabinets, the sink, the windows, where ever you want.  You'll see the words ever day until you commit them to memory.  You could even create a memory game using flashcards.  Remember that memory game you played as a kid using matching picture cards?  Why not do the same with vocabulary words?
  • Use you language as an excuse to eat out - look for a cultural restaurant that has a menu written in their native language.  Check out the menu and learn while you indulge in tasty entrees, deserts and drinks.
  • Set your Internet home page to a foreign news paper.  Review daily headlines each time you log on.  You'll keep your language skills honed and also expose yourself to another cultural perspective.  I greatly enjoyed reading headlines about the presidential election from a French perspective.
  • Most importantly - keep it fun!  Languages should always be enjoyable so find the most enjoyable way of practicing every day and you'll easily fall into a routine.

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Mark Cruz
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Posted on Mar 7, 2012