As regular readers are aware, I’m currently undergoing a re-learning of French and Spanish. At this point in the language learning project, I’m very irritated with myself for not making more attempts to retain knowledge. In fact, when I spoke to my Mandarin speaking friend the other day, I realized that after only a couple of months my Chinese is also slipping.
I shouldn’t have allowed myself to forget any of these languages, and knowing that I’m slipping in my most recent language, I realize that it’s worth an article to point out the dangers of forgetting a language, as well as how you can stop yourself from forgetting a language.
The Problem With Forgetting a Language
Learning a language properly is a very resource intensive undertaking. It uses all of your brain power, and it forges new neurological pathways in your mind. That’s why learning a second language has so many benefits.
Remembering a language is a case of practice. It’s sort of like riding a bike, in that you never lose the skill, but if you don’t use your muscles for months of a time, it’ll be slower, more difficult and you’ll probably fall off and hurt yourself. It’s the same with language learning. Whilst some might suggest you can “reactivate” a language, that’s totally the wrong word to use. It isn’t a simple “Flick a switch” and your language memory suddenly switches on and you’re fluent again.
Instead, it’s like waking from a coma and you have to relearn everything.
This is where I’m at with French and Spanish right now. The thing with learning an old language as opposed to the new is that you don’t even get the excitement that you would get with a new language. Instead of, “Hey, I can now use this grammar feature!” You think, “Gee, I just remembered what I should never have forgotten.”
How To Go About Not Forgetting A Language
Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs have made you scared of forgetting a language. If so, then they’ve done their job. My means of remembering a language is far from solid, and will be solidified over the next few months where I work out exactly what is working and what isn’t. At the moment though, I’m doing the following:
Getting my favorite foreign language songs, and seeing how much vocabulary they entail. If, for instance, I have ten favorite songs and they include a combined 500 words or so, then great. I’ll listen to those and remember the words. If I have 1000 words worth of vocabulary in songs, then I’ll be really happy.
Secondly, I’m going to create a simple anki deck with some sentences. Maybe up to two hundred. The goal isn’t to use them as you would a traditional anki deck. I’m going to put them all to be loaded every day, and I’ll quickly flick through the sentences every couple of days or so to make sure I still know what they say. If I don’t, then I’ll have a quick learning session for that language.
Other than that, I’ll try and keep in contact with friends in all the languages I know at least a couple of times a month. I’ll also try and catch a couple of radio shows or podcasts or Youtube videos to push my boundaries a little.
Hopefully, that will work. This article is as much a drop-in-and-give-your-comments as anything, so if you have other ideas, let me know!