This post is a free bonus chapter to go with my book “Brave Language Learning.” You can get the full book here.
You might have been taught a foreign language at school. Maybe you spent some time abroad and could pick up a language there, but then you came back home. Or maybe you began to learn a language, but then you stopped. How to make sure you remember a language after a while? Try these four stages to help your polyglot total recall – and to make sure you remember better the next time!
1 Pick what you want, ignore the rest
Resist the temptation to revisit all the old grammar books from high school. Think twice before you start getting through all your coursebooks. If you managed to stay away from that language, chances are, you moved on and no longer need all of it. Why exactly do you want to come back to it now? Which parts, which situations, which words would be the most useful? Take some time to focus on these parts only. The rest may not be relevant any more – and if it turns out to be needed, you can always come back for it.
2 Get much more input than you think you need
You may believe you only remember, say, fifty words of German. But then you read a few articles, listen to a podcast, and find that you remembered quite a bit more! There really is no telling just how bad – or good – old memories of a foreign language are. The only way to make sure is to get plenty of exposure. Hearing or seeing an old word again might “refresh” the connections in your mind, and you’ll find that the word has always been there. You won’t get it by starting from scratch and going slow. This is the time to binge on a foreign language.
3 Give yourself permission to suck
It’s a fresh start. Nobody probably remembers how awful your pronunciation was the first time around. Nobody is there to remind you that you broke down and cried over Polish noun declension. These things are history. And since you thought they were the WORST EVER, and they clearly weren’t… This is your chance to step past the shame, embarrassment, impostor syndrome, whatever you want to call it. You were there, it didn’t break you, and you’re still willing to come back for more. It’s okay to suck at something, and a language learning veteran like yourself can go through this with much more grace.
4 Make it stick this time
If you stopped learning because your budget ran out – look for more affordable options this time. If your agenda was always too full to practice – make sure you focus on smaller blocks of time, and commit by engaging others in your learning. If your teacher / school / materials weren’t up to scratch – start with someone / someplace / something else. Think about those things before you even begin refreshing your foreign language. This will ensure that you’re in a “different groove” this time around, and that you take a slightly different (hopefully more successful) path to your polyglot destination.
Did you manage to pull off a successful foreign language come-back? Let us know on Twitter and Facebook!
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