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In elementary school I had learned the German language for six years, my skills were at an intermediate level, but then I started with English and I haven't learned German for nine years.

Now, my level of German is very poor and since I want to spend some time in Germany, I am trying to learn it actively again.

Now I am afraid of forgetting it and Spanish, which I also learned (it's really depressing to forget something you have already known), so I want to stay in touch with them. Unfortunately, I don't have enough time to study them all, since I work 46 hours a week + the German course. Therefore I try to read the English book or repeat the vocabulary from Spain during traveling to work and sometimes I watch English movie (with English subtitles). I don't know whether this is a good way.

What is the best method not to forget, or even to improve them? How do you access to languages you have already learned?

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Not an answer, but honestly - if you are only working 46 hours a week, if you want to put in the time you have a lot of time you can use. It is all around prioritising. If this is important enough, you can find time. – Rory Alsop Oct 17 '11 at 21:36
Yes, I can, and I am finding the best way how to do it. How other people solve this, when they learn one and when another of their languages during the week? It is about managing in the time and about finding the productive way. – srnka Oct 19 '11 at 6:55

10 Answers 10

up vote 7 down vote accepted

The best way not forget a foreign language is to speak it regularly

If you learn some language and then don't using it regularly, it is too normal to forget. It's universal truth. But I want to tell you some tips for this situation.

  1. Speak, Speak, Speak! We all agreed about this. Speaking is the best for not forgetting a language. When you have time and money, travel this kind of place.

  2. Try to translate words that you using everyday speech. It keeps them always active part of your brain.

  3. Repeating with audio files. Watching Youtube videos, listening german song, try to make conversation in german chat rooms etc..

  4. Repeating by teaching. Find someone want to learn this language and try to teach him/her. It provides you more productivity repeating.
  5. Create your own dictionary for foreign languages. And everyday add some vocabulary in it.
  6. Enjoy and relax. Don't worry about what you cannot remember, or cannot yet understand, or cannot yet say. It does not matter.
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To practice speaking most cities have bars that organize language learning interchanges. One foreigner learns your language and viceversa. Beers and meeting people is a plus that makes it easier to practice. – borjab Aug 28 '15 at 12:34

15 Language resources has a few ideas though the pages are in English just as a heads up. I'd likely consider finding groups where discussions in that language would be common as well as if there are people that will help someone that may be rusty in using the skill.

If you think about it, aren't there lots of things you may have done 5 years ago that you don't know now and so there are plenty of things you used to do that you don't do now? Ever seen construction projects where some place you may have used to know has been changed and so what you used to know is no longer useful since it isn't accurate now. Consider how web browsers have evolved in the past decade and how you may have gotten used to various formats and ways to use the browser. Do you have when browsers didn't have tabs? Have you tried using a browser that didn't support graphics like Lynx? I can think of plenty of things I probably know a bit but not as well as I once did just because I don't see it as that useful for me now.

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Thank for the link, there are useful tips. – srnka Oct 19 '11 at 6:44

Read books.

Not language-instruction books, just whatever you normally like reading - fiction, nonfiction, anything - in the languages you want to retain. If you like reading, it'll be a pleasant way of passing the time, keep you familiar with the language, and actually expand your language skills rather a lot. Go with books written by native speakers - they're always better than their English translations, so you'll actually be getting something besides language practice out of the experience.

At least for me, it's a much easier way to practice than speaking, because it doesn't require me to know someone I can talk to in that language, schedule time to go meet them, etc.

Alternatively, watch films, listen to podcasts, and such. Just pick an activity you normally enjoy, and do it in the foreign language - integrate it into your normal leisure-time activities so you don't feel like you're doing it just for the language practice. It'll make it that much easier to keep up.

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I'm a native English speaker and I speak French fairly well and am learning Spanish.

One nice trick I use is to change all your devices / technologies / software you use into the language you want to maintain - e.g smart phone, desktop system language, browser. This can be useful and painful depending on your level of familiarity with the device / technology / language. For example I am very comfortable using my iPhone in French because I know it so well (often forgetting it is in French until someone comments) but it can be painful to download a new app and have to work it out in French. I also changed my gmail to French, but this meant that eventually google started giving me results in French which is usually annoying and near impossible to turn off. I use a Mac and while it is easy to change the system language you'll find a lot of software will use the system language and not allow you to tweak the language for that program only - again, I'm familiar with Mac OS X but might prefer a complex piece of software in English

I also use a spaced repetition system to help learn Spanish currently, which will take care of reviewing what I've learned in the future as well. Occasionally I'll find some French resources and put them into my spaced repetion system as well. SRS's are well explained on this site so I won't give any more detail on that.

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It's a big challenge to maintain a decent level of a previously learned language, while taking up a new one. Obviously, the problem is that the grammar and vocabulary of the new language start "rewriting" the old one. Of course, if you have the possibility to practise it actively, it's fine. But in most cases you simply start learning a new language, not finding time and focus for the old one.

I think the best solution in this case is to use a free flashcard repetition tool such as Mnemosyne. It implements a clever algorithm for spaced repetition and allows you to take advantage of the spacing effect of your memory. This will guarantee that you will repeat the words of your old foreign language only just as often as needed for retention. If you have a 2000-3000 flashcards in your database, it will take 15-20 min per day to review them (if you find more time for it, you're sure to make advancements). And this still leaves you enough time for your new language. Hopefully it helps!

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With German, I'm in the same situation. I also started to use it, because I devoted to it much time in the past and it would be reasonable to utilize this time.

I started reading Wikipedia articles that are in the scope of my interest in German, I also added a few IT magazines in German to my RSS reader. I found out that I passively still remember almost everything but I also found out that there are lots of basic words that we haven't learned in school. So, I'm trying first to learn the most frequent words. You can select the words that you don't know yet and memorize them first because you will encounter them more often.

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In terms of neurobiology, its actually impossible to completely forget a language once its been learned to that level.

Instead, more likely all the things which were learned are floating around disconnected and disjointed. In order to reorder them into a workable framework, you might try exposing yourself to the language again. Above posters have also recommended this (reading books, changing electronics language settings etc.), I'd recommend watching movies or tv shows in the target language (especially ones that you enjoy or normally watch), first with subtitles (if available) then without.

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Try thinking in the language that you are working to keep proficient in everyday scenarios. When you come across a sentence you can't quite formulate, look up the words and think/say the sentence in its entirety.

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Practice, practice, practice. The only reason why I haven't forgotten all the English I know is because a) I use in a daily basis for work, and b) I married an American girl.

My French and Mandarin, on the other hand, are long and sadly gone. Even my native Spanish is regressing to grade school level!

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I learnt french at the age of 5, and went to a french school until the age of ten when it was decided that I would be better off being back in England to finish my education. Although I would speak my mother tongue but could not read or write English.

My point is that those who learn a language young and hold on to it until ten or thirteen, are unlikely to loose it. I am amazed at what French is stored in the depth of my brain given that I so infrequently speak it. For years I would worry about speaking the language like the ten year old child that I once was. However I have never lost the accent or the ability to throw myself into a conversation without embarrassment. By doing this the French people have always helped me with learning new words and I no longer feel trapped with my former childlike language skills.

Flash cards are an excellent tool for any learning, however the best way of learning is with a native speaker.

Thank you.

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