Keeping Your Second Language Alive

I took French for several years in high school but I don’t remember much,” or “Oh yes, I learned Spanish on my mission, but now I don’t think I can speak it anymore.” Have you ever said something like that yourself? I speak seven languages, and people often approach me asking for advice: How do they keep their second language, how do they stay fluent, or how do they avoid mixing up two similar languages?

When you spend your whole day speaking English, it is easy to start forgetting other languages. I know the frustration of trying to say something in Spanish and not finding the words, words which I once knew but now have forgotten. Speaking languages is not like riding a bike—you will forget them if you don’t practice them.

So how should you keep them straight? The deeper knowledge you have of a particular language, the easier it is to stay within it and carry out a whole conversation without throwing in foreign words. Here are some ideas to help you stay on top of your lingo.

Read the Scriptures
We’re encouraged to read the scriptures regularly, so why not practice your foreign language at the same time? On lds.org, you can change the language at the click of a button and access a myriad of Church materials in your foreign language. Check out the scriptures and study aids in Cebuano, Finnish, French, German, Ilokano, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, and Tagalog. You can also pull up the English version next to it, so, if your French is not the most fluent, you can read the Book of Mormon in French with the English version beside it. If you don’t understand a particular sentence, just check it out in the English version. 

Watch Movies
Regular movie theaters may show undubbed versions of foreign movies. Your local college or university will probably have a theater and foreign film series. I particularly love DVDs because of their multi-language tracks, which enable you to watch the original versions with subtitles. If you subscribe to satellite TV you can also watch the news and serials in various foreign languages.

Speak with Friends
Meeting up with old companions or friends who are familiar with or who are studying the language is a great way to give yourself a good amount of time to converse fully in your second language. Don’t speak in English if you don’t have to. Find a group of friends with whom you can meet regularly or take a class. Don’t be shy, either. Everybody makes mistakes, even when it’s their first language. Just speak out and have fun.

Write to Yourself
Many people consider writing the most difficult part of fully capturing a language, but it is also a great way to solidify grammar skills and sentence structures. Start by writing just a paragraph or two of your normal journal-writing routine in your foreign language. As you become more comfortable, you might want to dedicate an entire journal to the language—describe your daily activities, your relationships, your struggles, and everything else you would typically write in your journal.

Write to Your Friends
Keep in touch with the people from your mission. Writing letters to members, investigators, old companions, and mission presidents is a great way to not only maintain those friendships, but also strengthen your grasp of the language.

Read More
A society’s books express that area’s ideas fluently. You are able to study beyond simple sentence structure and see how passages are joined and expanded. Public libraries are often a good source of foreign language literature, but you can also purchase foreign books online (have you heard of [amazon.fr], [amazon.de] or [fnac.es] for example?). You may also consider subscribing to a newspaper or your favorite comic.

My pick for best option is travel. It is the most fun, most enriching thing you can do to maintain your language, learn more, and understand the culture behind the syntax. The experiences and memories will stay with you, and you will be able to put the language in a context that will serve you well when trying to recall it in a future conversation. for the future.

Whichever options you choose, the most important thing is to be persistent and keep practicing. Languages are a wonderful treasure, but just remember: Use them or loose them.

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