Useful and Creative Ways to Actually Retain a Foreign Language

Published Aug 31, 2009

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Many students learn a second language in school, but struggle to retain it after they graduate. Keeping up with a foreign language can be difficult without immersion, but the key is practice, practice, practice. This article offers a few fun and effective ways to preserve your foreign language skills.

Studying a Foreign Language Independently

Keep Studying

There are lots of ways to keep up your formal language studies after graduation.

Adult Language Classes

Look for local foreign language classes for adults. Private language lessons can be expensive, but many community colleges and community centers offer affordable continuing education classes. If you're an independent learner, you can also find free foreign language courses online through many schools' OpenCourseWare projects.

Home Language Learning Systems

There's lots of language learning software available to help you administer home language lessons, including the popular Rosetta Stone. If you don't have time for structured lessons, try keeping some foreign language tapes in your car - speak along with the tape instead of singing along with the radio. The key to effective use of these tools is to hear and speak the language every day.

Studying a Foreign Language on Your Cell Phone or PDA

Use Your Technology

You can also harness the technology you already use to help retain a foreign language.

Language Environments

We use personal electronics all the time and most can be set to a foreign language. Change your cell phone, computer or PDA to the language you're trying to learn and you'll find yourself thinking in that language so frequently you'll hardly even notice that you're switching back and forth from English.

Foreign Languages Online

Put that time you spend browsing the web and checking your email to work! Spend time reading foreign newspapers online, and change your web browser's home page to a foreign language website. You can also subscribe to a foreign language email service, like an e-newsletter or word of the day.

Man reading book

Get Cultural

Living in or visiting foreign countries is the best way of immersing yourself in a foreign language. But even if you can't travel, there are lots of fun ways to use foreign culture to boost your language skills.

Books and Movies

Rent foreign films, then watch them in their original language. If you can't follow the plot, try watching them first with English subtitles and then again without. Reading books in foreign languages is another great way to practice. Beginners can start with children's books and work their way up to literature. Many books are also available with English and their original languages printed side by side to help you along.

Dining Out

A really fun and tasty way to practice your language skills is at international restaurants. Many restaurants offer menus printed in their native language. You can also just try ordering in the relevant language, or translating the English menu out loud to impress your friends.

Conversation group

Live Your Language

It's important to find lots of fun and creative ways to use your language even when you're not studying or practicing formally.

Conversation Groups

Social language practice is one of the best ways to keep your conversational skills strong. If you know someone who speaks your language or is willing to learn it with you, make a regular coffee and conversation date. You can also look for local foreign language clubs. Websites like are great resources for finding other people to practice with.

Surround Yourself

Have you already reset your gadgets to a foreign language? Pick up a couple of sticky note pads and label every item in your house. Get a calendar in your language. Subscribe to magazines in your language. The key here is to make sure that you're seeing the language so frequently that it becomes as natural to you as English.

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