Learning a foreign language entails a great deal of motivation and hard work. But the next big challenge stems from maintaining language proficiency and keeping skills fresh, particularly when language is your source of income. Even when you’ve reached a level of fluency, most language learners must keep finding ways to use and practice what they’ve learned.
Here are some ways and strategies to maintain proficiency in any language:
1. Be consistent
Maintaining language proficiency is about being focused, consistent, and making good learning habits stick. Like muscles, language skills must be used consistently to prevent deterioration. This quote summarizes it best: “If you are persistent, you’ll get it. If you are consistent, you’ll keep it.” Doing a language activity on a regular basis can make a big difference.
One of the language learning tips we previously recommended is to make learning a part of your daily life. Listen to music and podcasts during your morning commute, read for at least 15 minutes a day, or review vocabulary every night. With the availability of ingenious language learning tools, it’s much easier to review and re-learn at your own convenience. Setting a daily reminder for review helps a lot, too.
These tips also apply to multilinguals living overseas who are exposed to a foreign language and seldom use their mother tongue. Your native language needs maintenance, too, because you can also lose proficiency after a period of time. Read the daily news in your native language, have regular conversations and video calls with friends and family, watch the latest movies, and listen to your favorite songs.
2. Overcome the learning plateau
Most language learners hit learning plateaus and become uncertain on what to do next. They end up feeling like they’re not progressing anymore and stop learning as quickly. This slump often happens to those who have reached an intermediate level of fluency. It’s unavoidable but the good news is, it’s possible to rise above it.
The trick to keeping enthusiasm high is to use creative techniques and strategies. Watch TV shows and movies without subtitles. Write a short story. Challenge yourself and keep learning expressions, idioms, and colloquial terms. Languages evolve so there will always be new vocabulary and expressions to learn and acquire. Keep yourself in the know by speaking to people from different age groups. Aim to increase the depth and breadth of your vocabulary to overcome the plateau and you’ll be surprised at how much more you have yet to learn.
Focus on your problem areas and strive to improve your weak points. If you struggle with speaking, find opportunities to talk with a native speaker online or in person by joining meetups with expats or becoming a local tour guide. If you’re shy, practice speaking by yourself by either singing in front of a mirror or repeating after your favorite actors on TV. Your mouth is a muscle, you just need to move it to practice your speaking! Finally, if writing is not your forte, try keeping a journal every day.
3. Reassess your long-term goals
Setting clear and realistic goals can motivate you to stick to good learning habits until it becomes a part of your routine. Are you planning to take a proficiency exam in a few years? Do you want to become a language instructor for kids? Are you aiming to become a certified translator someday? Or do you wish to translate in more than one language pair? These are only some of the goals that will drive you to keep learning and improving your language skills.
Particularly if you earn an income from your language abilities, exerting a focused effort to maintain and improve your skills is mandatory. Improving your second language skills can lead to other sources of income. For instance, if you’re translating into your native language now, you may strive to improve your skills so you can eventually translate into your second language. Once you’re proficient, you can start to market that skill and earn more money.
In addition, you may eventually venture into other freelancing jobs, such as content writing, editing, and copywriting in your first or second language. So never stop learning and building your skills to open new doors in your career!
How do you keep your language skills fresh? Do you have other tips to share? Tell us in the comments!