15 Ways to Maintain Language Skills After Reaching Fluency

by | Aug 8, 2023 | Language

Reaching fluency in a foreign language is a major accomplishment. However, many learners make the mistake of assuming that once they become fluent, they no longer need to put in effort to maintain their skills.

The truth is that language skills can deteriorate rapidly if they are not actively maintained.

Tips on how to keep your language abilities sharp after attaining fluency

Tips to Maintain Language Skills

Reaching fluency is a huge milestone, but don’t stop there. Follow these tips, and you can maintain and even build upon your language skills over time.

1. Set Aside Time Every Day for the Language

    • Commit to using the language in some way daily, even if it’s just reading a news article or having a short conversation with someone. Consistency is key.
    • Try to get at least 30 minutes of exposure per day. One hour is even better.
    • Schedule study sessions if needed to keep up skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

2. Consume Media in the Language

    • Watch TV shows, listen to music, read books, magazines, and news articles.
    • Go beyond just entertainment content. Read content related to your profession, interests, or academic field as well.
    • Use language learning apps like Duolingo, Babbel, or Rosetta Stone for 15-30 minutes per day. Their spaced repetition exercises can help boost retention.
    • Follow social media accounts in the target language. This provides natural exposure.
    • Set audio and video settings on streaming services like Netflix to the target language. Passively picking up vocabulary while enjoying content helps a lot.

3. Speak and Write Regularly

Conversation with native Speakers

    • Arrange regular video chats or in-person meetups with other speakers of the language.
    • Join a language tandem partnership or an online community like Conversation Exchange to find speaking partners.
    • Start a journal or blog in the language to work on writing skills.
    • Use sites like Lang-8.com where native speakers will correct your writing.

4. Think in the Language

    • Spend time each day thinking through your daily activities in the language. Narrate your thoughts to yourself.
    • If you catch yourself thinking about something in your native language, try to shift and think about it again in your target language.
    • When listening to someone speak in the language, try not to translate in your head. Just listen and think directly in the language.

5. Study Grammar and Vocabulary

    • Periodically review grammar guides and vocabulary lists, especially any problem areas.
    • Use digital flashcard apps like Anki, Tinycards, or Quizlet to practice new vocabulary actively.
    • When you come across a new word while reading or listening, take the time to look it up and add it to your study resources.
    • Take the time to learn idioms, collocations and common phrases, not just individual words.

6. Immerse Yourself Periodically

    • Take occasional immersion vacations where you spend an extended period of time only speaking the target language.
    • Attend intensive language programs periodically to boost your skills.
    • Look for ways to practice the language more intensely like teaching it, taking a speech class, or attending a conference.
    • Study abroad opportunities like summer courses can provide short but powerful immersion experiences.

7. Set Goals and Assess Your Progress

    • Set periodic language goals like giving a presentation in the language. This gives you something specific to prepare for.
    • Have your speaking evaluated through online tutoring services or language partners. Ask for feedback on areas to improve.
    • Track your progress. Take formal proficiency tests every year or two to quantify your current skill level.
    • Identify weak areas and drill them. Record yourself speaking or writing to spot errors and problem areas.

8. Stay Confident in Your Abilities

    • Remember that occasional mistakes and lapses are normal. Don’t let them discourage you.
    • Keep using the language regularly even if you feel like your skills are getting rusty. Practice will get you back into shape.
    • Appreciate the level you have reached. Not all learners attain fluency. Be proud of your accomplishment!

Make the effort to use the language daily in a variety of ways, and your abilities will stay sharp.

9. Practice Speaking Regularly to Maintain Fluency

Practice Your Target Language

One of the most important ways to maintain your fluency in a foreign language is to speak it regularly. Without practicing speaking, you’ll quickly lose your ability to have conversations.

Set up times to speak with language partners or tutors:

  • Join a language meetup group where you can practice conversing in an informal setting. Many cities have regular meetings where language learners get together to socialize in different languages.
  • Use an app like Tandem or HelloTalk to find a language exchange partner who is a native speaker. You can arrange video chats to have spoken conversations.
  • Hire an online tutor for weekly or bi-weekly conversation practice. Preparing to speak with a tutor will keep your speaking skills sharp.
  • Volunteer to help new learners of your language, such as recent immigrants. They will appreciate the chance to practice their conversational abilities.
  • Form a study group with other learners where you set times to speak together in the language. Quiz each other, roleplay scenarios, and tell stories.
  • Narrate your thoughts and activities throughout the day in the language. Describe what you are doing to reinforce vocabulary.
  • Present to a local language group on topics that interest you, from cooking to your job. Public speaking is great practice.
  • Sing along to music in the target language. Memorize some favorite songs.
  • Shadow audio by listening to podcasts or audiobooks and simultaneously repeating out loud what you hear.

Don’t let your fluency slip away. Regularly conversing with others is the best way to maintain your abilities. Make it fun by exploring topics that interest you.

10. Read, Watch and Listen in the Language

It’s crucial to keep consuming media in your target language in order to maintain fluency. Reading, watching shows and movies, and listening to podcasts and music will all help reinforce your language skills on a daily basis:

Read news articles, magazines, and books in the language for at least 30 minutes per day. Mix up the topics. Reading boosts vocabulary and comprehension.

Follow social media accounts that post in the language like celebrities, news sites, or brands. Scanning through content daily provides low-pressure exposure.

Set any apps or sites with user preferences to the language like Netflix, Youtube, or news apps. Passively seeing the language constantly helps retention.

Listen to music in the language, reading lyrics as you go. Note any new vocabulary and look up the meanings.

Watch TV shows and movies in the original language, not dubbed. Comedy shows are enjoyable and provide cultural insights.

Listen to podcasts on topics you enjoy. Podcasts allow you to get lots of listening practice during commutes or while exercising.

Follow accounts that post stories in the language like @EasySpanish on Instagram. Read and listen to short anecdotes told in casual language.

Use language learning apps like Duolingo for 15-30 minutes per day to drill vocabulary and grammar. The spaced repetition model boosts retention of what you learn.

Expose yourself to different accents and dialects. You want your listening comprehension to be broad.

Immersing yourself regularly in media engages you with the living language. It also provides fun new content to think about and discuss with your language partners.

11. Improve Writing Skills Through Journaling

Writing regularly in your target language, even informally, can significantly improve fluency.

Consider starting a journal or blog:

  • Write entries describing your daily experiences and thoughts. Don’t worry about perfect grammar, just write freely!
  • Hand-write journal entries to get comfortable with the alphabet and spelling. Typing can come later.
  • Set a goal to write X number of words or for X minutes each day. Consistency matters most.
  • Pick a topic each day like a favorite food, childhood memory, or current news event, and free-write about it.
  • Write letters to friends who are native speakers, asking questions about their lives. Mail them or email scans.
  • Describe your plans for the future in detail, like dream vacations, career goals, or places you’d like to live.
  • Convert your social media posts into the target language. Comment on friends’ posts in the language.
  • Write reviews of restaurants, movies, or products. Describe what you liked or didn’t like and why.
  • Make lists of nouns, verbs, and adjectives you find yourself reusing. Look up synonyms to expand your vocabulary.
  • Research grammar or vocabulary questions that come up. Keep a notebook with new words and language rules.
  • Use journaling sites that connect you with native speakers who will correct your writing for feedback.
  • When you re-read older journal entries, edit them for errors. You’ll see your progress over time.

Regular free-form writing in a foreign language boosts confidence, creativity, and fluency. It allows you to practice expressing your unique thoughts and experiences.

12. Take Periodic Immersion Trips

Challenging yourself to spend extended periods of time immersed in your target language environment can work wonders for maintaining fluency:

  • Attend an intensive summer language program at a university where your target language is spoken.
  • Go on a solo vacation where you are forced to navigate and speak the language.
  • Rent a room or live with a host family for a month in a country where the language is spoken.
  • Look for work exchange programs abroad like WWOOF or HelpX that provide food and housing in exchange for volunteer work.
  • Enroll in special immersion retreats and camps, like Middlebury Language Schools, that only permit the target language on-site.
  • Participate in a language and cultural exchange program like FLEX for high school students or the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange.
  • If you are in school, spend a year or a semester abroad at a university where classes are taught in the language.
  • Travel to attend a conference or festival related to your career or hobby where you can network in the language.
  • Volunteer abroad with organizations like Projects Abroad that need foreign language speakers.
  • Take a job or internship abroad with a multinational company that uses your target language.

The intensity of being surrounded by your target language accelerates learning. Periodic immersion experiences, even short ones, prevent language skills from stagnating.

13. Evaluate Your Abilities and Set Goals

It’s important to periodically assess your language abilities and set goals for improvement. This will ensure you keep progressing:

  • Take a formal language assessment like the ACTFL oral or writing proficiency tests. This will quantify your exact skills level.
  • Hire a tutor and ask for an honest appraisal of your abilities. Have them identify grammar issues or vocabulary gaps.
  • Record yourself speaking in a conversation. Listen back and take note of areas you stumble, like pronunciation or fluidity.
  • Enroll in a speech class or debate club in your language. This pushes you to speak on varied topics.
  • Read an article or book and note all the words you had to look up. Study lists of those words.
  • Take occasional advanced grammar lessons to polish weak areas.
  • Set concrete goals like giving a 5 minute speech at a meetup, passing a language exam, or writing a 1,000 word story.
  • Correct old journal entries and essays to see how your writing has improved. Set goals to eliminate persistent errors.
  • Join a class or study group that is slightly above your level. The challenge will encourage growth.

Evaluating your current abilities objectively and setting improvement goals will ensure you continue moving forward.

14. Dabble in Different Dialects

Once you’re fluent in the standard version of a language, it can be rewarding to start expanding into different dialects and accents:

  • Watch TV shows and movies from different regions. Note vocabulary and pronunciation differences.
  • Make friends online via language exchange sites with people from other parts of the country or world.
  • Listen to music from diverse singers. Look up lyrics online and learn slang.
  • Follow social media influencers who use different dialects like athletes or comedians.
  • Travel to various areas that speak your target language and interact with locals.
  • Research major dialects online and the key ways they differ from the standard, like pronunciation, slang, and common phrases.
  • Study dialect-specific grammar like the voseo verb form in Rioplatense Spanish.
  • Learn regional idioms and proverbs that may not be widely known outside the area.
  • Dive into the ARGOT (slang) used by young people including acronyms and neologisms.
  • Pay attention to accents used in films/shows to pick out actors from certain regions.

Gaining even a basic grasp of dialects expands your understanding of the language and its many variations. You’ll interact with a wider range of native speakers.

15. Stay Confident in Face of Setbacks

It’s normal to hit plateaus or even stumble in your language skills at times. Try not to get discouraged:

  • Remember that occasional lapses or mistakes are no big deal. Native speakers make errors too!
  • Keep practicing through slumps. Consistency helps get you back on track.
  • Record conversations to catch errors. Analyze them calmly for patterns.
  • Identify problem areas like vocabulary or tenses and do targeted study sessions.
  • Take on fun new challenges like writing a short story to regain confidence.
  • Reduce stress and anxiety through techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and exercise.
  • Ramp up participation in classes, clubs, or exchanges for more low-pressure practice.
  • Review old journals and essays. You’ll see how much progress you’ve made.
  • Schedule some sessions with a tutor. They can provide advice on overcoming sticking points.
  • Remember why you were motivated to learn in the first place. Reconnect with that passion.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes or pause conversations to look up words. People are often happy to help language learners!

With patience and persistence, you will get back into the swing of things. Don’t lose sight of how far you’ve come!