Posted on by Ulrike Rettig

5 Key Steps for Relearning a Language

Key Steps - Did you learn Spanish in high school but don't remember much of it? Did you learn French in college and all you can now say is "bonjour"? 

Did you travel in Italy and pick up lots of Italian but now are beginning to mix up Spanish and Italian?

As discouraging as that may be, you are still much better off than someone who has never attempted to learn a language.

Language Learning and Your Brain

The effort of learning a new language has lasting benefits for your brain. Even if it's been years. You may not be aware of it, but the skills you acquired are still there.

For example, you may have a sharper ability to distinguish language sounds. Or you have a better sense for how language hangs together. Or, you have a more intuitive understanding of grammar.

These skills stay with you, even if you're no longer using the foreign language you learned. You just have to find engaging ways to relearn it.

I'm a firm believer in the idea that dull, dry, boring stuff like grammar sheets, phrase books, or vocabulary lists won't fire up your language learning brain.
You want to keep your brain awake and you want to engage as many senses as possible. 

A Two-tiered Approach

When you're relearning a language, try alternating between "close" learning (focusing on individual words, sounds, or grammar points) and "sweeping" learning (listening to streams of sounds, reading longer texts without stopping, repeating full sentences even if you don't get it all).

The 5 Steps

1.  First, just Listen.
Retrieve the sounds and the melody of the language. Do this for a couple of days. Listen to individual words, songs, dialogs, videos, films. Don't work too hard to get the meaning, just soak up the sounds.

2.  Now add some Reading.
Use both short, easy texts and longer, more difficult ones. Read the short ones carefully; read the longer ones just to get the gist. Take in the look of the language and the structure of the sentences.

Don't get yourself all entangled in grammar rules. From time to time, look up a grammar item if you really can't figure it out intuitively.

3. The next step to add is to listen and repeat.
Start with easy words and phrases that you repeat after a native speaker. Alternate these with shorter and longer sentences that you try to repeat in their entirety and at full speed. Sound them out with gusto, ham it up, act as if you're a native speaker of the language. 

4. Then, start to write some.
Start by copying out words and phrases you want to remember. Write into a notebook or on the computer. Try also some simple writing games, they will also give you a good start. At the same time, begin writing a simple journal in your foreign language or write "postcards" to an imaginary friend.

When you feel more comfortable, look for a partner with whom you can exchange messages on Chat. Find one who'll give you some feedback, one who also wants to learn your native language.

5.  Any time you're ready, start speaking.
Start talking to yourself in the language you're relearning. Also find someone to talk to. It can be someone in your neighborhood or an exchange partner on Skype. Or travel to the country. You'll soon be ready to engage with local people!

Depending how much time you can invest, there are many resources available to you, including books, CDs, newspapers, Radio, TV, and obviously, the whole worldwide web.