Posted on by Peter Rettig

Language skills: “If you don't use them – you'll lose them!”

Fribourg, Switzerland - Gamesforlanguage.comGrowing up in Austria and Germany, I started to learn English in 5th grade, followed by Latin and French in the 8th. I can't say that I liked Latin, but I know that I hated French, and my grades certainly reflected this dislike.

Life had a funny way of changing my mind about French. I love speaking French now and use it often with family and friends. But the big takeaway has been: If you don't use your language skills, you'll lose them.

Learning French

After completing my engineering degree, it was therefore with great trepidation that I took a job with an engineering firm in Fribourg. (see picture above, with Cathedral). This is a town that is situated on the German/French language divide in Switzerland and is therefore bilingual.

While a couple of my colleagues also spoke a (French version of) Swiss German, the professional language in the office was clearly French. I had no choice but to learn it.

I did so by taking evening courses and by practicing with the records of a self-teaching language program. And, with time, and importantly - a French speaking girlfriend - my French improved enough so that I could communicate even on a professional level. Eventually, I became quite fluent.

Learning Italian

A few years ago, my wife and I planned an extended stay in Italy. We prepared ourselves with 90 lessons of self-teaching audio CDs and, once in the country, we made a concentrated effort to improve our Italian.

We used a tutor, engaged in conversations with locals, read newspapers, watched movies and TV, spoke Italian to each other, etc. “Immersion” in a foreign language when you live in that country clearly works. It works especially well if you avoid contact to people, who speak your native language.

Keeping it Going

When you live in your own country, learning a foreign language and keeping up your language skills has to be an ongoing effort.

I, for example, try to read online newspaper articles in French, Italian, and German on a daily basis. Both of us regularly watch original French, Italian, and German movies with Netflix (and I really should continue with an Italian book I had started...)

But I also find that playing the later scenes of our French and Italian program provides me with a great way to keep up my language skills. I realized the other day what made them so effective for me:

• The listening games keep reminding me of the language melody.

• The continual speaking practices let me test whether I can still match the native speakers' intonation. (I actually repeat a spoken foreign phrase as many times as I can, before the next one comes up.)

• The writing exercises continue to be challenging, although I should know most of the words.

There are still a few games where I have not yet reached the 100% score, but I'll certainly get there! I look forward to a little language break once a day (and my Mac reminds me!)
I'm now also learning Spanish. And while I often mix it up with Italian, I know I am making progress!

Clearly, not everyone can spend as much time as I do to keep up my language skills. But, if you also don't want to lose them, you have to find ways to incorporate some practice into your daily schedule.

Gamesforlanguage is just one option for doing so. There are many others, on the web, in print, movies, radio and TV. You need to find the way that works best for you, as you also know: If you don't use it - you'll lose it!