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How to Remember Words in Another Language: Strategies for Long-Term Language Skill Retention

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Everyone at some time in their life struggles to understand how to remember words they’ve learned for the first time. Learning a language is valuable whether you’re doing it for fun or your career. You may have learned the basics of another language in grade school or college, but how much do you remember? If you need or want to learn a new dialect, you must set up a long-term plan to retain this knowledge in your head. How can you achieve fluency? How does learning a different tongue benefit you? Here’s how to learn for the long haul.

Strategies for Long-Term Language Skill Retention

If you dream of learning Spanish, Urdu or Russian, prepare for a lifelong journey. You can quickly learn a new language with time and effort, but it takes practice and variations of training to retain your studying. Here are eight strategies for long-term language skill retention.

Establish a Practice Routine

First, you need to establish a routine. Language learning and language retention both require practice, so carve out weekly time to focus solely on your journey. While busy schedules can understandably be a limiting factor, find time to study for 10 minutes daily.

Understanding of how to remember words can vary drastically from person to person. Some forget languages entirely if they don’t use them, while others retain knowledge just fine. A 2022 University of York study finds people who last took a French exam 50 years ago demonstrated the same proficiency as recent students. Still, you can significantly help your language retention by practicing daily and broadening your horizons. Allocate time during the week and more during the weekend for serious studying.

Diversify Your Learning

Developing a routine is an excellent first step in your language learning. The next challenge is to diversify your study methods. Some choose the memorization route by practicing vocabulary and their pronunciations. While any practice is admirable, implementing a holistic approach is essential to ensure high comprehension. Learn in different ways to ensure your brain truly understands the language.

A 2021 Universitas Negeri Makassar study examines students’ learning strategies to learn English. The researchers found the top four methods are listening, speaking, reading and writing. Each process stimulates your brain differently and prepares you for real-world situations. For example, you may encounter a native speaker or a website using your intended language. Practicing for these scenarios ensures your comprehension.

Immerse Yourself in the Language

While vocabulary and writing drills are terrific, there’s nothing like immersing yourself in another language to understand a different culture’s nuances. The native speakers may be far from you, but there are multiple opportunities to connect with a dialect and become one with it.

An excellent way to start is by reading children’s books and easy-to-read novels online, whether translated from English or the original language. Reading books you’re already familiar with is a solid launching pad because you know what to expect. For example, try reading “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” in another language. German speakers call it “Die kleine Raupe Nimmersatt,” whereas French speakers say “La Chenille Qui Fait Des Trous.”

Books let you read at your own pace but can be tricky when learning pronunciations. Try watching TV shows and films to immerse yourself in the language. While dubs of American shows are helpful, watch original programs like sitcoms, game shows or soap operas. Spanish learners may watch “Si Nos Dejan,” the most popular telenovela in Mexico in 2022.

Regardless of your choice, it’s essential to incorporate cognitive strategies when learning. These methods challenge your brain by making you analyze and apply your knowledge instead of simply memorizing. A 2021 International Journal of Academic Research in Business and Social Sciences study finds cognitive strategies are the most popular method for English learners because of their practicality in language learning.

Stay Current With Native Media

Another way to help your language learning is to stay current with media in your intended dialect. For example, those learning English may rely on the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) to read news in the United Kingdom’s language. If you’re learning Japanese, read The Japan Times and watch news broadcasts. This practice will help you understand the language and see the news from others’ perspectives.

The internet and social media let you see the world by tapping your screen. Use YouTube, TikTok and other video services to consume media in your desired language. These videos give you a glimpse into what’s trending in different cultures and how they perceive well-known people and events.

For example, if you like Kevin James’ TV shows and movies, read what German media says about them. The comedian’s sitcom “King of Queens” was a popular show in Germany, and James’ movies typically bring solid viewership each time.

Learn With Others

Learning a retaining language is the most sustainable when you are passionate about it and have goals for your progress. With that in mind, consider roping in a friend to learn with you. Companions in this journey add motivation because you have someone to share your experience with. Plus, you’ll create a unique bond because you can use another language with each other, and people around you probably won’t understand you.

Involving a friend is also excellent because you always have someone to practice with. You can incorporate a new language by yourself, but it’s more fun when you have someone nearby who will test and refresh your skills. Practicing with a pal also helps you prepare for conversations used in the real world with native speakers.

Use the Language at Home

If you don’t have a language partner, there are still ways to boost your learning experience. Try using it at home by labeling items in your desired dialect. Connecting your furniture and appliances to another language assists your journey because you’re learning everyday words applicable to your life.

Another way to bring the dialect home is to teach your children the basics. Starting your child’s journey early sets them up for success because they’ll have a basis for a second language when they start high school and college. Young children don’t have to know the ins and outs of the dialect, but using vocabulary for household items will help their understanding.

Sign up for a Class On How to Remember Words

If you’ve considered going back to school, you’re not alone. A 2022 survey finds that 11% of American adults have contemplated returning to school to trailblaze a new career path. The same poll finds that 8% have already returned to school for extra learning. Signing up for a college class in your desired language may be just what you need for a long-term strategy.

College classes are excellent places to learn because your instructor will be a trained professional in the language. They’ll guide you in understanding your desired tongue and the resources necessary for succeeding. Plus, you’ll likely have classmates in a similar position as you — adults who seriously want to learn a language and make it stick for a long time.

Avoid Burnout

Learning a new language is a beautiful idea because it brings many benefits. However, there is such a thing as going overboard. Doing too much too quickly can result in burnout. Alternatively, you may feel stuck in your journey and need more motivation. These circumstances demonstrate burnout and can negatively impact your learning.

If you feel burnout, you have a few options. First, consider switching your learning strategy. Scale back if you feel overwhelmed by the material, or try a new method if you’re in a rut. Contemplate taking a break for a while if it’s too much. Start fresh when you feel like you can return with motivation.

Benefits of Long-Term Language Retention

Learning another language is excellent because it’ll be handy when needed. Science has even backed some health benefits of language learning. Here are some of the most important advantages.

Knocking Down Language Barriers

First, consider the modern economic landscape. Globalization of industries has led to many companies branching out into other countries. Knowing a second or third language can elevate your career, especially if you’re fluent in an in-demand language. For example, over 1 billion people speak Mandarin, making it a popular language to learn in business. Ultimately, the dialect you should choose depends on your industry’s and company’s needs.

Knowing multiple languages can significantly help you in your organization and secure a lucrative position with another company. With globalization, it’s slowly becoming a must. A survey reveals 43% of HR professionals say their organization officially uses more than two languages. In today’s economy, you must be able to contact business partners in Japan, Egypt, Greece and other corners of the world.

Heightening Your Reading Performance

Learning a new language helps you understand your native tongue, even if you don’t realize it. When you wield a new language, you sharpen your grammar skills with subject-verb agreement and sentence structure lessons. You learned your native language’s basics in grade school but might not have given much thought to its structure, considering your immersion. However, learning a new dialect sharpens the tools in your brain.

Learning a new language helps you understand better what goes into each sentence. Thus, you boost your reading performance and comprehension. A 2019 study examined Hong Kong students as they learned English. The researchers found learning a new language helped the students become more aware of metacognitive knowledge and increased their performance in reading exercises.

Unlocking Creativity

Creativity is an essential soft skill because it proves you are flexible and can think quickly on your feet. How can you be more creative and inventive professionally and personally? Learning a new language assists in unlocking your artistry and making you more productive.

Training yourself in a new language typically means learning about a country’s history and culture. For example, learning Portuguese will help you understand customs in Portugal, Brazil, Cape Verde, Mozambique and other countries where people speak this language. Knowing multiple languages makes you a more well-rounded and creative person.

Language learning boosting creativity has its basis in science, too. A 2019 British Academy study demonstrates bilingualism positively enhances creativity by unlocking your brain’s potential. Knowing another dialect lets you switch quickly between dialects and makes you adapt to each discipline.

Improving Your Health

Conquering a second language can improve mental health by making you feel proud and accomplished. Your confidence only heightens when you discover the beauty of a culture and improve your communication with the people. While there are mental health benefits, did you know there are also physical health advantages? Some people see better cognitive function and brain plasticity with language learning. Your brain is the primary recipient of this journey.

One way your brain benefits is an increase in myo-inositol (INS). A 2021 Scientific Reports study finds bilinguals have a higher INS concentration, which is even more critical as you age because it protects your brain from dementia and other diseases. Similarly, bilingualism predicts your n-acetylaspartate acid (NAA) concentration, with researchers saying it’s less prevalent in bilinguals than those who only know one language.

How to Remember Words and Make the Language Stick

Knowing a second, third or fourth language makes you feel powerful. You can speak with another person in their native tongue when many people you know can’t accomplish the same feat. While learning is impressive, you may struggle to make it stick in the long run. Use these eight strategies for long-term retention to learn how to remember words and reap the mental and physical benefits of language learning.

author headshot

Jack Shaw

Content Creator

Jack Shaw is a New Yorker and travel writer. He is senior writer at Modded, a men's lifestyle magazine

Speaks: English, Spanish

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