How to re-learn a language you have forgotten

A lot of the people that I teach are often not complete beginners in Spanish. Often they have learnt the language in school years ago or they did an evening college course or they followed a CD course in their own time but have had several years or months break. They normally think they will never be able to get the language back or re-learn it, however the truth is that it can be easily done and does not need to take long either. What you have learnt well previously will have stayed in your long-term memory. It just needs a little refreshing.

For example, one of my clients learnt Spanish O’level in school over 30 years ago, however, because he learnt it so well at the time, he still remembers many verbs and how to conjugate them in different tenses. It is amazing how much he is able to reactivate because it is still there unused in the brain!

How to recover the language previously learnt

1. Assess where you are now

Work out where you are now. Start by looking at some easy beginner exercises to see if you remember the words and structures. Can you translate a paragraph easily? Don’t go straight to an intermediate level book to test yourself. This will help you work out your current level, your weaker areas so that you know what to concentrate on first.

2. Plan your goals

Once you have identified your weaker areas, you can make a plan of what to focus on in the coming days and weeks. This could be learning more vocabulary or studying a particular tense. If you listened to a piece of audio but could not understand much of it, you know you need to practise listening.
Work out what you plan to know and by when. By having definite goals you will have more direction and will stay focused on the final result.

3. Listen to a podcast or watch a film

Listening to the spoken language is a fast and easy way to refresh the language. You will quickly work out what you can understand and what you cannot. For example if you are re-learning Spanish, popular podcasts to listen to are:
Coffee Break Spanish
Notes In Spanish
News In Slow Spanish
Spanish pod101

Start with the easier levels to identify what you can understand. Listen regularly to progress faster.
When watching films, if you are at a more basic level start with watching alongside both the foreign and English subtitles. For more intermediate levels watch without the subtitles.

4. More structured studying

Once you have familiarised yourself with the language, worked out your problem areas and made a plan of what you need to focus on first, go back to your textbooks and read the explanations and do some actual exercises.

5. Make NEW study notes / flashcards

Even though you may have exercise books and notepads filled with your old notes, instead of going back to these, make your own new ones. By doing this and writing out the words again, you are already starting to re-learn them. It is easy to get out your new flashcards during the day – at the bus stop, during a coffee break or your lunch, on the commute home or just before going to bed.

6. Use an up-to-date dictionary or phrase book

Make sure you have an up-to-date phrase book or dictionary, especially online dictionaries to quickly look up forgotten words and to learn any new phrases or expressions that were not used before.

7. Find a language exchange partner

To practise the language that you are re-learning it would be a great idea to find a native speaker to talk to regularly. You can do this via:
Conversation Exchange

TIP: Try to agree a topic of conversation for each session to get the most out of the time and to focus on specific vocabulary that you want to practise. So you may agree to talk about your hobbies and free time, food and cooking, sports, films, books or whatever you are interested in.

8. Translate song lyrics or newspaper or magazine article

Another way to put the language inti practise once you have started studying again, is to translate some song lyrics or magazine or newspaper article. This is a good way to refresh previously learnt words and phrases as well as pick up new ones. Make sure you note down the new vocabulary and phrases and try to use with your language exchange partner.

9. Write a film or book review

Choose a film or book you are interested in and write a review about it. To start with watch the film or read the book without looking words up or focusing on specific vocabulary. See how much you can understand or get the gist of.

10. Write a story or diary

To practise your writing skills and to use the language you are re-learning write a short story or keep a diary of what you do each day. This will help you to use old and new areas of the language.

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