Relearning Languages You Have Forgotten

Relearning Languages You Have Forgotten

Summer is coming; more people are out & about, speaking languages, socialising, travelling, doing their 5 year plan and thinking of ways to develop their career. This includes relearning languages and sounding more fluent.
Languages are proving to be more important than ever, with languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian becoming essential for business. In a world where everyone speaks English, it is easy for native speakers to not even consider learning another. I want us to change this mentality.
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The bilingual population is growing

Researchers suggest that as many as two-thirds of the population are bilingual. That means having your mother tongue, alongside another language. A classic example of a bilingual person would be Arabic people in Germany and French people in the UK.

Example 1: A French person in the UK is most likely to be able to read and write in their language and may keep it up by making visits – as France is closeby. Native speakers of English know 15,000 French words and also learn French in schools.

Example 2: An Arab living in Germany may be able to converse in Arabic via speaking with other native speakers, but may not be able to write in Arabic due to its natural complexity, the lack of resources or the need to learn how to write not being strong enough. They may have immigrated to Germany and rarely return to Arabic countries.



Maintaining bilingual skills and status

The classic bilingual person may have no problems switching between languages if their parents are speaking to them regularly in the respective languages. Relearning languages is not an issue for them. A friend of mine spoke perfect English due to living in the UK for 10 years and regularly spoke Russian at home. Her mother also encouraged her to learn how to write in Russian and gave her lessons to ensure she knew the Russian alphabet properly from a young age.

In my case, I spoke Flemish at school and English at home over a period of 10 years. Upon returning to the UK in 2003, most of my Belgian friends were interested in practising their English. As a result, after a few years, I had forgotten about 50% of my Flemish. Having Flemish as a foundation helped me to learn other languages – such as German. Once I learned more words in German, I found my Flemish pronunciation and word order was slowly dying out; and being replaced with German.




Relearning languages without bilingual parents

Not everyone is lucky enough to have the influence of their family to ensure they maintain a language. Many feel they want to integrate into the country they live in and can often reject their second language, in an effort to integrate and create a new identity.

Those who find they want to keep the language often struggle to do so – especially where there is no need for this language. Later in life, they often come to regret their choices.

Apparently, it is possible to re-learn a language because we have the basic structure of the language ingrained in our minds. We want to pick it up again. How shall we go about this?






Technology as a language-learning tool

European languages have the advantage of the common alphabet, bar some accents and symbols. This has made it possible for computers to teach us the basics of a language, as well as to test us on our skills. Teachers often rejected online dictionaries due to their reliability. These days we have reliable and well-referenced sources such as, Miriam Webster Online,, etc. to help us to quickly find new words and sentences in context to understand the language.

I personally love Duolingo as it encourages you to practise regularly, train your strengths and make sure you repeat the exercises you had trouble with. The best part of this – its a free language-learning service. They are adding new languages new and again, even Russian has been added to the list. Via voice, written and listening exercises including visual and translation exercises, it is one of the top free language-learning apps to be using in 2017.



Speaking, Listening and Repeating

A language such as Dutch or Flemish is rarely heard as they tend to speak such proficient English. For German, I think the best thing is to get a tandem partner and regularly practise the structures you struggle with the most. Relearning a language does not happen overnight – so do not put pressure on yourself to be fluent again within a certain amount of time. Practise everyday (even for 5-10 minutes), speak as much of the language as you can and install apps to ensure you are getting a dose of reading in. Relearning languages doesn’t have to be boring. I like to read the news in my stronger language and then read the headlines in the foreign language to reinforce any new vocabulary. 

What languages do you want to learn? Are you bilingual? Let me know in the comments!



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The Secret Linguist was created in 2016 to inspire everyone to become a linguist. Written by a 20-something living in Berlin, with a love for languages, gays and espresso. Often with a splash of British humour or peppered in sarcasm, The Secret Linguist creates light-hearted articles to motivate you to ditch your mono-lingual life.


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