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[Professional Development] 4 Tips to Learn and Not Lose a Second-Language Proficiency

[Professional Development] 4 Tips to Learn and Not Lose a Second-Language Proficiency

Someone once asked me, “What is the best decision you ever made?” Without hesitation, I said that learning another language was not only the best decision of my life, but it has also become a life-changing journey. Even if I had not chosen to become a language teacher, learning another language has literally changed my life for the better. I am able to communicate with people all over the world as well as experience unique cultural encounters. The unfortunate fact of language is that if you don’t use it, you lose it. So, how does a busy educator with career and family obligations go about learning a language later in life (after high school and college) and retain proficiency? Here are a few ways to get started. 

Join a class 

Many cities have community education language courses that are offered for a nominal fee. This is also a great way to meet like-minded people and find cohorts to study together! If you would like to learn from a certified teacher or professor, many colleges and universities offer the opportunity for community members to audit courses for self-enrichment and academic exploration. 

Practice independent study

Due to the fact that I learned a language in an academic setting, I don’t have much experience with language-learning software. However, I have used an award-winning app called Duolingo with my Spanish students to supplement the material I teach. If you have previous experience with the language, you can take a placement test, and you will be given activities that are at your level of content knowledge. If you have no previous exposure to the language, you can start from scratch! The Duolingo app assesses your speaking, listening, reading, and writing, and you can do as much or as little as you would like at your own pace. As you improve your skills, you are given more difficult tasks. 

Participate in a conversation exchange

Most language learners are eager to be able to speak the language, but often, this is the most difficult part. Because conversation is spontaneous and unpredictable, many people are concerned about making mistakes, which can heighten inhibitions and the risk for embarrassment. Formulating the correct vocabulary and grammar structures on the spot with a native speaker can be overwhelming. The best practice I ever had learning Spanish was when I met a gentleman while working out in a Spanish gym. He asked if we could meet for a drink and do a conversion exchange. He would speak in English, the language he wanted to practice, and I would speak in Spanish. We would kindly correct each other’s grammar and give tips on pronunciation. It also made us look at our own native languages to make comparisons and connections. The fact that I had a romantic interest in him helped, of course; however, what helped the most was that we were drinking wine while we chatted. Moderation is key, of course. 

Immerse yourself

Most people are able to acquire a language more quickly when they are immersed in its authentic environment. Living in a country where the language is spoken would be ideal, but because this is not a realistic option for many people, surrounding yourself with the language is the next best thing. Changing the audio and subtitles of your favorite shows is a fantastic start. Committing to only reading and watching material in the target language helps train your brain to recognize common vocabulary and grammatical patterns. When using everyday media (music, books, television, and movies), you are often learning a more authentic language that includes idioms, slang, and humor. 

Research has shown that learning additional languages can help you build your smarts, develop multitasking skills, improve memory, stave off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, and improve perception and your decision-making skills. Why wait? Make this year the year to learn another language. 

Interested in more ways to grow professionally as an educator this year? Check out these nine practical classroom tips taken from TED Talks

*These opinions are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Independent School District 192.