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10 Tips for Maintaining Languages

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Which languages do I want to maintain

It has already been three(!) years since I returned from my year-long stay at Peking University in China. I can’t believe how fast the time has flown by and how many things have happened in the meantime. Completing my master’s at the University of Amsterdam, getting a job at a global Fintech company right after graduation, surviving a global pandemic and somehow learning another foreign language, Russian, during these life-changing times. In the meantime, I’ve also been trying to maintain my Chinese using a couple of useful life hacks.

While my Chinese, both spoken and written, has definitely deteriorated over the past three years due to being occupied with my full-time job where I speak only English and Dutch, I’m still able to have everyday-life conversations with friends in Chinese. The following life hacks have really helped with maintaining fluency.

Top 10 hacks for maintaining your languages

1.Cross-language learning

The key to cross-language learning is to write the translation for the new word in your target language in your “maintenance-mode language”. Not sure what I mean? Below you can see two example pages from my current Russian vocabulary notebook. About two years ago, I started to casually learn Russian in my free time (casually meaning without a teacher or regular study intervals for the first 1.5 years, just using a grammar exercise book once a week). My favorite study method is still the traditional vocabulary notebook on paper, even after trying spaced repetition apps such as Anki, I eventually always come back to my notebook. On the left side, I write down the Russian word I want to learn, and on the right side, I write down the translation mostly in Chinese characters or sometimes in German if I’m too lazy to write down the Chinese translation:

2. Language buddies at work

This is a great option for everyone who works in an international environment. In a bigger company, you will surely find colleagues who speak your target language. In my case, there are quite a couple of Taiwanese and Chinese colleagues who are learning Dutch and would like to practice their spoken Dutch on a regular basis. It’s such a fun way to practice your target language and help out your colleagues with their target language. My language buddies and I even became good friends outside of work and now hang out together on the weekends or get together for a fun Hotpot night from time to time.

3. Getting a private tutor

This has certainly been a game-changer for me. About seven months ago, I started with weekly private tutoring to improve my Russian grammar and expand my vocabulary and understanding of the language. Only one hour a week of private tutoring has greatly improved my overall language level. It also is a great way to hold yourself accountable for self-study through weekly homework assigned by your tutor. Many convenient platforms such as Italki or Preply offer affordable language tutoring for learners around the globe. I personally prefer private tutoring over group classes because everyone has different learning needs and study pace. The flexibility and personal approach that you get only from private tutoring definitely makes this my preferred method of learning.

4. Organizing a language get-together/community events

There are always other language enthusiasts in your community, whether it is your local neighborhood community, people at work or in another social circle. Feel free to organize your own language meetups and discuss your favourite language learning methods together in a group. This is also a great way to broaden your network and meet new friends!

5. Meeting your friends and sticking to one language

Maybe a no-brainer, but if you have friends who are fluent in your target language, ask them if they would be okay speaking that language with you from time to time. Depending on your level, this is a very fun way to get to know your friends even better while speaking their native language.

6. Consuming media content

This is, of course, one of the best ways to improve your listening comprehension in your target language. Think of the media or content you consume on a daily basis: Watching movies, series or YouTube, listening to music, reading books, newspapers and so on. If you decide to consume a portion of this content in another language, you don’t need to sacrifice extra time for studying, two birds with one stone! 一举两得。

7. Cooking recipes

If you like home cooking, it’ll be fun to try out different recipes from the culture in which your target language is spoken. I personally like trying recipe videos from Chinese cooks at home. You’ll also learn more about the local dietary customs and traditions at the same time as improving your listening comprehension.

8. Writing to-do lists

For the avid to-do list writers out there, this is a quick and easy tip to get your daily dose of written language practice. I usually write my to-do lists on paper in either Russian, German, Dutch, English or Chinese, depending on what I feel like that day. In case you don’t know the word, do take the time to look it up in the dictionary, it’ll be worth the investment and is a natural way to expand your vocabulary.

9. Singing

I remember back in high school, our teachers used to supplement the Italian classes with songs and it was so enjoyable to sing those songs together with the whole class. Ask your friends to send you their favorite music artists and learn the lyrics by heart to expand your vocabulary. Once you know a couple of songs, you can head to the local KTV (Karaoke) together and sing your heart out!

10. Thinking (out loud)

Last but not least, remember that you can always think in your target language and reflect or debate topics in your mind to practice new vocabulary. This always helps if there is no one around who speaks your target language.


Have you tried any of those language hacks? If yes, I would love to hear from you in the comments which hack has been working best for you! If you have any other hacks to share, please also let me know in the comment section! 🙂

See you later ~  回头见 [huí tóu jiàn]!

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