Being able to speak two languages fluently is an incredible ability. When applying for jobs, it is a huge advantage – especially if one of your languages is English, seeing as it is often considered the international language of business. However, for bilingual speakers, sometimes one language can lie dormant for a long period of time. As a result many people find that their speech becomes less fluid and some of the vocabulary can be forgotten. Below are some handy tips for maintaining your bilingual ability.
The Most Important Muscle
As with any muscle, the brain needs to be exercised. The brain tends to ignore certain bits of information that are not being used to make room for the more urgent issues. For example, a person who has a career in science may have forgotten much of the ancient history they learned in school if it has never been revisited since the exam they took a decade ago.
When someone has been brought up with two languages, these languages are not stored in the brain as information – they become reflexes. This means someone will never stop understanding the language if they hear it spoken. However, the ability to use it in oral or written communication depends on making sure the brain remembers how to utilize what it already knows.
Keep It Fresh
If there is no opportunity in day-to-day life to speak the language, watching TV or listening to the radio is a great way to keep it fresh in your mind. The internet has great resources for learning languages, especially for learning English – head to websites such as the BBC and you’ll find audio and video downloads as well as vocabulary and grammar practice. There is really no excuse for not practicing listening and reading in the language you are learning, even if you do not have the chance to speak it.
As children we tend to associate languages with people, so if our parents or siblings have always spoken to us in one language, it can feel strange to suddenly speak in a different tongue. However, if you are intent on practicing a language and you have people around you who speak it, it is worth making the most of it. The awkwardness does not last very long and the benefits can be tremendous.
If you do not have family members or friends with whom you can practice the language, you can search for expat communities in your local area where people meet up and chat over food or drinks in their native language. They tend to be welcoming events and a chance to make new friends as well as practice the language.
Making sure your second language doesn’t get rusty may not seem important to you, but being bilingual is a great skill and definitely one worth maintaining – you never know when it could come in handy.
About the Author: Sirena Bergman writes extensively on language acquisition. If you would like to learn English in London, the city is home to a number of excellent learning centres such as St Georges English school, which offers flexible options for a variety of different needs.