Keeping Up Your Language Skills

Courtney Cavanah
For those of us who have gone abroad and learned a lot of our host country’s language during our time away, it’s safe to say that we’d rather expand on our language abilities than forget everything we’ve learned upon returning home. I myself have experimented with different ways to not only continue practicing language in all four essential areas (Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening) but to also find friends with common interests along the way. Below are some of effective methods I’ve personally employed to maintain my language skills, so for those of you who don’t want to forget, I implore you to try them out yourselves!
  • Join a Club: There are so many different clubs and organizations here at Pitt that cover a wide variety of interests. I went abroad to South Korea, so upon returning I made it a point to join Daehwa Korean Conversation Club, where we play games and interact with our shared target language to keep it relevant and fun in our lives.
  • Consume Media: Consuming media from your host country, whether that be in the form of entertainment or current events, will aid your listening abilities. First, try watching without any subtitles and see how much you can understand. Then, watch with subtitles OF THE LANGUAGE and jot down any words or grammar points you don’t know. Finally, after looking up the unknown items and creating a new study list of sorts, watch once more.
  • Journaling: Journaling in your target language will ensure that you keep practicing your writing skills, and employing grammar and vocabulary actively. I try to write a short memo about my life each day, or if I’ve more time, I will write about a specialized topic. There are websites out there like lang8, where native speakers will even correct your writing for you.
  • Get Connected to Exchange Students from Your Host Country: This is a huge bonus if you were part of an Exchange Program as you can get connected with students who currently attend your host university. The Pitt SAO was happy to refer me with students from my host country upon return, and I’m sure they’d be happy to do the same for you. Furthermore, practicing your spoken language with a native speaker is the absolute best way to learn and retain a foreign language.
When coming back home to the States, it’s easy to fall back into the English-only environment and find yourself forgetting words you once knew in your target language. I know, because I fell victim to it several times. As somebody who spent a lot of time abroad studying language, it was definitely a skill I didn’t want to lose. But fear not, because if you follow these tips, you will persevere. As they say, if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Courtney Cavanah is a Junior Linguistics major with a minor in Korean and a certificate in Asian Studies. She participated in an exchange program in Seoul, South Korea during the 2016-2017 academic year on the Freeman-ASIA scholarship, a scholarship for students who demonstrate financial need and are interested in pursuing study abroad in Asia.